Last April, a Queenstown, New Zealand restaurant very quietly added a new burger to its menu, one topped with an unavoidably sloppy combination of chili, tortilla chips, guacamole, cheese, and salsa. “Introducing Pablo Escoburger,” The World Bar wrote on Facebook. “There can be only one king.”
Several months before that, Australia’s Ze Pickle introduced its own Pablo Escoburger, which also involved guac, corn chips, queso, and jalapenos. Neither one seems to have generated any worldwide hysteria; The World Bar no longer even serves its Escoburger, and Ze Pickle’s has been re-christened as simply “The Pablo.”
But shortly after a Melbourne pop-up called Pablo’s Escoburgers opened, it started serving a double cheeseburger it calls The Patron, which is topped with a carefully cut line of white powder (it’s garlic flour, settle down) and garnished with a rolled $100 bill (it’s fake, settle down). And unlike those previous Escoburgers, this one seems to have gotten everyone’s attention.
Putting Pablo Escobar’s name on several ounces of ground beef makes for an unnecessarily complicated menu, because for every Narcos stan who just wants that billionaire lifestyle, there’s someone who’s unsettled at the idea of turning a murderous kidnapper and narcoterrorist into a jokey name for a burger joint. (But this is also happening in 2019, a year when Netflix has already had to remind people that they shouldn’t finish Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes by concluding that Bundy was hot.)
On the Pablo’s Escoburgers Facebook page, the responses are unsurprisingly mixed. There is a commenter who posts “#changethename” on every post, and another commenter who responds with a GIF of a “Butthurt-O-Meter.” There are Australians who have tagged each other, suggesting that they get this burger immediately, and there is one Colombian woman who wrote that her mother was almost killed by an Escobar-connected car bomb.
Gabriel García Márquez attempted to reconcile the perception of Escobar in his book News of a Kidnapping—which detailed several prominent kidnappings carried out by Escobar’s own Medellin Cartel. “At the height of his splendor, people put up altars with his picture and lit candles to him in the slums of Medellín. It was believed he could perform miracles,” he wrote of Escobar. “No Colombian in history ever possessed or exercised a talent like his for shaping public opinion. And none had a greater power to corrupt. The most unsettling and dangerous aspect of his personality was his total inability to distinguish between good and evil.”
Corrupted and evil may or may not be adjectives you’d like to be associated with your cheeseburgers, but Vaughan Marks, the owner of Pablo’s Escoburgers, isn’t backing down. “We are very proud of our burgers but we do also understand that Pablo Escobar was a horrible man who destroyed the lives of thousands of Colombians,” he wrote on Facebook. “We do not condone, idolise or promote Pablo Emilio Escobar or his actions in anyway [sic]. We are however Australian and know how to have a laugh about a good play on words.”
On his own Facebook page, Marks suggested that anyone who wants to keep pretend-snorting a line of garlic flour should respond by giving the restaurant a good review online. “[W]e have received a lot of hate from the Colombian community, bless their souls,” he typed. “If you can take 2 mins to review us to reverse the 2 star rating we now have that would be great! [...] You can clearly see the difference between the people who have tried our delicious burgers and the Colombians who just don’t like the name.”
The Patron burger aside, the most strange strange part of this controversy is pop-up’s the willingness to acknowledge that Escobar “destroyed the lives of thousands of Colombians” and simultaneous refusal to concede that the feelings of actual Colombians—including, perhaps, those whose lives were in some way affected by Escobar—are worthy of any consideration. (MUNCHIES has reached out to Marks for comment but has not yet received a response.)
Or maybe it’s not even that complicated. “Just another example of hipsters trying to get attention because their food is otherwise forgettable,” one commenter wrote.
Maybe that’s it. And at least they didn’t put tortilla chips on a burger. That is unforgivable.