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The Wildcatter

Curious, a  recent  subscriber to Intrepid Optimist asks what is or was the connection with the Wildcatter Club and why do some of the site’s stories mention it. For those of you who are regular readers and contributors to our story section, please bear with me while I explain a little more about the Wildcatter - the source and inspiration for some of our past stories.

The late sixties, early seventies were the oil-boom years for Ecuador and there were many foreigners employed in the Oriente oil fields, located in Amazon jungle, east of the Andes. Apart from the two hotel bars in Quito, there were only four, what you could call international bars in the city; The Wildcatter Club, the Town House, the City Bar and the Silver Slipper disco. The four catered to the expatriate oil-field community of managers, engineers, geologists, roughnecks and rednecks who and were involved in the arduous and exclusive world of oil exploration. Most of the customers were rough and tough and they made and enjoyed spending their hard earned dollars.  I had recently taken over as partner and manager of the Wildcatter.

 The bar itself already had its own character before I moved in. I inherited the old customers and welcomed new ones; many of whom were characters in their own right. There was the George White, a Texan, who stopped a bus carrying an unwilling, young Columbian girl to a convent by shooting flat its tyres. He later married her. Sydney Lewis was an eccentric Englishman who attempted to kill his wife by driving a car at her. He missed and she, in retaliation, threw him out of the first floor window of their hotel room and only succeeded in breaking his arm. Jose Maria Plaza, one of nature’s gentlemen, had become a legend back in 1948, when he impersonated his imprisoned brother Galo, allowing him to escape and become the President of Ecuador (1948 – 1952). Another Ecuadorian regular was Chino Holguien who with his partner Guido had bought a small distillery, only to find that the previous owner was on the run after poisoning half the population of a small Andean village by selling them rum made with wood alcohol. They learned from his mistake; their whiskey being prepared with less lethal alcohol, water, saccharine and a soupcon of brown shoe polish for flavour and colour.

 I had no experience as a restaurateur and less in coping the characters and the bizarre incidents that would frequently happen. I had only been installed in the club for couple of days and was in the garden with Brian MacDowell, the Scottish, out-going partner. Suddenly he spotted a passing Ecuadorian who, he  claimed, had stolen from him. Physically dragging the man into the bar, he took a silver plated .45 calibre pistol, kept behind the bar presumably for events such as this; handed it to me and informed me that he was off to find a policeman and should the petrified villain move as much as one millimetre, I was to shoot him in the right foot.

The  Club itself was in a large and attractive house off the Ave Amazonas and at the corner of Ave Colon y Juan Leon Mera. If you turned right on leaving the club and walked to the 9 de Octubre you came to a police station which housed two large cells for drunks, criminals and the like. It was also a lucrative location for the police who would make a little extra pocket money from ripping off the prostitutes who worked the Ave Veintimilla. We had no need for the police as any trouble in the bar was dealt with in-house and it was known that the members of police hierarchy frequented the Wildcatter with his mistresses.

Customers of ours unlucky enough to get stopped for drinking and driving and perhaps refusing to bribe the police would occasionally end up in the jail. Dieter was a friendly German drunk who worked for a Swiss chemical company. Shortly after leaving the bar one night, he phoned to say he was in the jail for causing a traffic accident. Could we send him over a steak sandwich and a couple of bottles of beer? We spoilt him. We hired a group of Mariachi musicians and along with his sandwich, and case of beer we took a couple of bottles of rum for the guards. The visit became a lively party; the guards letting the prostitutes out of their cell to dance with us.

In an attempt to elevate the standard of the club, I decided to adopt a dress code. I made it known that in future, only suitably   dressed members would be admitted; suits, jackets, ties would become the order of the day. It never occurred to me that a roughneck’s wardrobe chiefly consisted of, a half a dozen pairs of blue jeans, a stack of white T shirts, the standard of pair of snakeskin boots and a belt with a large silver buckle. I was made aware of my error when two of the toughest arrived in T shirts with ties printed on them.
Apart from one incident when, ashamedly, it was me who lost my rag, there were no punch-ups in the bar. There were the occasional bouts of chest wrestling, which came to nothing and rather more seriously, there were incidents of guns being drawn; usually by drunken Ecuadorian officers but these too passed without casualties.

My own Gordon Ramsey occurred during a late night, alcohol fuelled altercation with Leonidas, Jose Maria’s son. Leonidas was a good customer, an impetuous friend  (he introduced me to my future wife) a wealthy layabout and a sometime torero. The slow delivery of a lobster dish caused the row. In a malignant temper he had followed me upstairs to my office. We came to blows, both of us tumbling down the broad wooden staircase. Friends and staff pulled us apart and with both of us, still in high dudgeon we agreed to finish the scrap at eight the next morning, in the club’s front garden.

Leonidas, being somewhat larger and fitter than myself and despite the confidence of Gladys - the waitress and self-appointed second for the dual - that I would murder the matador, made the following hours some of the longest ones I have lived through.

Five minutes before the dreaded moment arrived, my telephone rang. It was my would-be antagonist who - like me - had sobered up. He admitted that he could not quite remember what the duel was to be all about. As is often the norm after ludicrous alcoholic incidents, commonsense in the cold light of dawn prevailed. Instead of us attempting to break each other’s heads, we met and  reconciled our differences over breakfast of Ceviche and cold beer.

 Despite the roughnecks and rednecks we had as regular patrons, we were beginning to get a different class of clientele. Junior diplomats from the Foreign Ministry began to call in for drinks and the music. Ex-pat Brits and their wives, who worked in agricultural projects throughout the country, took to dropping in when they came to town. It took  Peter, a true Cornishman, two full days to travel from his tea plantation near the Sangay volcano to get to the Wildcatter and a decent meal. (Peter and I became  partners in another legendary bar of which more will be heard in future stories).  Simon, the British Ambassador’s son and good friend, introduced his parents to the club and with their patronage the diplomats from the American and other embassies became regular customers.

Of course, things did not always go as planned. Truthfully, the really difficult customers were not the tough oil-field boys but their wives. While their men were at work in the jungle, a few of these women, who could out-drink any man I have known, would be out marauding the four international bars. A particular crazy bunch of six, all from Bakersfield, California and all of them large enough to have qualified for the World Wrestling Federation, took to parading around the streets wearing cardboard bowler hats and with the “Silver Slipper Drinking Team” printed on their T shirts. 

As we were beginning to get a name for being the smart Limey bar, we became a target for the SSDTs, as they were known. They loved to make surprise visits, usually at the most inconvenient of times and as there was no doorman, they were in before we could stop them. Getting them out was more difficult. On the occasion I was able to finally bar the SSDTs from the premises, Jean Clarke, the American Consul, who apparently had had past problems with one of the group, was in the restaurant having lunch with two friends. The Bakersfield broad, quite drunk, spotted jean from the bar. Leaving her team mates she went over to the consul’s table and explained that she was going to show them a trick. Without any further warning she whipped the tablecloth off the table; the trick being to leave the glasses and dishes on the table and intact. Obviously the trick did not work – if it was ever intended to – and the three lady guests got their lunch tipped over them.

Word was getting around of this and other such traumatic incidents and we were becoming the bar in town. The barmen at the city’s two main hotels - being well tipped - began directing visiting businessmen in our direction and which meant more characters began to appear on the scene  and this - dear‘Curious, in a nut shell, is why the Wildcatter is the origin of so many authentic anecdotes.


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