I’ve been in Mexico City for a month now and I’ve had the chance to check out lots of great places. At night the city comes alive and Chilangos (residents of Mexico City) and travelers alike casually stroll around for a bite, a drink and a genial evening out with friends. The weather here is perfect for that – once the sun goes down the temperatures are just perfect for long pants and a light jacket. It’s really a nice lifestyle.
Of course being alone here most weekends I’m left to my own devices. Which suits me fine! I like nothing better than discovering a city by night. Strolling around, getting recommendations from people and the Internet and just going based on instinct. While I’ve marked most of the places below as bars, they all sell food as well so can make for a great stop after work or a dinner spot.
Crime in Mexico City
Mexico City has an undeserved reputation of being violent and unsafe at night. But I’ve never felt in danger here, day or night. While it’s not the safest place in the world, it’s a far cry from its reputation. As long as you take some basic travel safety precautions you’ll be just fine. The level of security and surveillance here (1 police officer per 100 people; 11,000 cameras) means the chances of committing a crime without anyone seeing it is low. The murder rate is lower than in Atlanta. (Crime statistics provided by Wikipedia.)
They say that with the first kiss of Mezcal you are introduced to it; with the third sip you fall in love. That’s true for me. Having never tried any type other than Tequila before arriving I both got to know and fell in love with the specialty drink. If you haven’t already, check out my short primer on Mezcal to find out why I like it so much.
Okupa 205 – This bar is located along a quiet street in the Colonia Roma area. It’s not well marked and inside it looks like somebody opened a bar in their studio apartment for their friends and forgot to close the door. Small and intimate, with a jukebox to hold in high regard, packed with surf, old hip hop, early punk, etc.
They have a variety of Mezcals and beers, as well as cocktails. This includes standards like mojitos and others, plus some Mezcal cocktails. It’s the only place I’ve seen a lassi cocktail, and it’s fantastic!
Phil is the guy to talk to here. He’s got a passion for Mezcal, music and movies. He learned to speak English by watching old VHS tapes and listening to the Beatles.
Thursday they have 3 for 2 Mezcal. Wednesday is 50 pesos for any drink. Tuesday 2 beers for 50 pesos.
La Clandestina – This may be one of the best bars in the world! It’s incredibly popular with hipsters and the well-dressed Chilango set both. The wall behind the bar is filled with glass jars of Mezcal, from which portions of various sizes are sold. You can also buy the ones that are bottled for retail sale. Unfortunately my favorite, the Mezcagnac, isn’t among those for sale. In fact, about half of the varieties here aren’t for sale – they’re simply not made in quantities large enough to bottle and sell.
I’d say more about this place, but you need to experience it for yourself. Look for the place with no sign that’s too busy to get into with patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk enjoying craft brews and sipping Mezcal and you’ve found it.
Mexico loves beer. That’s the conclusion I’ve drawn from the explosion over the last few years of craft breweries – up to 20+ now. And they turn out good beer with influence from around the world. This is increasingly replacing the giants like Corona and Modelo in bars and fridges around the country.
The Beer Box – “We wanted a place that doesn’t serve Corona,” the owner of the latest of the franchise store/bar told me. It has been very successful. Serving dozens of Mexican craft beers as well as about a hundred other beers from around the world, this place is a clean, modern spot to pick up some fine beers.
El Trappist – A beer bar for connoisseurs of Belgian style beers, as well as other fantastic brews from around the world. They also serve great meat and cheese platters.
More than just coffee shops, cafes in Mexico City are as likely to be open at 1AM as 8AM. Many sell beer and wine alongside pastries and java. They’re a nice, quiet place to be at the end of the night with friends talking and enjoying the cool night air. This lends the city an European feel. Mexico City has quite a few local chains, as well as many independent coffee shops.
Cielito Querido – A Mexican chain that’s quickly become my favorite place to go for a caffeine fix, these are springing up in quite a few places. They make excellent coffees, as well as horchata – a cold Mexican drink made from sweetened rice, milk and nuts that has a slight melon flavor.
Cafebria El Pendulo – A combination coffee shop and bookstore with a few locations. On weekends local musicians play soothing tunes for brunch. Very classy places that make Barnes and Noble feel like Walmart.
La Cervecería de Barrio – More restaurant than bar, this chain has decent Mexican food and is always popular at night.
La Casa de Toño – Cheap, tasty eats.
Cueva de Lobos – Cave of Wolves. It’s a loud rock and roll bar with live music upstairs and cheap beer buckets for sharing with friends.
Expendio de Pulques Finos – The jugs at the bar are some kind of fermented fruit drink. Don’t want to drink a lot of them but interesting nonetheless. 3 floors. Kinda reminds me of the places in Budapest that just take over an abandoned apartment and turn it into a bar.
Take a walk through the parks – Mexico city has many public parks. Why not have a nice stroll? Have a seat and watch others walking by, enjoy the cool breezes and chat with friends.
If you haven’t tried Mezcal recently, or at all, you’ll probably be surprised to hear and taste how great it is! Its undeserved reputation largely comes from mass produced and marketed junk that makes its way to the US market. Made the traditional way it can hold its own with any of the finest distilled spirits in the world. But very little of the quality stuff seems to be available north of the border.
That’s probably because the traditional methods of manufacture limit production. Here’s a good primer on the history and manufacture of Mezcal. In short, quality Mezcals are made by hand from several year old agave, and many are made from wild rather than farmed plants. This makes them expensive and somewhat rare. Many distillers make less than 1,000 liters per year and some as few as 200.
Mezcal has many different ways of manufacture. The liquid can be distilled 1-3 times, aged (rested for a short time, “reposado”, or for longer “anejo”) or unaged (“joven”). The location, type of ground and species gives a different flavor. The variety in flavor isn’t as great as in Scotch Malt Whisky, but a good Mezcal that has been aged for less than a year can easily match up against a good quality Whisky aged 15 years or more!
This is in contrast to the way Tequila is made. Tequila is mescal, made with blue agave, using a different process, and must be produced in the Tequila region. Typically the blue agave is only a couple of years before harvesting and production is cranked out in massive batches by machine. That doesn’t always make for a bad product, but most of the Tequilas and Mezcals you’re used to tasting in the US are definitely what you’ll get here.
Mezcal is served straight and with an orange slice to cleanse the pallet beforehand. First, eat the orange. Then take a small breath. Touch your lips to the liquid and take in just a bit – this is called a kiss. I’ts said that the first kiss is like a strange encounter. By the third you’re said to be in love.
The first time I visited Paris was my first real trip abroad unchaperoned and fully in control of my own destiny. That journey helped start me on the path to who I am today. I have a lot of great memories of that trip. Now I’m back for a few days and I’ll try to find out what’s changed – both here and within myself – and rediscover my younger self in the process. This is part of a series of my reminiscences of Paris.
It’s December 31st, 1999 and a 22-year-old me stands in the Paris night watching the millennium count down on the Eiffel Tower. The crowd, standing together tightly enough that most are sweating despite the chill, bubbles in anticipation like champagne when shaken. It hits 0…the year 2000 has dawned. The cork holding the crowd is released and a hundred thousand bodies jump, dance, scream, throw up their hands and complete the metaphor. A new year…century…millennium has dawned; a thousand years has ticked off the clock in a second.
If you’ve read my other posts on Munich, about Oktoberfest and the Starkbierfest, you might think that beer festivals are all the town has to offer. But that’s not all that’s cool about Munich, as I found out. The Marienplatz is a distinctly different type of European old town square area. Instead of many of them where there is a square formed around the original old church, the Marienplatz is just outside the ornate Gothic city hall. Though churches do flank the area. And in looking for the Cafe Glockenspiel I’d heard about I realized that there are about a half-dozen clock towers in the area. (By the way, the cafe I was looking for was not in any of them but in a modern building.)
I went to the Hacker-Pschorr restaurant near the Marienplatz for a lunch. I had the Bavarian meatloaf (offenfried liebenkäse) and a Radler. A Radler. I didn’t know what it was either, but it’s apparently a half beer half citrus drink. Fairly refreshing, but too sweet for me. The meatloaf looks like, and is basically cooked spam. Not recommended.
