As a child, Dolores Trujillo wasn't allowed in her father's bar — one of the oldest in Arizona. Today, she's there all the time, serving the regulars and tourists who show up at Abe's Old Tumacacori Bar for a taste of history and a chance to make new friends.
© John Wagner
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By Noah Austin
At 5 p.m. on a Friday, the regulars start showing up at Abe's Old Tumacacori Bar, and Dolores Trujillo greets each of them with a hug and a smile. It's already been a busy day at Abe's. Dolores happened to be there at 10:30 in the morning and found two Harley riders checking out the bar. When she heard they were from California, she insisted on opening the front door and showing them around the old adobe structure. "The minute we park the car in front or open that door," she says, "somebody knows we're open. It doesn't matter what time of day."
Dolores, 63, treats all of her customers like they're family, and her warm, accommodating nature is a family trait. She's the third generation of the Trujillo family to run Abe's, and even though she got into the business inadvertently, it seems to come as naturally to her as it did to her father, Abe.
Abe's father, Tirso, built the bar, which sits across from Tumacácori
National Historical Park, in the 1930s. The park is home to Mission San
José de Tumacácori, an 18th century Spanish mission, and it's the main
attraction in this community of 400 just south of Tubac. There's history
at Abe's, too: It holds the oldest active liquor license in Southern Arizona.
Tirso ran the bar until his death in 1941. His widow, Guadalupe, ran it for a few years after that, and Abe, who was 6 years old when the bar opened, helped his mother operate the old cash register, make drinks and pay the bills. In 1950, Abe turned 21, and Guadalupe handed the bar over to him.
"Dad didn't want to expose us to the bar," Dolores says of her childhood. "As a girl, I wasn't allowed to come into the bar. My job would be coming down to the back door and knocking on the door to give Dad coffee or whatever Mom had sent over. I wasn't allowed to open the door. I could be there five seconds or five hours. I could not open that door."
Abe worked at the bar until shortly before his death in 2010. He was 81. The plan was for Dolores' older brother, Charlie, to take over the bar from Abe, but Charlie died of cancer in 1995. Two days after his death, Dolores found her father sitting in a corner of the bar, despondent. Despite his objections, Dolores sent him home to be with his wife.
At the time, Dolores was a bank manager in nearby Green Valley. She was still wearing her work clothes, and she'd never worked in a bar before.
She says her father told her she wouldn't be able to handle some of the rougher bar regulars. "I told him, 'Daddy, I've had four brothers. What can these guys do to me that they didn't?' "
She tended bar until 1 a.m., relying on help from regulars on how to mix drinks and how much to charge. After the bar closed, Abe came in, saw a huge pickle jar filled with money and asked whether that was the night's take. "I told him: 'No, Daddy. Those are my tips!' He said, 'How come I never get tips like that?' I told him, 'Wear 5-inch heels, and maybe you will!' "
She doesn't wear heels like that anymore, but from that day on, Dolores was a fixture at Abe's. She stepped in regularly for her father, and in 1999, she quit her day job to work there full time and "retire" Abe from behind the bar so that he could do what he did best — socialize with customers. Dolores and her daughter, Charlie, split time behind the bar now.
One of Dolores' favorite "Abe" stories is the time that her father heard something at the bar early one morning in the 1950s. He walked over and found that the front door had been broken open. Two young men — University of Arizona football players — were stealing cases of beer, and a third man was waiting in a getaway car.
"The two guys attacked my daddy," she said. "And they landed on the ground."
The men ran to their car and took off. About 25 years later, Dolores says, a man walked into the bar, looked around and left quickly. He did that several more times over the next year or two before getting the nerve to speak to Abe and apologize, but Abe knew who he was before he even opened his mouth.
"My dad had phenomenal instincts," Dolores says. "He asked him, 'Are you the driver?' The man said, 'How did you know?' My dad said, 'I didn't think the other two guys would be back.' "
Dolores inherited her dad's penchant for remembering faces and telling stories. "God gave me two things, and I use them well: a memory and a big mouth," she says with a laugh. She also inherited Abe's ability to read people, and that's served her well at the old-fashioned bar.
Abe's, unlike most businesses, is cash only. So, what happens when someone tries to pay with a credit card?
"I'll tease them and tell them they can wash dishes, which, of course, is against the law," Dolores says. "But I'll tease them, or I'll say, 'Mail me a check.' You'd be surprised how many checks we get in the mail. … No one's ever run out on me."
She remembers the time a well-dressed woman and her son came in and played pool for a few hours. At the end of the night, they realized they hadn't brought any cash.
A year later, the woman's husband came back to pay the tab. "That was 15 years ago," she says, "and he and I have become best friends since then."
For Dolores, those connections are what make it a joy to carry on her father's legacy. "That's what the bar business is," she adds. "Getting people together, spending time together and getting to know someone new."
Abe's Old Tumacacori Bar is located at 1900 E. Frontage Road in Tumacacori. For more information, call 520-398-1227.
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