THE SCENE : Cafe Sociedad

Calle Primera in Ensenada, lined with touristy bars, restaurants, curio shops and assorted street vendors, is the last place you’d expect to see a beat cafe. But since October, Cafe Cafe has been serving up something unexpected amid the tourist strip’s tequila shooters and somberos--avant-garde culture.

“It’s totally subversive,” said the owner and manager Memo Ramirez, “subversive in a way that’s aware of what’s going on in the world.”

The cafe has showcased discussions on the rebellion in Chiapas and screening of French movies not often seen north Mexico. It’s a meeting place for kids from the local college and a place to hear the newest jazz and rock, live music and poetry--real life amid the transience of the tourist trade.

It’s also a refuge for musicians tired of waiting for permission to perform at government-sponsored culture halls. “This is a big-time tourist town, so we don’t have places to play,” said Jerry Lopez, an Ensenada musician and promoter who’s booked his jazz and rock bands at Cafe Cafe.


Ramirez says he got a lot of funny looks when he said he wanted to open a beat cafe--Baja California doesn’t exactly have a cafe tradition. Residents and city officials, he says, are a little wary of the avant-garde, so he keeps a low profile, opening the place only on weekends and staffing it with friends who want to use Cafe Cafe as a sort of living room.

“It’s just a hole in the wall,” said Ramirez. “But hopefully it will open many other walls in the search for the surreal.”