Before the days of social media and the internet, Weeds Tavern’s host and bartender Sergio Mayora attracted a loyal, diverse, and eclectic crowd to the bar with his unique and vibrant collage poster art promoting the tavern.
Whether Sergio knew it or not, the posters were more than just temporary pieces of advertisement, but instead some became accurate predictions of the future while others encouraged freethinking.
Echoing the bright colors and catchy phrases of Mayora’s poster art, Weeds Tavern: Poster Art by Sergio Mayora collects over 40 of these iconic posters that once adorned the phone booths and streetlamps of Chicago’s streets.
Featuring text by celebrated Chicago journalist Dave Hoekstra and a foreword by award-winning actor and Weeds patron Michael Shannon, Weeds Tavern is sure to delight both those who frequented Weeds and those who wish they could have been part of the magic.
What is the origin story behind the bar, Weeds Tavern?
My uncle had this bar called the Fifteen 55 Club. He had it for years with a few other owners and it started dying out, so he ended up with the space. My aunt was working there as a cook too. I couldn’t get a job, not even a dishwashing job anywhere, and this was during one of the many recessions. My aunt ended up going back to Mexico and since I knew they’d be out of a cook and I knew how to cook, I asked my uncle for a job. Eventually, I ended up behind the bar rather than in the kitchen.
My cousin would come in and help every once in a while and we would sit outside and talk, trying to think of ways to get customers. My cousin had an idea to call the bar Weeds since it was on Weed Street, and it stuck. What made us different wasn't just the name, it was everything.
We had Mexican serapes on the bars and that became a feature because no one had ever seen a bar with serapes everywhere. I liked incense, so we had incense burning and tapered candles on the bar tops, too. I had these Ariana rugs in storage from my old apartment and we put those outside for decorations. I even found paintings in alleys because I knew people on the Northside threw away a lot of good stuff, and I’d bring them to the bar and find a way to set them up. We had books, random stuff hanging from the ceiling, everything.
We used what we had to attract people and it all made us stand out along with the posters.
How did you get started creating the posters for Weeds? Did you think they would become as popular as they did?
As far as the posters, I didn’t know what else to do. We needed to advertise, we needed people. My uncle wasn’t going to give up the money for that, so I got the idea from these posters I’d see on light poles from other bars and thought, why not just do that too? Back then it wasn’t illegal yet, either.
I don’t know much about advertising but I knew they would grab the attention of people. The posters were these bold collages and very fun, but there was more on them than what met the eye. They weren’t just random photos, the images together made statements and made people think.
The first media person to see them, Marla Donato, she worked for the [Chicago] Tribune. She saw them at a construction site and in the train stations. She was the first person to write an article about them. So yeah, I knew people would notice them and come to Weeds but no idea they would be as known as they are now.
Have you always been an artist, or is it something that came to you later in life?
I never considered myself an artist. I can barely draw. You know, my father once told me the drawings I made as a kid would make me famous. I don’t know why he said that, they were no good, but I still appreciated it. And I still don’t consider myself an artist.
I’m just always looking for the truth and I try to find it when I'm creating.
Now, I wouldn’t say the posters aren’t art, because people do view them that way, but this is just my creative expression. It’s how I express myself.
What was the impetus behind turning your poster art into a book?
I always wanted to put the posters together and into a book but not necessarily for a publisher. I wanted to put them in a spirit box like I did with all my other books, but Dave Hoekstra called me one day and told me he wanted to include my posters in an article he was writing for New City. He told me that the way to get a book deal is to start off by getting the posters out there more. You know, spread the word, and the deal may follow. I don’t know anything about publishing so I just told him, “Okay”. When he told me a publisher was actually interested in my posters, I figured maybe he was telling the truth, and here we are.
What makes your posters stand out is that they’re collages rather than being one drawn out or painted piece. What is your process for creating them?
Honestly, I did a lot of stimulants when I was younger and they would open my mind up and get me thinking. I’d lay across the pool table at the bar, go through magazines and cut out photos and words that gave me ideas or matched with whatever thoughts were already in my head. For legal purposes, I’d even cut photos in half and add some of my drawings to them. Once this was all laid out in a spread, I'd put them together and that was it.
If I created posters now, they’d be neater because there would be no pressure to rush and get them out for the sake of the bar. No stimulants would be involved but I’d also be more mindful about what’s being said on them. Believe it or not, a lot of the posters are in code. Now, they would be a lot more straightforward.
What is your favorite poster that you’ve created and why?
I don’t really have a favorite poster, there are too many to choose from. They all mean something to me, because they’re all important and say something. They were all made with a lot of thought.
How would you describe your style?
I have no idea how to describe my style. Maybe freedom based, and not for nothing, but proof that guys like me aren’t to be disregarded and considered ‘unaware’. Even though I hate this word, definitely rebellious. I try to explore things beneath the surface. It’s conscious too, I guess, and uncensored.
What inspires you and your style? Has that changed over the years?
In the past, what pushed me to make the posters was Weeds needing marketing. Now, what motivates me is appreciation. Knowing that people might see my posters and [spirit] boxes, and consider what they’re trying to say. Knowing that they might question things in the world because of my work. Appreciation is the definition of love to me, so them appreciating and truly considering my posters means they love it.
What is your hope for Weeds Tavern once it is released?
I hope the book opens their minds, makes them think. I like when people start questioning what they were taught and know, and start wondering deeper about the world. I most definitely hope it makes them smile. Even if it’s a little smile, that makes me happy. I wish I could be a comedian because I’d be happy all the time. Seeing people happy and knowing I was a part of the reason brings me joy.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
I’m working on a bunch of spirit boxes right now. Just like the posters, that started while at Weeds too.
It was close to Christmas and I had my son with me one day while sitting at home. There was an empty cigar box on the floor and he’s scratching things off it. I give him some crayons and he starts coloring all over it. That gave me an idea. I got some sandpaper, scrubbed everything off it, colored the box and the next day bought some varnish. I sprayed it and made more boxes similar to that one, then gave them away for Christmas. From that point on, I started making more and added poems, my drawings, and similar ideas used on the posters to them. Since I was adding my own ‘spirit’ to design them, I called them spirit boxes.
I still make them till this day.