Rubén Monroy Jr. surely didn’t want to be spending his afternoon on Wednesday, Oct. 21, filling trash bags and loading up boxes from his downtown Mexican restaurant.

But after months of being closed due to the COVID pandemic and after coming to the realization that there was no way the ends would meet under the state-mandated social distancing protocols that cut his dining room in half, he was packing up Elvira’s Tequila, Cocina & Vino at 256 E. Congress St.

“The last straw, obviously, was the pandemic,” he explained late Wednesday in a quiet voice that masked any frustration that has built up over the months of not being able to operate his 4-year-old upscale Mexican restaurant. “The pandemic took a big hit on us. We closed in March. It was, for us, difficult to put all of the money together to reopen it.”

The CDC has announced new guidelines for the selection, cleaning and wearing of face masks.

Monroy’s move comes five days after downtown lost a crown jewel, Café Poca Cosa, on Oct. 16. Chef-owner Suzana Davila also blamed the pandemic.

Monroy said he briefly gave takeout a try, but it cost him more to open the doors than what he was bringing in. So he turned his focus on the original Elvira’s in Tubac, which had long been a regional staple since it opened in Nogales, Sonora, in 1927.

When the state said restaurants could reopen their dining rooms in May, Monroy crunched the numbers. He had to reduce his seating by half, which he could possibly have made work. But with downtown theaters and venues closed — no symphony concerts, after-theater or concert crowds due to the pandemic shutdowns — Monroy didn’t see any way that reopening made financial sense.

“Obviously the downtown traffic went down and with all of the events canceled, the concerts, the conventions, that was very difficult because (the minimum amount) we have to make monthly to keep it open, we couldn’t make it right now,” he said, noting that the salaries for his two chefs, a mixologist, sommelier and wait staff would eat up any revenues he made with the reduced dining room.

“I didn’t want to close,” he said. “I really love this venue. But economically, until this year when we started to see black numbers, we were always in the red. For us, it was very difficult. Right now the way it is, we don’t have a big patio. We don’t have a parking lot. And those things hit us hard.”

Elvira’s joins a growing list of local restaurants done in by the pandemic, including Bianchi’s Italian in Marana, Athens on 4th Ave., Chicago Bar, Perfecto’s Mexican Grill Express, Gee’s Garden and Alibaba Mediterranean.


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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch.