The pungent scents of slow-roasted pork and spicy tomatillo and pepper sauce and the sounds of popular hip-hop and R&B music filled the northeast Bakersfield air as Amestoy's On The Hill hosted its ninth and final Amestoy's Chile Verde Cook-Off at its River Boulevard location.

No, the festival is not ending. It will continue on its "tin anniversary" next year at a yet-to-be-determined and likely larger location. However, with Amestoy's set to close in June, the dive bar's penultimate event added a somber mood to the festivities.

"It's sad but we'll move it somewhere else," said proprietor Mike Miller. "Everyone's telling me to keep (Amestoy's) open but I tell them they have to help pay the bills."

A large part of the reason why the bar is closing is due to crime in the neighborhood and Miller is just fed up with it.

"My bartender got his car stolen right out front the other night," Miller added. "I had my windows broken out. I spend my money in the east side. I'm here and I want to take care of this neighborhood but there's all these marijuana shops and people are stealing stuff and selling them for weed so it's just a bad place at night."

Bakersfield's Paul Cantu of Pablo El Diablo worked with his team at one of 23 booths — which ranged from restaurants to bars to even a barber shop and a booster club for the Oakland Raiders — in the lot surrounding the bar dishing out samples of the green, chunky dish of honor to guests at his festive Mexican-themed booth filled with candies, miniature pinatas and, of course, his past awards proudly on display.

"I love to cook," Cantu, who is in his fifth year at the event, said. "I try to get in all the chile verde competitions.

"Today's been sad because a lot of us here are regulars so we know what's going on, but we have to move on. My dad used to come drink here when he was younger."

Despite all the memories at the historic location, the limited size of Amestoy's had capped the growth of the event according to Miller.

"I turned away about 15 teams."

Cantu, however disagrees.

"I don't think it's outgrown the location. I know a lot of people love the atmosphere of this right here but because of the neighborhood they don't give it a chance and that's pretty sad."

While many people from the local neighborhood and all over town ate, drank, and shared good memories of Amestoy's, the location isn't closed just yet. Miller has one more bash planned for the sendoff this historic location deserves.

"On June 9, I'm going to bring in a bunch of sand and make the parking lot a beach and we're going to barbecue a pig, have a big luau, Mento (Buru) is going to play and we're just going to have a festival here," Miller said.

Josh Bennett can be reached at 661-395-7393. Follow him on Twitter at @jhb4th.

(1) comment

ontou

this is so sad. the end of an era. we just sold my parent's home in that neighborhood and were lucky to complete escrow when the media reported a house a few doors down from my parent's house was a house where young women were being trafficked. it seems like the City and County is allowing East Bakersfield to die on the vine. the East Side has affordable housing, adorable vintage bungalows of all sizes, families that go back generations, the area is multi cultural, but the crime and the lack of law enforcement in the area has made way for the overwhelming criminal activity. not to blame law enforcement, they are doing all they can do. the enormous criminal element has tipped the scales and there seems no going back.

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