• Reading time:27 mins read

I was sitting in a hostel in Antigua when suddenly, I started hearing music. It was different. I got into a room with high wooden ceilings. Three walls were painted turquoise and one red was yawning emptiness. Frames covered the turquoise ones. In some, I could see random objects like a small microscope, a videotape, or even a collection of condoms. It caught my attention and I started to talk to the bartender. His name is Christian Barahona but everyone calls him “Titi”. After some time talking to him, I decided that I wanted to know more. When I was leaving his bar, I told him, I’m gonna make an interview with you. He said, okay. And here we go. 

So this is the story of a person that I ran into during my travels in Guatemala. It’s full of life’s successes and struggles, about art, love, traveling, family, what’s important, and an empty wall in a bar. His friend, a very special person to him (a nurse for the brain) said about him “he’s the most introverted extrovert I´ve ever met”. He’s a bartender, a well-known artist and an art teacher, but his favorite job is to be alive. In his bar, Mancha, you can feel the art, the authenticity and a different energy. As he says, being in his bar is like being in his living room. People are allowed to play their music for each drink they order or even come inside the bar and create their cocktail. So take a seat, grab a big drink and enjoy! 

When I first met you, you said that bartending is not your only job, so tell me about the other jobs. 

So basically I have three jobs. My main job is graphic design and advertising, including murals, photography, illustration, and lettering. My second job is bartending and my third job, which I started during the pandemic for free, is teaching art to kids. 

How long have you been working as an artist? 

It is gonna be probably 32 years. I studied graphic design at a college in Guatemala and then did a couple of master’s degrees in Barcelona. Since then, I have been constantly studying on my own, doing my research, and trying something new. For example, I learned how to work with epoxy resin, it’s a type of plastic resin that allows you can create any type of souvenir, craft and so on. I learned by watching hundreds of videos on YouTube, I started buying stuff and eventually learned how to work with it. So that’s my style of living, if something is interesting I will start to learn it. 

titi car

So even having opened the bar, your main job was this. 

Absolutely. I still live like a graphic designer. In Antigua, people know me because I have been doing many murals, logos, etc. in the city and I opened the bar because of my unemployed dad, and had to take care of him. And, with art, you can’t “push” people to hire you, and even giving my resume to more people, well, not everyone needs design all the time, so the best option was to open something that the public “needs and likes” constantly. 

What was your biggest achievement in art? 

Luckily, I’ve had many, but I remember one specific. Back in the day, probably 25 years ago, there were advertising awards in Guatemala called Premios 21 (21 Awards). In the agency I was working for, we signed up with probably 5 different designs but none of them won. When they were done with the 21st award, one of the judges stood up and said, “This is gonna be the first year during the whole awards when I and other judges decided to create the 22nd category – the best digital graphic design”. And they gave it to me! I cried in public. 

Wow, that’s amazing. So what was that what you created? 

There were actually two pieces representing the idea that we are living in a world that we shouldn’t destroy. So what I did was I took probably a thousand pictures of the wood texture of trees and I applied the texture on the naked bodies so it looked like they were made out of the tree cortex. It took me a few weeks, but at that time no one had seen that type of digital work made on a computer. So that’s why they gave me the award. 

This is the winning design. After many years he found so many mistakes. Can you find at least 5 of them?

What about your third job? The teaching.

I taught in college when I was younger. I graduated from college when I was 19. When I came from Italy, I was 16, I did equivalencies and I started college almost right away. Some of my teachers, well, weren’t that good. So my parents encourage me to talk to the faculty management to teach. Some of them told me, you’re still too young, you’re just 17. The faculty of graphic design asked me to create a curriculum for 1 class, and they accepted it and from there, I became a teacher of my own schoolmates in different subjects. So I’ve been teaching half of my life. I love to teach. 

How did your teaching career continue? 

At some point, I also took in counting the kids, so I created a program called Creative Minds for them.

“I‘ve always believed that kids have the most precious minds and the most absorbing ones.

