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Why Bootleg Moe’s Taverns Are All Over Latin America

Homer Simpson drinks here. So do countless “Simpsons” fans across Latin America.

A bar exterior, with an illustration of Homer Simpson holding out a mug of beer, outlines of various seafood, and an advertisement and menu for mariscos
Taberna de Moe in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
Tamlin Magee

On the outskirts of Cuenca, Ecuador, bar hoppers might accidentally wander from the Andes right into Los Simpson. On one side of the road, Springfield is spelled out, Hollywood sign-style, above illustrations of Chief Wiggum arresting Bart, Kearney, and Dolph for vandalism. Across the way, the facade of Springfield Elementary School towers over two squat buildings (the full extent of this tiny DIY TV town): “Krosty Burger” and La Taberna de Mou. In the latter, fans are greeted at the bar by a life-size Moe Szyslak cutout, who extends the phone Bart often prank calls in the series. There’s a to-scale Love Tester machine, themed art covering the walls, and barrels of Duff beer, which is also available by can or on tap.

This isn’t the only boozy tribute to the show in Latin America — not even the only one in Ecuador. From northern Mexico all the way down to Argentina, scores of bars share a name with Moe — most often Taberna de Moe or Mou. There are examples in states all across Mexico: Moe’s in La Piedad de Cavadas, Moe’s Beer in Coyoacán, Mexico City (complete with melting Homer-meets-Dali decor), San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Guadalajara, Guanajuato. In Central America, you can find Tabernas de Moe in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, and farther south in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, and Peru. Many of them appear in the spitting image of Springfield’s dingiest watering hole, and some even serve character-themed drinks alongside Duff beer. The bars may not be canonically accurate and they likely don’t have the express written consent of Disney (which owns 21st Century Fox, and thus The Simpsons), but none of that matters to fans.

Los Simpson is huge throughout Latin America. It’s the most successful imported TV show of all time in Mexico, which produces the dubbed version that’s preferred throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America. It’s partly responsible for popularizing “Mexicanisms” like pendejo and chavo in countries like Colombia, and one neighborhood in Mexico City, Iztacalco, is even dubbed “Sprayfield” for its many colorful Simpsons murals.

According to Michell Alvarez and Magaly Lopez, owners of La Taberna de Moe in San José Pinula, Guatemala, The Simpsons is so popular in Guatemala that they “don’t think there’s a single person” of their generation who hasn’t seen it. The duo had dreamed of opening a bar named after Szyslak from a young age, given he’s “the best bartender in history,” before finally succeeding in December 2020, after losing other jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although recently opened, their bar just west of Guatemala City already attracts locals and Simpsons fans, and while there’s no Simpsons-related items on the menu, a wall is decorated with framed stills of the show.

For anyone in Latin America, visiting one of these unlicensed bars is a lot cheaper than flying to California or Florida to the official Moe’s Tavern at Universal Studios. “For many, our bar is the only chance to live the Simpsons experience, since our customers often don’t have the means to visit the official Moe’s Tavern,” says Nicolás González Milano. In 2017, he and a group of friends at “differing scales of Simpsons fanaticism” opened a Moe’s Tavern in the Ituzaingó district of Buenos Aires, which has served fans who can’t travel across the globe.

But before Milano’s Tavern was a year old, Fox issued a copyright claim against the business: Holders of valuable intellectual property don’t tend to take copyright infringement lying down, no matter how good the intentions of fans. There’s been no shortage of unauthorized Simpsons merchandise over the years, and the show itself has riffed on the phenomenon. But merch sellers can offload a truckload of bootleg T-shirts and then disappear. Tabernas de Moe operating in broad daylight attract more attention, from both fans and lawyers. Two years later, Milano and his partners relocated and renamed it the less legally tricky Ribbon Bar (an homage to Moe’s bow tie). The new pub maintains its Moe’s-esque facade, replete with a life-sized Lyle Lanley, the villainous monorail charlatan and scourge of Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, peeking out from a repurposed train cabin.

It may seem absurd for a $284 billion corporation to strong-arm a small bar in the Buenos Aires suburbs, but transnational megacorporations like Disney have lots to lose if they let bootlegs slip by. According to intellectual property law specialist Estelle Derclaye at the University of Nottingham, transnationals are extremely litigious and “very protective” of their IP. Businesses typically fear “dilution,” Derclaye explains, when trademark or copyright breaches weaken the original brand, no matter the size of the alleged offender. Worse, corporations are fearful of negative associations with their brand if customers at an unlicensed restaurant, for example, suffer food poisoning.

That doesn’t mean the fight has been one-sided. Some Latin American knockoffs have helped bully the litigious media company into meeting fans halfway. After fighting bootleg versions of Duff in Colombia and Mexico, Fox started brewing the beer itself. A company rep said at the time, “Once you see enough piracy, you are faced with two choices. One is deciding to fight it, and the other is deciding to go out [into the market] with it.” The company had no choice but to brew Duff if it wanted to establish trademark rights, which don’t typically cover fictional products. With the help of British brewer Paul Farnsworth, the company officially launched Duff in Chile, which helped supply Tabernas de Moe across the region. (At the moment, Milano says supply has dried up from the only importer in Argentina, leaving him unable to get enough of that wonderful Duff.)

Still, it’s surprising that the majority of Tabernas de Moe throughout Latin America seem to have escaped punishment. Derclaye explains that pursuing legal action against fan-run enterprises isn’t always the wisest decision for corporations because it can result in consumer backlash.

The not-quite-legal aspect of the tabernas is key to their charm. It costs $109 to enter Universal Studios to gain access to the official, aesthetically accurate Moe’s Tavern, but that version is wrapped in the glossy, sanitized sheen of The Simpsons circa Season 3,000 — or wherever we’re at now. The off-brand Tabernas de Moe embody the playful parody and scrappy antiestablishment ethos of the show’s celebrated earlier seasons, and those themes resonate with many Latin American fans.

Some viewers share Matt Groening’s left-leaning convictions, radically pro-working-class view, and distrust of authority, while others identify with Homer’s archetypal, blue-collar family. “The sense of sometimes-savage irony is very Latin American, while self-criticism and self-mockery are, too,” says Toby Miller, cultural critic and professor at Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana. “But the focus on class is also vital, because the most popular regional program in Mexico before it, El Chavo del Ocho, did the same thing.”

At the Taberna de Mou in Ecuador, next to Chief Wiggum holding a poster that reads “Wanted: El Barto,” there’s a message in classic Simpsons font that reads “Un pedacito de Springfield en Cuenca” (a little piece of Springfield in Cuenca). It’s an affordable snippet, just a few bucks for some cans of Duff while you take pictures at the bar, and a lot cheaper than a flight to the States. There are other pieces of the TV town in Santa Tecla, El Salvador, with San Salvador Volcano towering nearby, on the coast of Chile’s La Serena amid neocolonial architecture, along the Pan-American Highway at the tip of southernmost Argentina. The life-size cutouts might not be licensed by Disney and the owners might have to rebrand occasionally, but every Taberna de Moe holds a piece of the soul of Los Simpson, in a way the flashy theme park version never can.

Tamlin Magee is a culture and technology writer from London.