Is El Paso Cool?

I remember when I lived in Austin, back before the invention of the automobile, there were Phds flipping burgers at Dirty’s. People with engineering degrees were pushing grub out the window at Mad Dog & Beans.

They weren’t doing it because the pay was great. They were doing it because they wanted to live in Austin. Because Austin was cool back then.

Is El Paso that cool?

I’m old. I’ve got a wife and a couple of young kids. My life is cool. I think El Paso is cool. But everyone has to find that kind of cool for themselves, and I’m not the demographic that our city leaders are courting.

Apparently El Paso isn’t that cool, because people are still fleeing El Paso like it’s on fire and the pumper trucks are dry.

Before we can decide if El Paso’s cool, let’s talk about what “cool” means.

I’ve been chewing on this for some time, and I’ve got some ideas. I’m sure you’ll let me know if you think I’m wrong.

I think cool is unexpected value. When the Morocco Club was selling filet mignon dinners for $5, that was definitely cool. But it wasn’t just the cheap prices. The Morocco’s whole 1960s almost-tiki-club vibe was cool. Old Red Mender was cool. They didn’t know the place was retro. It just was.

The Morocco Club didn’t advertise, because cool is effortless. Trying to be cool is the complete opposite of cool.

Cool is authentic. Fake it till you make it isn’t cool. Faking it is just faking it. Pretending to be cool isn’t cool, because it’s not authentic and it’s not effortless.

Cool isn’t branded sportswear. Wearing a Nike t-shirt with a foot tall Nike logo isn’t cool. Wearing a Nike t-shirt with a foot tall Nike logo like a billboard on your chest just makes you a shill for a company that pays Malaysians pennies a day to make $100 sneakers.

Chuck Taylors were cool till everybody started wearing them in an effort to be cool. People aren’t doing that anymore, so now maybe Chucks are getting to be cool again. There’s a difference between selling out and everybody buying in.

Chuck Taylors offered unexpected value. Converse wasn’t faking it, and Converse wasn’t putting a lot of effort into selling Chucks, until they were, and they jacked the price, and then Chucks weren’t cool anymore.

Cool isn’t just unexpected value. Cool is recognizing unexpected value.

The Tap used to be cool. Now it’s just a place to get good Mexican food. To be fair, The Tap is still kind of cool. But it used to be cooler before everybody figured it out.

That’s what they used to say about Austin. “It’s cool, but it used to be cooler.”

Nobody thinks Austin is cool anymore. Austin is expensive and pretentious, the complete opposite of cool.

I guess there are still some cool places in El Paso. I don’t go out much anymore. I’ve got a wife, and a couple of young kids, and there’s just not much reason for me to go out. The Jacalito is cool. The Jalisco is cool. Monarch is cool.

Cool isn’t mass market. Cool is kind of exclusive. Not exclusive because not everyone can afford it. Exclusive because not everyone gets it.

Cool is a certain vibe.

Cool places are generally small, because if cool places are big they’ve already jumped the shark and they’re probably not cool anymore.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I do not care if El Paso is cool, I do not care if other people (from El Paso or from elsewhere) like it or not. I like it, so I live here. I have seen my family and many friends move away, and then get all nostalgic about missing the mountains or the food or whatever. I never was cool, so I cannot possibly guess what cool things I’m missing by staying here, but still I know that I like it here.

    1. Not worrying about whether you’re cool or not is one of the requirements of being cool.

  2. I’m too old to be cool. Really, I was too old when I moved here almost 30 years ago. I think of cool as funky, but what is funky? When I lived briefly in Santa Fe in the old Casa Solana neighborhood, I thought it might be funky. Like my next door neighbor with a 60s vintage pickup truck on blocks in his driveway and a backyard full of scrap iron. Then I realized it’s funky if he has an MFA from Yale and is a sculptor and it’s just junky if he’s an unemployed plumber. I think he was the latter. Also the house up the street with a front yard full of old sofas and arm chairs and rats. Not funky.

