Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adios Tio's

A backhoe picks at the pile of rubble that once was Tio's Mexican Cafe on Huron Street in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

Tio’s Mexican Cafe is alive and well on Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor. The same can’t be said for its original location just two blocks away.

It got leveled last week after sitting vacant for several months when the city wouldn’t renew the building lease. Now all that’s left is a flat spot.

Sad really, and I don’t even know why. It was, after all, just a building – and to be fair, not much of one - but to me it was more than that.

The original Tio’s was my gazing point for nearly 12-years. The place I’d get lost in a daydream, as I’d stare out of the third floor window from the Ann Arbor News’ photo department.

The squat, little, one-story rectangular building may have been small, but it was full of attitude and flavor - lots of flavor, and not just the food. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the food, but my wife didn’t (she liked the food, just not me after I ate it, if you catch my drift). It was always a battle from me - the lure of a wet burrito versus not being allowed in the same zip code with my wife for three days.

Tio’s had a vibe. It was the perfect non-coffee-shop-place to hang out. To hell with laptops and Wi-Fi, Tio’s gave you a real sensory experience, both aromatically and visually. The intoxicating smells of fresh Mexican food outdone only by an inside wall covered with the coolest assortment of “R” rated hot sauces usually named after a flaming-hot part of the lower-rear side of your anatomy (“Screaming Sphincter” was my personal favorite).

If that wasn’t cool (or hot) enough, the outside wall of Tio’s was adorned with the absolute best mural in Ann Arbor - a gigantic, underwater world that completely engulfed you. Because The Ann Arbor News parking lot was located behind Tio’s, I had the privilege of walking past that mural everyday I went to work, and everyday it seemed I’d see something new. It was the rare, extremely large painting that looked just as good from up close, as it did from a distance.

Now it’s gone.

Oddly enough, the day Tio’s was being torn down, I drove right past it and didn’t even notice. It wasn’t until I ran into Tio’s owner, Tim Seaver, 5-minutes later walking down Washington Street that I found out its fate.

"Well, she’s gone.” Tim said, a tinge of sadness in his voice.

When I found out what he was talking about, we both just stared silently at the sidewalk. As many memories as I have for the old Tio’s, I could only imagine the treasure trove of feelings Tim must have had for the old building.

We chatted a while about his new location, which, according to Tim, is doing quite well, but the main gist of our conversation kept drifting back to the old location.

“It’s amazing how quickly she deteriorated after you guys moved.” I said.

“Well, there was no life there after we left.” Tim replied. “A building needs life.”

As we spoke, you could hear the backhoe tearing into the pile of rubble that once was Tio’s, just a block away. If we were 50-yards further east on Washington Street, we could have seen it as well, but I don’t think either one of us really wanted to look.

All that's left of Tio's underwater mural. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

“Man, the mural, I can’t believe it’s gone.” I lamented.

The mural had faded badly over the years - nowhere near the bright, brilliant piece it once was, which made it all the sadder knowing it now was strewn all over the ground like a jigsaw-puzzle, cement block, by cement block, not far from where we were talking.

Tim looked wistful, but smiled. “That was something, wasn’t it? People would come from all over to look at that mural. I even had couples take their wedding pictures in front of it.”

We spent a few more minutes reminiscing, and then we parted ways. Tim headed west on Washington Street, walking slowly away with his head down in thought, but I decided to head a block north and take one last look at the backhoe ripping away at our memories.

Nothing lasts forever.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what to say ... the new place prolly doesn't have any of the old Tio's charm, yet... thing is, it more than likely will be that 'place' where people choose to meet and come together...

    Going to a local spot like that versus one of the chain places that manufacture character, is where the spirit is. I am sure that the new people that go into Tio's now, will think of it as 'their' place...

    ... btw, have you ever tried Xochimilco's down in southwest in Detroit? That would qualify as my 'Tio's', with all the character and what it represents for me.