Club Tempo Celebrates Queer Los Angeles Vaqueros

A beige tejana sits atop Antonio Rodriguez’s freshly dyed icy blonde hair. This is the last piece of her look.

He wears a silver chain necklace, a slightly unbuttoned floral shirt, and white skinny pants. A brown leather belt wraps around her waist with a shiny buckle; his black boots gleam with shoe polish.

“I don’t care if you know if my style is too masculine or too feminine,” Rodriguez says as he adjusts his tejana, getting ready for a night out with friends. “My pants are tight, the boots are pointy. I am a vaquero of both identities.

Antonio Rodriguez, left, toasts with a friend on the dance floor.

(JJ Geiger / For The Time)

The vaqueros, or cowboys, represent the ideal tough and hardworking man, synonymous with power and masculinity in Mexican culture. Men wearing Tejana have adopted their so-called paisa subculture in the United States, although they are often ridiculed for their style by American-born Mexican Americans.

To be a queer vaquero is to not apologize for who you are; it is a radical act. For Rodriguez, it’s more than a look. It’s his lifestyle, one that shows he’s proud of both who he is and where he comes from.

During the week, Rodriguez works as a hairstylist and makeup artist, but year-round he’s a vaquero. And on Sunday evening, there is a place where he goes: Club rhythm.

Three people seated on a sofa covered with serape.

Avery Gutierrez, left, Antonio Rodriguez and Dario Clayton gather at Rodriguez’s before heading to Club Tempo.

(JJ Geiger / For The Time)

Club Hollywood is one of the few remaining gay Latino bars in LA, and the only one that caters to the queer vaquero community. Club Tempo may not have the mainstream recognition of gay clubs in West Hollywood, but it has a deep history. The two-story bar has been around since the early 1990s and serves as a home to a community in search of connection. West Hollywood doesn’t have the cultural outlet that Rodriguez and other queer vaqueros crave, and the straight paisa bars typically found in South LA or the Eastside aren’t welcoming either.

“Being gay and vaquero – there’s a lot of criticism that comes with that, even from our own homeland [because of homophobia]. So Tempo is this little place where we can be ourselves because outside of that we’re different people,” Rodriguez explains, rolling up his white pants over his shin-high boots.

Originally from the Mexican state of Guerrero, Rodriguez has been a regular at Club Tempo since arriving in the United States 15 years ago. He recently started capturing some of his vaquero outings at the club on ICT Tac. It’s a way for him to highlight his different tejanas and his outlook on the world.

Rodriguez takes one last look in the mirror as his friends Dario Clayton and Avery Gutierrez arrive at his home in South Los Angeles. Caliber 50 “Corrido de Juanito” plays on TV, a painful accordion-rich song about not being able to return to Mexico but still wearing tejana and botas in the United States Rodriguez and Gutierrez clink their cans of Mike’s Hard Lemonade as Clayton prepares to drive the trio in Hollywood.

It is a little before 9 p.m. when the group arrives at 5520 Santa Monica Blvd. The front parking lot of Club Tempo is filled with piles of hay and red, white and green balloons. The trio can hear live banda music for this tardeada, a social dance that traditionally takes place on Sunday afternoons and lasts until 3 a.m. as they each pay the $13 cover charge and go through security. .

Patrons dance to club music on the second floor of Club Tempo.

Patrons dance to club music on the second floor of Club Tempo.

(JJ Geiger / For The Time)

Cowboy boots on the dance floor

The cowboy boots of Luis Mora and Antonio Rodriguez on the dance floor.

(JJ Geiger / For The Time)

The first stop is the bar. Rodriguez buys his friends a round of tequila shots. The band plays norteños, a genre of regional Mexican music that includes bass guitar, bajo sexto, drums, and sometimes saxophone. Accordion frequency and rhythm fill the intimate dance floor.

All eyes are on an arm-in-arm pair of vaqueros as they hit the ground with their boots to the beat of the catchy song “La Yaquesita.” Traditionally, men and women dance to norteño and banda music in pairs. The men take the lead and the women follow. However, tradition doesn’t matter at Club Tempo, as the men dance with the men and anyone can take the lead. The dance floor gets crowded as more and more guys show up in the tejanas.

James Ventura, despite not wearing tejana or boots, says he feels a personal connection to the club. The 27-year-old, dressed in a black shirt and dark trousers, grew up just down the street.

He remembers seeing vaqueros queuing outside when he was a child. Now, as an adult, Club Tempo allows him to tap into his queer Mexican identity. Ventura stands by the dance floor as pairs of vaqueros dance together.

Side-by-side photos, one a close-up of a patron's cross necklace on a hairy chest;  and two cowboys dancing together.

Closeup of a patronal cross necklace, left; two cowboys dance together on the first floor with the live band.

(JJ Geiger / For The Time)

Rodriguez is greeted by familiar faces as he heads upstairs with his friends. “I like to say hello to everyone because I’ve known them for a long time. Every Sunday it’s the same people,” Rodriguez says as he hugs and chats with other vaqueros.

One of them is Luis Mora. Rodriguez and Mora worked together recently as extras on a upcoming short film called “El Paisa”. Written and directed by Daniel Eduvijes Carrera, the film follows a gay vaquero romance in Los Angeles. The two friends were spotted by Carrera at Club Tempo.

Mora wears a white tejana with a face full of makeup, including shimmering, smoky eyes and long eyelashes. He wears a sparkling jacket and a silver stud in his left ear; diamonds hang to his right. He is holding a shiny silver pouch as he drinks a Modelo.

Luis Mora wears red lipstick, smoky eyeshadow, sparkly earring and white tejana

“It’s my style,” says Luis Mora, although others criticize his makeup and clothes.

(JJ Geiger / For The Time)

“They [other vaqueros] are going to criticize me and ask me why I look like that. To take off my tejana, shave my beard, that only real men can be vaqueros. But that’s my style,” Mora tells Rodriguez as he takes a sip of his beer.

“I love it, amiga,” Rodriguez replies.

It’s now 10:45 p.m. and the group of four head to the upstairs dance floor, which plays Latin pop, reggaeton and cumbia. Bar manager Miguel Vallejo hands them Modelos with cheers. They stop dancing as a drag queen takes the stage, cracking jokes in Spanish. The room fills with laughter.

Shortly after, Rodriguez signals his friends to go to the terrace. The vaqueros are lounging outside, sitting and talking. A vendor sells aguas frescas, takis and other Mexican snacks. As midnight approaches, Rodriguez takes a deep breath of fresh air. He looks around with a subtle smile.

“It’s the only place I can come and dance to banda or cumbias or whatever and for one night out of the week my world is music. I don’t have to change.

His friends cheer him on with their Modelos and go inside to dance once more.

A man in white pants, a flowered shirt and a cowboy hat dances alone on a club dance floor.

Antonio Rodriguez dances with the live band on the first floor of Club Tempo.

(JJ Geiger / For The Time)

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