If you can teach any kid something from a young age it’s gonna be easier for them to learn.

When the pandemic started I still had work to do, but I was getting a little bit bored. My dad came up with an idea, to teach art to people who were at home. And I retook my program, Creative Minds and I did a video on Facebook. “I’m gonna give art classes for 3-4 hours, and I will help you with your kids”. Sadly, many people were like, “What’s the catch?” And to be honest, many other people wrote to me asking me if I had “different” intentions… Anyway, many other people accepted and I started working with probably 14 kids. I continued with the program after the pandemic, giving a sort of volunteering process to some of the public schools in Antigua and kept on doing it for free and just enjoyed it.

I have some kind of creative bond with kids. I joke with them, I’m like a clown for them  (laugh). So it makes the learning process way easier because they connect with me faster. I’ve been doing that for 3 years now. 

How do you feel about art? 

Art has always been a part of my life. My mom was an artist (RIP 3 years ago), she did everything, she worked with every possible material, from wood, metal, and paints, and she even did her own clothing. At some point, she was also doing this epoxy resin, but couldn´t continue with the process. When it comes to painting, she used acrylic, oils, watercolor, vitral and more. She has constantly been my inspiration. She was a self-taught learner, she had her own process. And I do believe that’s where I did my things. On the other hand, my dad taught me all about life, reading, and traveling.

“Read as much as you can about everything.”

And that’s what I do. Between 28 cousins, I’m the only one who dedicates myself to art. 

Okay, let’s move to the last but not least job, bartending. Why bartending?

When I was in my first advertising agency working as a junior graphic designer, I used to go to a bar named Esperanto. After some time, I became a bartender there, I kept the job in the agency, but after a few months, I was falling asleep in my cubicle. I almost got fired. The money I was earning here was like the triple that in the bar, so eventually, I quit the bar.

So what happened after that? 

Since then, I kept the feeling of socializing and getting connected with people. So after a couple of years, I worked in another spot in Guatemala City and many years later, I opened my first bar in Guatemala City. Sadly, two years later, I got screwed by my partner who sold my partnership while I was on vacation. So, 12 years ago, I decided to open my second bar in Guatemala City, named Mancha, as well.

“It was the first mixology bar that existed ever in Guatemala City.”

Mixology wasn’t even a trend, I mean no pictures of “salads and tons of garnishes for social media” haha, it was more about the true experience of having a great cocktail, and I always did everything to make it happen. One of the things that I love about the bar is that it allows me to mix my art and communication. I create my own things, my infusions, my own murals, and the tranquility of designing my own bar. That’s why I always joke that being in my bar is like being in my living room. Because this is what you see/feel in every place that I have opened. The way I decorate the place, the music I play, the way I talk, joke, the way I dress. It’s me. So it’s like being at home. 

When we were talking at the bar, I remember that you mentioned the worst thing that happened to you at the bar. So what happened and what did you learn? 

That was in the first bar in Guatemala City.  A client who became a friend would come regularly to the bar alone to relax, but one time she showed up with some bruises. I asked her what happened. She started crying… and long story short, she told me that her boyfriend did hit her. The very first thing I said was “you should break up with him”. No woman should allow anybody to hit her. Suddenly, she didn’t show up for like two weeks. 

One night a guy came to the bar. Asked for a drink. He then asked, “Do you know who Titi is?” I answered, it’s me.  He grabbed his gun and put it on top of the bar. “So you’re the one that told my girlfriend to break up with me?” I said: “Do me a favor. First of all, let’s put the gun out because there are more people.” We normally say in bars “the ball is in my court”. With the gun out and with me trying to make him understand why he shouldn’t hit a woman, he was explaining to me his self-worth and after a while, we kind of came to an understanding.  “I know I shouldn’t man, but sometimes it can annoy you”, he said. And at the end of the night, he paid his tab. He grabbed my hand and said, “Thank you, man. I’m gonna think about it”. 

