Los Toltecos Mexican Bar and Grill
We were very excited to go out on the night of Mexican Independence Day. (Wait... Oh, sorry about that. Apparently I got that wrong.) We were very excited to go out on the anniversary of the Mexican Army's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, because Cinco de Mayo has become a big thing in the States over the years. Television networks have come to expect lower numbers on the holiday, because people do go out drinking.
If Mindy and I are anything, we are conformists, so we looked for a Mexican-themed place to visit in Sterling, Virginia. Many other people felt compelled to do the same. There were no spaces left in Los Toltecos parking lot, so we parked across the street in the Safeway lot. (Yes, fellow Californians, they have Safeway here. Our gift cards will be put to good use.)
When we went inside, all the tables were taken. There was a pretty good throng around the bar. Finding a place to stand where we wouldn't get in the way of the wait staff was tricky.
We overheard one couple as they arrived. The guy said, "Man, this is serious!" And she said, "I told you." We're not sure if they actually went in, because last we saw of them, they were still outside, possibly waiting for friends to swell the throng.
You know those movies where a tremendous crowd drives a couple apart? Los Toltecos was kind of like that, sort of, because I (Dean) ended up going outside to try to talk to people while Mindy stayed at the bar to order drinks.
After awhile, she got close enough to the bar to reach a drinks menu; she looked for the margaritas (because, what with the holiday and all, we had to order margaritas. I guess we could have bought Coronas or Dos Equis, but we really aren't beer fans.) and ordered the Los Toltecas Original with a Jalapeño Margarita for me. Her drink came in a red Solo party cup (the kind you see in every teen comedy party scene since American Pie), and my drink came in a round goblet that seemed to weigh as much as a small bowling ball.
While she was waiting for the bartender to mix our drinks, Mindy talked to the two guys who let her get close enough to the bar to order. She asked them our weekly questions ("What makes for a good bar?" and "What makes for a good church?"). Joseph said he values a patio because sitting outside and drinking is one of his favorite things.
Sadly, rain that evening was keeping everyone inside and adding to the claustrophobic (though lively) ambiance. Joseph's friend Connor agreed that a patio was good, but he felt something else was more important: "I would say good service, but you expect that anywhere. So, I'll say a kind staff." He said that kindness went beyond competent work to respect for the people being served.
As to what makes a good church, Joseph* said there should be passion for individual members of the church from everyone, not just leadership. That's the quality that drew him to the church he attended in his teen years.
Connor said that during his elementary years, he had attended a church and a private school that had provided him and his sister (who had attended through high school) valuable counsel for career goals and life beyond high school.
Meanwhile, I was in front of Los Toltecos, hoping to talk to the exiled smokers outside, where there were more reasonable sound levels. I chatted with Timur, who I think, based on his accent, was from Eastern Europe. I asked what made for a good bar, and he said, "I am debating the number one thing for a good bar between the surroundings and the people, but I guess the people are part of the surroundings so that would make it number one."
When I asked what made for a good church, he gave me a bit of his background. His mother is Muslim and his father is Christian, and he feels it is important to learn about all religions so that one can make a sober judgment about faith. He said it's important that a church is welcoming. But if they are judging you, thinking you will go to hell if you don't join them, then they're not welcoming. He compared judgmental people to a saying of his boyhood, "A drowning animal barks loudest as it is about to go down."
A friend of Timur's, Marjorie, came outside and graciously agreed to answer my questions. She said a "Spanish bar" is quite different from an American bar because it "gets crazy." She said that she could "go to an American bar with my girls, have a drink and go home, that's it." At an American bar you can smile at a guy, and it's just considered a friendly gesture, but at a Mexican bar the guy will assume there's more to it and may well hassle the woman who smiled. At an American bar there is respect.
She said she was at Los Toltecos with friends; her sister is the designated driver. She said her husband was not much of a drinker, so he was waiting at home, as were her parents. She went on to tell me that she came to this country when she was sixteen, and that she loves America. "It is the best country. You need to work hard, but there is a time for fun, if you're responsible. If you don't go crazy, you'll be happy."
She told me that one of the things that she appreciated most about this country is that it allowed her mother to have the heart transplant that saved her life. Her mother went to the top of the list because she was a Christian woman. The hospital didn't consider her religion, of course, but they did take into consideration that she had never smoked and didn't drink. They considered her a perfect candidate. Her family had been quite worried as the heart was flown into the Fairfax hospital during a snowstorm that could have proved a deadly delay, but the heart arrived in time. After only two weeks on the waiting list, the operation took place. Marjorie said her mother had gone from 94 pounds to 140 (a more healthy weight for her), and you could never tell by looking at her that she had a heart transplant.
When I asked what made for a made for a good church, Marjorie said, "I like Christian, not Catholic. I believe in one God." It was quite obvious she was thinking of her mother's church.
On a crowded bar night, it is ironically more difficult to find people to talk to (we certainly weren't able to talk to a bartender or even any of the staff). But we're glad that, at Los Toltecos, we found the really delightful people we did.
*Joseph is a professional photographer. So Joseph, if you're looking at this, we hope you aren't excessively offended by the amateurish photo quality. Any suggestions will be most gladly received.