The Aloha Cafe (1928-2011) Tijuana’s first pre-tiki bar, was sporadically located on Avenida Revolución (then known as Main Street by americanos) — for over eighty years! It changed hands, was burned down and rebuilt several times, but stood the test of time until a fire in 2011 finally shut down the place.
The bar was first opened as The Aloha Cafe during Prohibition in 1928 by Fernando ‘Frank’ Blanco Cota. He’d previously lost The Anchor Cafe in a 1927 fire. Both catered to the US Navy crowd. Cota was born in Ensenada, Baja California, but attended school and lived above the border in San Diego. His place was connected with amateur boxing, promoting bouts between Tijuanans and Americans held in the Aloha Cafe Arena.
The U.S. federal prohibition of alcohol ended in 1933, with California following suit on April 8. A mere two months later, 150 businesses in Tijuana had closed, including 60% of the bars.
As a result Cota regularly advertised the liquor and dancing of his place to San Diegans, beckoning them to experience the racy Honolulu Trio and their ‘latest hula thrills.’ The only things tiki, really, were some decorations, the name, and the hula. Everything else screamed Tijuana tequila bar. No rum there…
Large tropical murals by San Diego artist Russell Dale Moffett (Island Cafe, Sherman’s, Paris Inn, Eddie’s Cafe, Tropic Cafe, Mexican Village and Hillcrest Bowl murals) graced its walls for years.
The Maggiora family came from the Refrancore wine country in Piedmont Italy. Angelo Della Maggiora and Giovanni ‘John’ Maggiora settled in San Diego, and for years operated a bar before the Volstead Act was passed. The oldest continually open bar in San Diego, it’s called The Tivoli.
Angelo’s son Paul Della Maggiora went into business with another Italian in Tijuana, Alessandro Cardini, forming the wildly successful Paul and Alex’s restaurant. They were known for their fancy continental food and impressive wine cave. Their restaurant was at one point just across the street from The Aloha in Miguel Gonzalez’s Hotel Comerciál. They later joined forces with Caesar Cardini to form his Original Caesar’s Place hotel and restaurant.
After the prohibition of alcohol in America, many immigrant families that had for generations been winemakers in Italy migrated south of the border. The Maggioras, Cardinis, Cardinales and Mirabiles were part of a large group of Italian immigrants that settled in Tijuana, profiting from the big Dry Law surge in business.
In the 1940s, The Aloha promoted tequila drinks a-plenty and live entertainment, with floor shows every half-hour by a cast of regular dancers.
Traditional folkloric Mexican dancers. Duos from ‘Old Mexico’ Panchita and Don José, Delfina and Don Ramón. Exotic burlesque strip-tease. Fan dancers.
Through the decades, The Aloha became a place of legend to the curious crossing the border for fun, dancing and booze. There was even a local story about the devil incarnate appearing on the dance floor.
Many rock bands, including those of Carlos Santana and Javier Batíz played at The Aloha. It became a disco in the 1970s. And strip club in the 1980s (notorious, along with The Long Bar and Club Bambi).
When the property owner was clearing out the building, Russell Dale Moffett’s forgotten murals were found rolled up in the attic. Some have subsequently sold at auction for tens-of-thousands of dollars…
Now boarded up and for sale, you can still see the neon sign on the building’s facade today.
Avenida Revolución 228
Tijuana, Baja California, México
Avenida Revolución 869
Tijuana, Baja California, México
Citation: Martin S. Lindsay. ‘Aloha Cafe, Tijuana.’ Classic San Diego: tasty bites from the history of America’s finest city. Web. < https://classicsandiego.com/restaurants/aloha-cafe-tijuana/>
“1928” Rachel St John, Line in the sand: A history of the western U.S.-Mexico border, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2011.
“finally shut down the place” Sandra Dibble, ‘Aloha Bar burns down on Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion,’ San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 Feb 2011.
