MEXICO CITY — Arsonists burned down an iconic nightclub in the Mexican resort of Acapulco, reportedly frequented over the years by celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Mariah Carey, and Madonna.
Security camera footage of the September 28 incident shows three men entering the club, slowly pouring a liquid out of gas canisters across the sofas and floor inside, then lighting it on fire. Within moments, the Baby'O nightclub is ablaze.
The Guerrero state prosecutors office where Acapulco is located released a statement saying they “will continue to collect more information and test data to determine who caused the fire...no line of investigation is ruled out.”
The burning down of one of the quintessential Acapulco night spots is a further example of how far the famous travel destination has fallen to organized crime.
By the middle of the 20th century, Acapulco was the place to be for international jetsetters, celebrities, and politicians. John and Jackie Kennedy celebrated their honeymoon by the sea in 1953, and celebrities like John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor soaked up the sun on Acapulco's famous beaches.
When the Baby’O opened in 1976, the city had established itself as one of the most popular party spots on Earth, and the club quickly became arguably one of the most sought-after and hedonistic clubs in Acapulco. While famous for having grotto-styled jacuzzis and beds surrounded by sheer curtains, it also carried a golden age mystique of celebrity, named after the song "Baby-O" by Dean Martin, who also spent time in Acapulco over the years.
In 2015, popular Mexican gossip magazine Quién published a four-part retrospective about the “coolest club in Mexico”—Baby’O—with articles titled “the Paradise of the Powerful” and “Secrets from Mexico's Most Historic Club.” Quién, the Mexican equivalent of People magazine, published photos of Mexican crooner Luis Miguel, U.S. actor Brooke Shields and British musician Rod Stewart inside Baby’O, and claimed everyone from members of Australian rock group AC DC to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had passed through. After one particularly memorable night in the mid-90s, basketball legend Michael Jordan allegedly called the club asking if he could access and erase all the security videos from Baby’O that showed him dancing with women, because he was in the middle of an expensive divorce.
Baby’O's former manager Jesús Mondragón Mamey told Quién that “Acapulco was the culo del desmadre and Baby’O was the centerpiece.”
“Culo del desmadre” does not have a clear translation in English, but perhaps the best would be the "heart of chaos", using a word that means ass instead.
But while the club was popular with the rich and famous, it also became notorious for hosting drug traffickers and others from Mexico’s underworld. A former high-ranking member of the Beltran Leyva Organization who ran Acapulco’s criminal landscape, Édgar Valdez Villarreal aka “La Barbie”, would reportedly close the club for private parties for him and his friends in the late 2000s.
As the modern Mexican drug wars began in the 90s, Acapulco grew into a profitable smuggling plaza with a healthy local drug trade and profitable extortion opportunities. For the past two decades, it has regularly ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico as violence has exploded, and it has seen its tourism industry suffer. The coronavirus pandemic further exacerbated that, and the Baby'O club had been shuttered for the past year and a half.
The Guerrero State Governor Héctor Astudillo seemed perplexed at the incident, especially the seemingly nonchalant way the arsonists burned down Baby’O.
“Who is interested in setting fire to something that has been closed for a year and a half, that does not generate a peso of tips?” Astudillo said. “Who is interested in entering, with such serenity, spraying with such tranquility, as if he were watering a garden, knowing they're being filmed?”
He suggested that perhaps the culprits wanted to damage Acapulco’s tourism industry further ahead of the popular winter travel season.