The line stretched from the door of El Rio all the way down the block. After ten minutes with barely a shuffle forward, I resorted to paper-bagged-amusement courtesy of the tiny liquor store flanking the tail end of the queue. A few sips in though, the line sprang to life and I and my fellow impatient line-mates were told by the squat bouncer to ditch the beers and get our cash and I.D.s ready.
Once inside the narrow, barely-lit bar, I wound around the crush of bodies and made a beeline to the courtyard out back. Beneath strings of bare bulbs and round, white lanterns, people—their cigarettes and cans of Tecate held aloft—hopped, swayed, and twisted to vinyl tunes pouring out of speakers stacked on the corners of a low stage. Behind each speaker, go-go dancers—a wispy-thin man with a septum nose ring and striped suspenders, and a woman in curling, false eyelashes and red, red lipstick—shimmied and jived. 60’s soul, groove, and funk swirled the courtyard, past a tree studded with fat yellow lemons, around building backsides covered in peeling paint, and down through dancing limbs.
A tequila and grapefruit soda in hand, I returned from the patio bar to find the stage occupied by a lip-synching drag queen working the crowd in an aquamarine sequined dress and matching lipstick and eye shadow. More performers took the stage before it was once again flooded with swinging bodies and a go-go dancer with a bouffant and a face glittered and jeweled.
Baby let us bang her box and we shouted while we threw up our hands and kicked up our heels. My drink sloshed and splashed as a tall, slender man dressed all in white grabbed a woman and twirled her past me and through the crowd. The speakers throbbed, sending out funk that pulsed in my ears and set me to swaying. Another drink, another dance. Another dance. One record feeding into the next.
Hard French is a monthly daytime dance party at El Rio (though they do pop up elsewhere on occasion—most notably at their annual Pride Parade bonanza—and go on hiatus during the winter months). Although billed as a gay dance party, it’s truly come-one-come-all. There’s also BBQ (if you get there early enough), and a photo booth. Donations at the photo booth benefit a different local nonprofit each month.
Bring your dancing shoes and get ready for a freakin’ good ass time.