“Cota regularly advertised” Various display ads, San Diego Union, San Diego Evening Tribune, 1931-19
“Carlos Santana” Dibble, ibid.
Portrait of Frank Maggiora is from U.S. border crossing documents, 1935. Souvenir photos, Arian Collins and Scott Schell collections. Cocktail napkin, ashtray and matchbook, Scott Schell collection. Photo of fire, 2011, courtesy of San Diego Union-Tribune.
10 thoughts on “Aloha Cafe, Tijuana”
I remember what great rock bands used to play in Aloha Bar, despite they were Mexicans they used to play great. This was from 1966 to 1972, I lived in Tijuana back then and used to go every weekend to Aloha, everybody dancing and drinking, white people, colored people, Mexicans from the USA and from Tijuana, great memories.
What a great post. That was fun. I really enjoyed the photos.
I can’t find any information about The Voyager, on shelter Island in the late SIXTIES. They had live music and a house band, that I can’t remember the name of. I believe they had one hit song.
In 1959, the Voyager Restaurant and the Kona Inn hotel were opened adjoining the Kona Kai Club property on Shelter Island. Later that year, the Jack Wrather Organization acquired the Kona Kai property from Smith.
Jack Wrather was the executive producer of television show Lassie, and his Beverly Hills firm owned and operated the Disneyland Hotel. In a letter to club members, he reassured them that public guests were not allowed on Kona Kai Club grounds — unless they were club members themselves. And that members got first dibs on Kona Inn room reservations. Wrather expanded the marina, but in 1963 sold the club to the Alessio Corporation (Hotel del Coronado, Mister A’s). They sold the Hotel del Coronado so they could purchase the Kona Kai…
John, Angelo, and Dominic ‘Bud’ Alessio began some more upgrades. They hired designer-planner Al Goodman to oversee the improvements. The Alessios’ house planner/designer had worked with the family for years on projects (Hotel del Coronado Victorian remodel, 1960, Shelter Island Inn). Just the right guy to give the place a little modern Polynesian Pop!
They wanted to make the Kona Kai the ‘shining jewel of San Diego.’
Voyager Restaurant overlooked San Diego Bay and fast became a swingin’ place for music, dinner, and drinks on Friday nights. Music by Dean Hawley and his Crew, Bill Green Orchestra.
Bud Alessio originated the ‘two-for-one-penny-more’ happy hour, or at least, popularized the concept in San Diego. Years before as a student at the University of Arizona, he frequented a nightspot that employed the same two-fer gimmick — buy one drink get the second for just a penny more…
I found an old booklet from Dad’s old stuff. The Aloha Cafe, Tijuana Mexico, titled “types of girls in the powder room.” Cartoonish illustrations. I am wondering how old it is.
I leave a comment for my dad who said use to go there but when there to see another band play and ready “Los Tigres del Norte….” Carlos Santana was playing there again and many X’s. “………so many or different people could go there and See Him or Have the chance to hear his music too..My dad hasn’t been there for a while and etc. But he use sit and wait at the back room area and one of his brothers or oldest one had sat on the same place or area…at the bar area…and drink there too and his closest friend those days during the late 60’s but he passed away that decade and “Garde” in 2007..
I used to go to the aloha club in the late 60’s and party with my friends, both American and mexican. the popular band that played there at that time was called “grass & flowers”. I often wonder what happened to all those friends i made back then and would love to hear from them!
I have So MANY fond Memories of DANCING AND friendship during the mid 70’s. Aloha Club was the place To be!!! Linnea & Greek
From 1977 to 1983 every weekend I was at the Aloha club…I had the time of my life…I always wonder happened to all those people that I met there 🤔. The Aloha was a place like no other…the best music & vibe. Miss those days.
hey anybody front years 1976 to 1983 reply here aloha le club the best disco time…. gerardo meraz. carlos lopez, all the good navy marines, air force army came from all the usa bases reply here. maira