I realized that whatever advice I give, it doesn’t matter if it is for the benefit of the person, and it doesn’t matter if it is for relationships, work, or friendships, at the end, for some reason, people tend to say, “Titi told me to do/say this”. So from that moment,

“I decided not to give advice and just to give opinions”.

People come and tell me their problems because they think I can help them. It’s a huge responsibility for me. But at the same time, it’s an amazing compliment because they trust me.

So what I’ve been doing for I don’t know how long, is to try to hear everything that happens and try to give different perspectives and options. To give wider options so you can make the pick. Yeah, I don’t want anybody else with a gun in my bar, haha. 

So now when you’ve mentioned that people come to your bar asking you for advice. Do you remember when you wrote the list of other “jobs” you do as a bartender on a piece of paper? 

Oh, yes. you mean like for the T-shirt? Haha. That has become the joke in bars for me because I never have had staff. I can be a therapist or a referee. I can be a bartender and also a mixologist. I can be the cleaning guy. I can be also an accountant. I can be, I don’t know, the DJ because I play the music.  I can be an artist (because I’m also doing art workshops in my bar), so basically, I can do 10 different things. But yeah, eventually, I’m gonna make that shirt. That’s for sure! 

So what is your favorite job?

Being alive haha. I enjoy them all, to be honest. I can tell you now that it might depend on the time of the day. I don’t think I would be able to work as a bartender during the morning. I enjoy doing it at night. I’m a very night type of guy, even though I’ve been awake since early, and I already got used to focusing on my clients and graphic design during mornings. Honestly, I even train my dogs (something else I learned on my own and also enjoy). I believe we always enjoy everything until something is fucked up.

To not talk just about the worst thing that happened to you at the bar. What was the best thing that happened to you there? 

I have one cool thing that happened to me recently. A couple of months ago, a couple of  Mexicans showed up in my bar, and I kinda recognized one of them. “Do you do something online or on Instagram?” He barely answered yes, so I kept working but I kept that in my mind… Eventually, I was grabbing something and repeated,  “Yeah, It’s you. It’s you! I know it’s you.” And the other guy was like, “Ooh, he got you!!”

The part that I knew was that he used to do some kind of podcast or something. We started joking and I told him I didn’t want to talk about his job because, if he was in the bar, it was because he wanted to relax. But let’s forget about that. The next night the friend (Hector) showed up with nine of the guys from the wedding they came to Antigua for originally. He’s Titi. Again, “shot of tequila for everyone!”, it was an amazing night. They left happy. A month later, a friend sent me a text: “Titi, you are the crack!”

“The best podcaster in Mexico gave a shout-out to you and to the bar!”

In that podcast, he was talking about his experience in Guatemala. The bearded guy said:  “We went to some cool bars”. “Oh, yeah. This is a shout-out to Titi, and Mancha the best shit ever!”  They talked about me for two minutes and a half. 

What does Mancha mean? 

My second bar, 12 years ago, was in some area in the city where there were no businesses around, just surrounded by gated communities, So the reason to use the word Mancha (Stain) was that I was originally the “stain” in the map. But at the same time, the stain had the main relationship between graphic design and art because there is always a stain. So that’s why the name Mancha. But Mancha is basically related to art and at that moment in time, the stain on the map with nobody else around, just me.  Completely coincidentally, my two dogs are English Pointers and they have stains as well. And even the way people refer to tattoos in Guatemalan slang if they say you have your arm “manchado” is like you have tattoos. So yeah, my life, everything aligned together.

What is your favorite drink?

That’s a very good question. Because mine has always been dark rum. I love the Nicaraguan rum Flor de Caña with coke. If it is like older years like 25 years, I do it only with ice. But I normally do the seven years or the 12 years with coke. That’s my drink of choice. 

If you ask me about a simple drink, a very classic that I truly love to enjoy and from time to time drink, is the Negroni. Because of why I normally do, recently I created a new drink, my own version of the Espresso Martini but I use completely different ingredients. I only keep the vodka, but I also add rum and my Nutella infusion (secret haha). I also add some Amarula and I don’t use hot coffee. People call it the chocolate drink haha.

