San Miguel's Bordello, La Casa de la Turca

By Al Tirado and Barbara Edell Poole  /  Illustrations by artist Rubén Morales


Painting by Jessica Antonelli


A few years earlier it was almost a ghost town, and now, was building its revival, aiming to exploit its artistic and the touristic attractions.Nightlife in San Miguel began many years ago, when the town was just a few streets packed around the historical Parroquia and the Jardín, where the good people walked peacefully, the mojigatas and the heavy-mustached conservatives and wealthy men were riding carriages. …Who would have thought that there, just a few blocks away, could exist a house where customers were enjoying the pleasures of purchased sex under the dark mantle of a starry night.

These were the postwar years, the end of the decade of the ’40s and the beginning of the ’50s when many veterans took advantage of programs offered by the U.S. government to recover life and find themselves again.

Girls arrived in San Miguel together with artists and writers of the Beat Generation. Many of them enlisted on the Instituto Allende art courses. San Miguel began to be discovered as a village that retained its colonial flavor in addition to its historical role in the Mexico Independence.  

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It is not known with precision when it started or how. But at the beginning of the decade of the ’40s, the Casa de la Turca (House of the Turkish woman) had already won great fame among powerful men and politicians who had found the way to enjoy this small paradise under the magical baton of a woman both enigmatic and attractive. Gloria León was her name, but she was called La Turca. Though not Turkish, people said that she seemed exotic and foreign. She was beautiful but with strong and determined character and appearance. It was clear that she had a good education because of her refined manners and hospitality skills. It was said she cooked like the angels (Do the angels cook?) and she was able to offer exquisite dishes of exotic flavors and endless varieties that captured the customers´ palates.

La Carretera known more commonly as “La Casa de la Turca” became known for its perfect combination: good food, good music, good drinks, and ... beautiful women.

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This is what the famed brothel in San Miguel Allende offered. Behind the modest door, with a grid that opened to inspect whether the visitor was worthy to enter or merely someone undesirable or curious, La Turca would only admit customers who could afford a night of pleasure.

Prostitution in those years was legal in Mexico, and La Turca’s business practices attracted innocent girls (at the beginning), unwary young ladies and some talented señoras. Ahead of her time, La Turca “profit shared” keeping only a part of the money the women made, and in return, she provided them affection, care, lodging, medical attention (constant protections from of venereal disease) and ensured them work when they were pregnant. (It was considered as an “accident” at work). The girls learned to dance, drink (fake drinks), socialize and be ready to meet the men who paid for their caresses.

All the revelry was perfectly designed. In the first room, with stylish furniture and pleasant atmosphere, customers chatted and enjoyed drinks while the ladies enticed with their charms. Rosita, Carmita, Elenita and other names that were figurative of course, were changed frequently, so customers could not make preferences, and reputations of local girls could not be known or smudged. Later, girls went to the patio where they could dance until the moment they decided to surrender to the intimacy of the room of the chosen señorita.

Then hard times came after scandals, and the strict rules imposed by the government became enforced. Reluctantly, La Turca closed the doors of La Carretera, only to secretly settle in next door in another “establishment” called El Tejado. Customers in the know would enter through a secret door and, although offered more discreetly, beautiful women and good food, remained the main attractions at the new location.

When the government forced prostitution businesses to be confined in certain areas—called red districts—Gloria León closed El Tejado too, and the business on Calle Organos came to an end.

… maybe

Not inclined to stoop to “menial” business, La Turca later opened a respectable little restaurant in San Miguel called La Fonda. Her culinary skills continued to captivate palates, and her reputation for fine dining developed with the general public. It was said however that former gentlemen guests could recognize the secret door—like the one at Organos Street—where special treats were still being offered to satisfy customers’ other appetites.

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Over time, however, musical notes, the aromas from the kitchen, laughter and orgasmic howls have died away, and Gloria Leon, La Turca, has also mysteriously disappeared.

And now though Casa de la Noche operates another kind of hospitality as a respite for travelers as a boutique bed-and-breakfast and an artist’s haven, the Bordello Galeria, the memories of other nights seem to linger on, of past glories with passion and jealousies, dancing, drinking and laughter.

And like the lady who never really left the business, the house and her story continue to intrigue us, and we wonder if she has really left after all.

It is said that some have heard voices, the tinkling of glasses, and seen glimpses of a lost soul who cannot leave the place where she was killed—perhaps the victim of a jealous man who refuses to share the love of his lovely lady of the night, or. . . Oh Gloria … Where are you? ...

Barbara Poole and María Dolores.

Video by Bill Lemoranda, interviews with former workers of Madam Turca.