    The old craft home neighborhoods in Rio Grande remind me of my Santa Fe neighborhood except the homes here don’t cost $400K. Are the El Paso neighborhoods cool? Or just old neighborhoods? They are depopulating now, something I discovered when we were protesting the Downtown/Uptown Plan that was more about gentrification.

    Mostly, Santa Fe was too rich to be cool and was becoming the HIV retirement capitol as I left it and rented the house to an investment advisor from NYC whose job didn’t survive the 2008 bond market debacle. Valarie Plame, the glamorous CIA-outed spy also moved to Santa Fe in this period. Glamorous spies don’t move to El Paso, cool or not.

    I like your observation that cool is recognizing unexpected value. But I still don’t see El Paso as cool (it is a value) nor can I put my finger on any definition of it other than that people here are exceptionally polite, friendly and generous. My out-of-town guests notice this, too. Like many of you, I was disgusted with Wilson’s Glass Beach initiative to make El Paso the New West and City Hall is still marching to that drummer, e.g., the Downtown/Uptown Plan last year and the push for a downtown arena. Was the opposition just people fed up with debt and taxes or was it the revolt against the New West image? Leave us alone so we can be cool!

    It can be personal. My experience here of cool/funky is sitting at the bar at Ardovinos Desert Crossing on a Sunday night enjoying a salad, calamari and a few glasses of wine. It was better when Misty was the bartender/sommelier there but she’s been gone for a while now. Still, it’s the funkiest place I know here and whenever I’ve entertained out-of-town guests there, they were blown away by it. The Desert Crossing is cool.

    Thanks for the chance to ramble.

  3. Old Sheepdog Brewery is definitely cool and authentic. And the paletas con crema at Tepalca?: yum, though the Canutillo location seemed more cozy and genuine. I miss the once-more international atmosphere such as the ability to cross the border with ease, visit friends and UACJ events, and eat lunch without waiting in long lines to return. El Paso? murals and street art are memorable and unique. The architectural beauty of UTEP´s Bhutanese buildings: breathtaking, and yes, cool by design!

    1. If you time it right, you don’t have to wait in long lines to return…

  4. I am afraid that I, too, am way too old to be cool or even pay attention to those things that are cool. Frankly, whatever coolness we had seems to have mostly disappeared from the local scene. I’m so old that I remember when Alameda was cool. Crossing the border was cool. So cool that, after our wedding at Ft. Bliss, we took the entire bridal party to Zaragoza (Waterfill) for our Wedding Dinner and our formal photographs, one very hot June day, long and long ago. So cool that we crossed the border multiple times per week for produce, meals, haircuts, car washes, social events, and even beer runs. Hell, I used to buy Corona Extra by the case before that was cool, and it only cost me about $5.00 per case of 20! Sadly, if I wasn’t so old, I’d be looking for some place else to live.

  5. My ex used to tell me that in the 70s and 80s the downtown offices would empty out on a Friday afternoon and everyone go over to Juarez for pitchers of margaritas. Before my time here but that sounds cool. There was nothing like that in Milwaukee unless you call a Friday night fish fry cool. They were great and I miss them but too Catholic to be cool.

  6. Is “hip” the same thing as cool? Remember Wilson’s plan for downtown was to fill it with hipsters ala’ urbanist Richard Florida’s theory. At that time and even now I can only name two people here that I would call hipsters – Hal Marcus and former Rep. Peter Svarzbein – both nice guys but they haven’t cloned themselves into a hipster culture here.

    Does cool equal hip?

    1. They’re cousins. Hipsters try too hard. They’re affectatious. (How about all these products and places that bill themselves as “trendy”. Like trendiness is a virtue.) Hipster is a tribe you can join by growing a beard and wearing flannel. Cool, on the other hand, is effortless. It’s not caring about what’s trendy. Cool is authentic. If you’re trying to be cool, you’re the opposite of cool. You can’t buy cool. You have to inhabit it.

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