A Banksy-themed nightclub in Mexico brings the street artist’s work to the dance floor

At the Banksy Social Club in Mazatlan, Mexico, you enter through the gift shop. There, in the haze of smoke and neon, displayed on mannequin heads resembling Renaissance busts, are a variety of baseball caps embroidered with Banksy’s partial peace signs. CND soldiers (2005). They cost around £22 each. It’s safe to say they weren’t officially licensed, but as one of Banksy’s stencils put it, “Copyright is for losers.”

Enter the club’s matrix of lasers and strobe lights and you’ll find a framed reproduction of CND soldiers with other Banksy icons, such as the Palestinian “flower thrower” and the urinating palace guard; recessed into the wall beside him, the facade of a red telephone booth is flanked by a listener in a trench coat from his spy booth wall.

Unlike the naked, tray-carrying Neanderthal depicted in another golden frame, the waiters at the Banksy Social Club are dressed to perfection. Buy a bottle of Moët and a host in traditional Arabic dress and keffiyeh (a nod to “cultural diversity,” a spokesperson for the club owners explained) will parade down the dance floor with a faux-gold machine gun . Unlike the one who pencil boy Toted in Banksy’s 2011 Los Angeles mural, this gun serves as a sparkler. Not far behind, a waiter in a red jacket hoists a fake missile similar to the one attached to the elephant in heavy armament– except this rocket has glow-in-the-dark shot glasses. Bringing up the rear are women in skin-tight jumpsuits and laser-beam sunglasses hoisting giant letters that spell out — you guessed it — “BANKSY.”

Mazatlan, a city on the Sinaloa coast blessed with an abundance of sunshine and seafood, isn’t known for its arts scene. Mexican families flock here to sip huge micheladas from the back of golf cart-like taxis or sing along to banda music as they cruise down Rio de Janeiro’s boardwalk in party vans. In the resort-filled Golden Zone – with its Señor Frog’s outlets and ATV rental outlets – you wouldn’t expect to come across a warehouse-like building spray-painted with Banksy teddy bears and Keith Haring dogs. But there it is. Even the palm trees outside were tagged top to bottom with words like “Happiness” and “Street Art.”

The exterior of the Banksy Social Club Photo by Daniel Maurer

Banksy Social Club was opened in March 2021 by Marea Group, a hotel group that also operates La Marea, a destination restaurant with stunning views of Mazatlan’s bustling harbor and mountaintop lighthouse. The clubs Facebook page features gogo girls and scantily clad dudes dancing in steel cages, along with pleas such as “Make the night yours” and “Please don’t touch the artwork!” “. The artwork, the owners say, was created entirely by local artists.

While it’s easy to dismiss pirate Banksies as a gimmick, they were certainly not added as an afterthought. The club’s lobby and its first room are laid out like galleries, with large sculptures of a graffitied lion and an angel holding a missile. The latter was likely inspired by Banksy’s stencil of the Mona Lisa shouldering a bazooka, a reproduction of which is mounted nearby and protected behind a red velvet rope.

Replicas of Banksy artwork at the Banksy Social Club Photo by Daniel Maurer

The Grupo Marea spokesperson describes the effort as “an eclectic homage to rebel art.” As rebellious as Banksy’s work is, the artist recently attempted (unsuccessfully) to use European Union trademark law to prevent unauthorized use of his name and images. Asked what Banksy might think of this particular appropriation, the Grupo Marea spokesperson reiterated that it was a tribute to “art in all its expressions, with references to various trends and artists of a diversity of genres”. The club also includes a light installation evoking Dan Flavin or James Turrell, which doubles as a selfie mirror.

Has Banksy heard of his eponymous Mexican social club? The spokesperson did not say if he had been in touch, and Pest Control, the artist’s authentication body, did not respond to requests for comment. The same can be said: if you can’t make it to a traveling Banksy exhibit (which also tends to be heavy on reproductions), it might be the next best thing. If you like your street art served with reggaetón and laser beams, this is probably the first best thing.

The Banksy Social Club dance floor, with tributes to the works of Banksy and Keith Haring Photo by Daniel Maurer

Jerry C. Greiner