A little less than two years ago, friends Pedro Jimenez and Pablo Razo opened a bar and Mexican restaurant on the South Side. They called it Rockotlan, and hoped it would be a new stronghold for heavy metal music in Milwaukee.
Approximately six-hundred-and-sixty-six days later, it seems safe to say that Rockotlan has done its job. With a menu featuring margaritas like the Iron Maiden ($6.66), music videos blaring behind the bar, and, most importantly, live local metal every Saturday. Rockotlan has quietly become Milwaukee’s premiere metal venue.
But this Saturday will be a special one, as it marks the bar’s 666th day of existence. Local stalwarts NSOA and Darisam will perform, and most drinks and food will be priced at $6.66. Don’t let the preoccupation with the Devil’s number scare you off – Jimenez says it’s a calling card for metalheads, not Satan worship. When I bring up the Norwegian black metal bands known for burning churches and murdering each other, he just shakes his head.
Jimenez became a fan of metal as a teenager in the early '80s, and since moving here from Mexico City (where the genre is becoming increasingly popular) in 1996, he has been a fixture of the local scene. He never played in bands, but for years, he and Raza would rent out Vnuk’s (now The Blue Pig) in Cudahy once a month for Spanish-language rock or metal shows. When an opportunity arose for them to open their own venue, they thought, “why not?”
For a place whose walls are painted dark purple and adorned with dangerous-looking swords, Rockotlan is actually very welcoming. That’s sort of the point. Jimenez admits that the local metal scene is “kind of weak,” saying that people will turn out en masse for big national acts like Slayer (which played The Rave in 2010), but that he’d like to see more enthusiasm for local bands. That’s where Rockotlan comes in: it’s a place to build the metal community.
“The first time I walked into Rockotlan I said to myself, ‘this is it, this is the joint,’” says Zakk Z., bassist of NSOA, which plays there often. “It instantly felt like home.” Z. sees Rockotlan as sort of a safe-haven for heavy bands, a place where they are allowed to be themselves. “Rockotlan is the kind of venue our scene has needed in Milwaukee forever,” he says. “I think people have a general misconception when it comes to the music we do and other bands like us… Pedro “gets it,” so to speak. He understands the culture, he understands the expression.”
As much as Jimenez loves heavy metal, it was never his plan to open a bar like Rockotlan: one thing just led to another. When I ask him what his favorite show at Rockotlan has been so far, Jimenez can’t decide. He has been going to metal shows in Milwaukee for over fifteen years, and knows nearly every band and person that steps through the door. He enjoys it all. “That’s why I work here,” he says. He may have never dreamed of opening a place like Rockotlan, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a dream job.
Rockotlan (3447 W. Forest Home Ave.) will celebrate its 666th day this Saturday, August 10 at 9 p.m., with performances by NSOA, Darisam and DJ Lobo.