Yes, I create my personal infusions, and people love it. Takes quite some time to do it, but since I do everything at home I don’t have to waste that extra time at the bar.  

So you mentioned that you allow people to go into your bar. What else is specific in your bar? 

Oh yeah, this is the way I’ve been doing it for years.  I’m kinda the only one that allows people to play their music. Allow them to smoke. Even to go in their pajamas if they feel like it.

“I allow you to come inside the bar and create your drink with me.”

And even if I’m not in the bar, you’re entitled to come inside my bar, grab your drink, put it in the notes and keep on with your life. 

I never charge tips. It’s not part of my system. Every single place charges tips. I don’t. It’s up to you. If you think my service was good, you tip me, and if you don’t, well, you don’t. Maybe you are not used to tip or maybe my service wasn’t good enough. 

I have a little basket and people always tell me “You’re gonna get robbed”. And one of the things inside the place is giving that confidence to people (I have never had anybody touching my tips). That confidence leads to respect, so I love it. Again, it’s like being in my house.  

Do you have some rules in the bar?

Would say yes, for example, if I see somebody smashing the bar top I’m not gonna talk bad to them right away. I’m not gonna kick them out, but I would use my jokes a lot so they don’t feel reactive to it, but they get to understand  little by little. The same way if I see somebody mistreating a woman. Recently I had a group of people, all of them very good friends, I invited them inside the bar and went outside. A girl grabbed shots and some of them fell on the floor and the guy was like, “Come on don’t be stupid”. Right away I paused the music and said to him: “Never, in my bar, you tell a woman she’s stupid”.  I turned the music on but instead of letting the atmosphere get worse, I came to him again and started joking. They understood the rule and the rest of the night went well. 

Another incident happened when a guy was spitting on my floor and I was like, brother what the hell are you doing? This is a bar. This is not the fucking old west. I’m sorry, but here are some napkins and you clean it. And he stood up from his stool and with his foot started to scrub it. He didn’t understand. I removed his beer and said, “You just finished. Please leave my bar.” No scene. No drama. 

I feel like you’re using your skills from teaching and art in your bar, is it right? 

I do believe so, but honestly, I don’t do it on purpose, it comes naturally, but it helps me to create different bonds with different people. Some have told me that I read people very well. I know how to joke with them, and probably the jokes won’t be the same as other ones. But if you’re not socializing, if you’re not talking with anybody and just being on your phone, I will go like “Come on you went out to socialize”. So the joke is a hundred percent different. But I make everybody feel easy going inside the bar. Many people, of course, go out to a bar thinking that they own the place and need to be served faster, or because they’re paying, you’re their slave, or can even treat you the way they want. For me, I have to keep out the part of being angry or stressed right away. Some people tell me “Yeah, you might never say something at the moment, but your face is the best translator if you are mad”.

I just have one last question. Have you already figured out what to do with your empty wall in the bar?

Haha. I had recently some actors from California a few weeks ago. It was a very big surprise and they gave me an idea that I’m not 100% sure about. They said: “Why don’t you put underwear?” Oh, like what? “Yeah, make people, while drinking, take some of their underwear and put it on the wall.” And I was like, “Mmm, I’d rather take them to the laundry first hahaha.” 

But my last idea was to fill a frame with many more frames, and inside the frames a lot more of smaller frames. Being able to find the little ones will be a bit difficult tho. But I’m still figuring it out. My personal rule is to not have prints, it has to be a 3D thing, and better if it is vintage or iconic stuff. I’d rather take my time to think about it and do it properly. 

And that’s it! Thank you for making it all the way here. If you want to connect to Titi directly, here is his Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/manchantigua/ 

You can find his portfolio here: https://buro717.wordpress.com/ or here: https://www.instagram.com/buro.717/ 

And if you are thirsty and in Antigua, you know where to go 😉 https://maps.app.goo.gl/TwvLVoXKSQy5NkN7A 

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