Best Spanish-Language Jukebox: Comidas, cervezas, y corridos

Taqueria San Jose

While the digital jukebox is taking over, with players that hold thousands of tunes, the old-fashioned Rock-Ola playing 45s with lights and Art Deco encasements is still the Happy Days image of a jukebox we all share. Vinyl got converted to CDs sometime in the 1980s and a certain luster wore away. But in most of the restaurants and bars of the Mexican-American East Bay, you’ll still pretty much find the real deal. The jukebox at El Farolito Taqueria never disappointed, sweetening the wait for an order or food with the latest corridos or banda hits. But since they installed the TV, they usually unplug the jukebox for the tube. Likewise, back in the day, the Gold Key Bar on E. 14th had a great selection of 45s in its 1960s Seeburg, including real cantina classics such as Little Joe y la Familia, José Alfredo Jiménez, and Yolanda del Rio. Nowadays, Taqueria San Jose has a great jukebox with automatic rotation so that if nobody drops in a buck it just starts playing, filling the cavernous building with music by stars such as Lupillo Rivera, Banda del Recodo, Los Tigres del Norte, and many others. The resonance of a tuba in a banda, or trumpets ringing out in a mariachi add to the sonic ambience of people eating, drinking cervezas, or talking while waiting for an order. As the voice of Pedro Infante, the 1950s mariachi singer and movie star, comes on and fills the room, a nostalgic aura engulfs the surroundings and silences the room for a moment as a little slice of imagined Mexico comes alive. When a jukebox becomes more than a playback machine and blends its tunes to complement and give joy to a scene, it’s magic.

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