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Midnight Vaqueros

Lauren Murrow | October 29, 2013 | Lifestyle Story City Life

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Every Saturday night, a cavalcade of cowboys strut down Broadway in Oakland. Slightly bowlegged to accommodate the upturned toes of their boots, they stride across the street, thumbs hooked over belt buckles, hat brims tilted into the wind. The cowboys—called vaqueros—are headed to Club 21’s La Bota Loca, Northern California’s original gay Latin cowboy party, which celebrates its 11th year this month. It’s the club’s most popular night—especially the third Saturday of the month, when bandas, traditional Mexican brass bands, draw crowds of over 400.

The vaqueros are largely Spanish-speaking, a mix of immigrants from rural Mexico and Central America (regulars come from as far as Salinas) and local East Bay adopters of the swaggering style. Though the dance floor is a uniform sea of wide-brim hats, floral embroidery, and Western plaid, there are subtle footwear distinctions: flat-front boots from Texas, pointed styles from Mexico, and bravado-bolstering spike-toe versions typically flaunted by out-of-towners. At 2 a.m., banda gives way to Spanish pop and liquor is swapped for Red Bull, but the two-stepping goes on until 4, when the last of the vaqueros saunters into the night. Club 21, 2111 Franklin St. (Near 21st St.), Oakland, 510-268-9425

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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