Today's professional soccer players must follow super-strict diets to ensure they're in optimum physical condition when they step onto the pitch, but this has not always been the case. In mid-20th-century Mexico—long before sports nutrition was a thing—the stars of Chivas de Guadalajara, the nation's most popular soccer team, had a very different way of preparing for each game: getting fired up on tequila.
The Chivas team from this era is widely regarded as the greatest in Mexican history. Known as the "Campeonísimo" or "ultimate champions," they won 15 trophies, including seven Mexican league titles, in eight years from 1957 to 1965. But was pre-gaming the secret to their success?
Cuco, a senior waiter at Los Famosos Equipales cantina in downtown Guadalajara, tells me the players used to come in for a quick refreshment on the morning of each game. "They would come in at 11 AM and down a shot or two of tequila and then go and play at 11:30," Cuco says. "It was a tradition they had so that they'd start the game feeling happy."
Ever since it was founded, Los Famosos Equipales has catered to those with a penchant for an early morning tequila. "The bar started out in 1920 as a small store where people would come to ask for a drink of tequila," Cuco tells me. "They'd turn up on their horses and say, 'Give me a shot.' They'd drink it and then go off to work."
The cantina takes its name from the equipales—traditional chairs made from wood and leather in the nearby town of Zacoalco de Torres—that the store owners put in place so their customers could take a seat. Locals would often say, "Let's go for a tequila at the place with the equipales," and so the store became known as Los Famosos Equipales.
As it became more popular, the owners upgraded to a larger property. With its saloon doors, barred windows, and peeling white paint, the cantina's exterior would not look out of place in a spaghetti Western movie set. Inside, two rows of stone columns arch into the ceiling. The walls are plastered with framed Chivas memorabilia and sepia photos of local bullfighters and boxing heroes. A jukebox blares out banda music and there is a mounted bull's head on the wall with a cheeky cigarette hanging from its mouth.
Cuco points to an antique wooden fridge behind the bar. "This fridge is about 70 years old. I think it's the only wooden fridge left in Guadalajara, but it doesn't work anymore so we use it for storage." Then he points to the square, metal tables. "They don't have numbers; each table has its own name: Pepsi, casa, radio, patio, motor—depending on whatever object they're close to," he explains. "New waiters have to learn all the names off by heart."
Untouched by gentrification, Los Famosos Equipales remains a cheap place to get drunk at. A bottle of beer costs 25 pesos (about $1.50) while a generously poured shot of tequila ranges from 50 to 110 pesos ($3 to $6), depending on the brand.
The most popular drink, Cuco says, is the legendary house cocktail, "Nalgas Alegres," or "Happy Buttocks," which costs just 50 pesos. Invented about 40 years ago, it consists of gin, rum, red wine, Orange Crush soda, and lime juice. Cuco serves me one with a plate of mini tortillas topped with rice and guacamole, and a bowl of cucumber doused with lime juice and Tajín seasoning. The cocktail is a lot better than it sounds, although it's hard to say if my buttocks feel any happier.
As in many old-school cantinas, the waiters at Los Famosos Equipales bring out free snacks with every round of drinks, including sliced jicama, peanuts, popcorn, tostadas topped with grated cheese, and even soups and stuffed chiles. They also offer plates of chicharron, cecina, sausages with queso panela, and tostadas with pig skin, leg or foot, for 20 to 60 pesos per order.
As for Chivas, Cuco remains a diehard fan, but he admits that the team's best days are well behind them and laments that the bar doesn't fill up like it used to when there's a big game on TV. Chivas' bitter rivals America have overtaken them as Mexico's most successful team in recent years, while Chivas have won just one league title since Jorge Vergara bought the franchise in 2002.
Desperate to restore their glory days, Vergara has changed head coach 21 times in 14 years, built a shiny new stadium, and even taken his players to a spiritual retreat in the hope that a shaman might help them to rediscover their collective mojo. Yet nothing has brought him the sustained success that he craves.
Perhaps he should try taking his players back to the cantina for a shot of tequila before each game.
Follow Duncan Tucker on Twitter: @DuncanTucker