Doña Vicky: A Business Woman from Birth

The Texas Story Project.

As a child, I always heard “The Bar”, from all my family. “We’re going to the bar tonight”, “She’s at the bar tonight”, “They need help at the bar” always in reference to someone in my family, who spent their nights working at the bar.

Not until years later did I find out that my grandmother and grandfather, a sweet woman with sun-kissed skin and curly hair white as snow, and an older man with bright red hair who spent his days dancing with all the children of the family, owned “The Bar”.

In December of 1934, Victoria Gonzales, was born in San Antonio, Texas, as a business woman before she could even walk. Raised by a family of business people, from her parents who owned multiple businesses, grandparents who owned a grocery store, and a sister who owned a bar/grocery store joint, Victoria had the same work ethic as the rest of her family, working for 20 years of her life at her sister’s bar, alongside her own factory day job until deciding to go into business for herself.

On a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon in 1956, Victoria and her daughter, Idalia, who was only four years old, were informed that their food had been paid for them by one Jose Lopez, a young man from Mexico, with bright red hair sitting across the restaurant. He came over to the two, introducing himself as a regular customer at Victoria’s grandmother’s store, admitting he had admired her from afar for quite some time. Despite his kind acts and good looks, Victoria rejected his initial offer for a date, claiming it was, “His bright red beard, like Santa Claus, I couldn’t stand to look at it”, Victoria reminisced, laughing at the memory of Jose’s red beard, a feature she grew to love. He wished them a good day, the first words spoken that would eventually lead to Sundays spent at the drive-ins, dates, and eventually, a marriage, children, and multiple businesses of their own.

After marriage, the Lopez’s had two more children, in addition to the three toddlers from before. “Life was good, the kids were happy and taken care of, we were a happy family, eating together and spending our days outside with each other,” says Victoria reflecting on her children growing up, and her marriage to Jose. During this time, Jose owned a small tire shop, just across the street from what would eventually be their own bar, and Victoria worked in the Judson Candy Factory, spending her time between there and her sister’s bar.

Before opening the bar, El Vacilón, in 1987, the Lopez couple was unsure of owning their own business, having little experience in this area. Despite these doubts, Victoria made the decision to go forth with it, and on November 16th, 1987, El Vacilón became a reality, and soon after, earned a reputation as a staple business of the San Antonio nightlife. Despite various obstacles, including having to move every few years, the occasional violent outbreak, and the inevitable day-to-day responsibilities that come with owning a business, the bar was a success, both economically and personally. “I liked the business a lot. I didn’t have customers, only friends who helped and respected the business as well as us”, Victoria reminisced, recalling memories of staff becoming like family, of Halloweens spent dressing up, of the countless Saturday nights lasting until four or five in the morning, and of Victoria earning the affectionately respectful title of “Doña Vicky”.

Despite being a small place, with just enough room for a crowded bar, an essential jukebox, and small, stuffed-in dancefloor in the back, the bar was filled with people every weekend and some week days, dancing and drinking until past 3 a.m., without the worries of the mundane daily life. “Rarely were there fights in the bar, no, how do you say, violence. People were happy to play pool, drink and dance until early morning”, she recalled on her overall experience of the thirty-one years at the bar. El Vacilón embodied the culture of San Antonio, mostly full of friendly people who were respectful, happy and wanted to have a good time, and others to have the same experience even if it was just for a few hours during the wee hours of the night, drinking, dancing, and listening to Tejano music together.

For thirty-one years, El Vacilón was a lively and happy atmosphere, one where feuds turned into sharing drinks and laughter, where shy glances across the bar would later become weddings and children, had held birthdays, reunions, and where a humble, hardworking woman would become known as “Doña Vicky”, the business woman from birth.

Isabella Lopez is an eighteen year-old freshman at St. Mary’s University currently majoring in Biology, and hopes to pursue disease research after college. Born and raised in San Antonio, along closely with all of her family, this was the motivation behind this story, to explore and share the story of a staple location of her family.

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