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Thursday, March 30, 2023

At El Bolero, an authentic piano bar makes merry music

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our best stories will appear in your inbox every Monday.
A brunch patron volunteers to sing along at the mic during a recent El Bolero brunch in Mérida. Owner Montxo García is at the piano. Photo: Yucatán Magazine

It’s barely noon on Sunday, and El Bolero Piano Bar is packed. A young woman is belting out show tunes, and the kitchen is turning out croque madames and hotcakes for the brunch crowd, where mimosas have already been served. 

A Greenwich Village tradition has finally come to Yucatán’s capital city, and it’s not even the brainchild of a New Yorker. 

When Montxo García left Spain for Mexico, he knew his lifelong love of music would find an outlet in Mérida. 

The veteran musician, 61, also knew that Mérida was starving for the one type of music venue that it was lacking: A traditional piano bar. The kind with cabaret-type performances and singalongs. 

Montxo (pronounced montcho) is from Bilbao, in the Basque Country, where his career was divided between software design and music. And in this case, the two sides overlapped because his software was used by recording studios.

“But in my heart, I am a musician,” Montxo tells us over coffee, where we sit next to the glistening onyx Schimmel grand piano, which is hooked up to some sophisticated-looking electronics, at El Bolero in the Santa Ana neighborhood. “And I have been dedicated to music since I was 12 years old.”

Montxo started playing bars and nightclubs in Bilbao when he was 18, concentrating on the standards. By 24, he was playing with the Mocedades, a popular band known for folk, pop and ballads. He has also been a studio artist, producing music for films and commercials. 

Chef Rodrigo from Gran Lumiere in the Centro takes over the kitchen on Sundays. Photo: Contributed

Eventually, Montxo and his Mexican-born wife Tania, who’s from Tampico, moved to Yucatán. “We wanted a change, to get fresh air, you know?” he tells us, explaining that he felt safest in Mérida. 

They moved here in December 2021. A little more than a year later, these relative newcomers opened their doors. 

Seats filled almost immediately. On the day of the Sunday Brunch, a flute player appeared as if out of the blue and joined the pianist — who on this day was Montxo — for a little jam session. On another day, a tenor sax might appear, Montxo says.

The place is cozy and intimate, and Montxo plans to keep it that way for reasons that include cutting down on stress.

“We will not become rich with this kind of business, but we are happy,” Montxo assures us. “If we can pay the bills, that’s all that we need.”

About El Bolero

El Bolero is on Calle 45, 471A, between 54 and 52. Aside from Sunday Brunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., El Bolero is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 8 p.m. To  2 a.m. Shows range from standards and Broadway to Mexican trova, bossa nova, jazz, and of course, a great selection of boleros. Call or WhatsApp for more information: 998-105-7124. Facebook: @elboleropianobar

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