And no blog post would be complete without a post about a bar. The Euro Youth Hostel bar is a good one. Though the sign on the door says it’s for guests only, if you’re nice to Burt the bartender, he won’t give you much of a hassle.
I had a layover for about 16 hours in Kuala Lumpur. The first thing I noticed on the bullet train ride from the airport to downtown is how modern the place seems. Especially after leaving India. Even the slums seemed nicer and not quite as numerous. There is light-rail, monorail, and metro buses. Less dust, dirt and construction. Lots of flashy tourist stuff. It’s not as crowded here on the roads, either. And the sound of horns is all but absent!
There’s lots of cookie-cutter buildings, but some very unique ones too. The cookie cutter seem to be high-rise apartments. If you’re familiar with the Petronas Twin Towers then you’ll know at least two of the unique buildings. Some others are scattered across the cityscape as well. I went to visit the towers to go up to the observation area, but they were out of tickets for the day. So get there early.
I ended up walking around in the park behind the towers. It was nice. Lots of young folks hanging out. Lots of old folks walking around. Some playgrounds. A cool place to have sitting in the shadow of that used to be the world’s tallest buildings.
I dropped in on a Hindu or Hare Krishna wedding. I’m not sure which it was, but it was interesting to watch. The video below is just a short part of the whole ceremony. The music was pretty interesting – what you can hear in this clip was not as interesting as what was going on during the rest of the ceremony. This was back in an alley adjacent to a Buddhist temple and a Christian monastery.
I ate at a street vendor. Food I didn’t recognize. Some strange fish or eel or something. It was odd – there was only one bone in it, but a big one right down the center. It was like a t-bone steak with a tail on it. If anyone can identify this ichthyoid I’d appreciate it. The sauce there was very spicy, but it was a slow gradual burn. Nice.
Kuala Lumpur reminds me of Hong Kong. That makes since, because Kuala Lumpur was founded when Malaysia was owned by the British. So there’s obviously a large influence. But it’s more diverse ethnically, religiously and in language. That may just be foreign tourism, but I doubt it.
I ended up the afternoon watching the grey sky lose its color from a place called the Sky Bar on top of the Trader Hotel. By day it’s the hotel’s pool, by night it’s a modern dance club. Pretty awesome concept!
Then I caught a cab back to the train station which took me back to the airport. It was a good day of sightseeing.
The bar district is eponymously called 6th street, which they seem to close off after a certain hour on the weekends. It runs from Congress to the interstate. Yes, the debauchery starts at Congress. It’s the opposite of irony, Alanis. This is a college town, not a beach town but it has some of the same feeling of a Panama City or Daytona. Faux real, rather than fo-real. But under the surface the real underbelly seeps through. That’s what I’ve heard has given the town it’s reputation. Keep Austin weird is the rallying cry.
So as I have the habit of doing I accidentally found a great spot. It’s called Shakespeare’s ale house. As I was walking up somebody was getting hassled for not meeting the dress code. An inauspicious start for someone of my wardrobe. But as it turns out they were dressed too nicely. No polos allowed. Fo-real. Walking inside the beer tub distributor called out “you want a beer?” I turned to see a bearded guy with a grimy shirt hovering over a keg in a plastic tub dorm party style. Oh yeah I’m home. As I explored the place I found it was huge inside with several other bars in a courtyard, around back and upstairs. Reminds me of a place I went to in Budapest that way. If it’s packed out front head down the alley off Trinity.
The great thing about college towns is the economy. Cheap drinks are plentiful, street food is more common and if you tip the bartender you’re made of gold. The bad thing about college towns is the economy. It’s hard to find a great meal because most of the nicer places are chains. And you can’t find a decent beer despite the neon signs that decorate the walls of the places because nobody buys them. Except in the places where professors and businessmen hang out. And who wants to go there?!
Or did I speak too soon? There’s a place called the Jackalope has unsavory characters, quality draft beer and good late night food. Naked women decorate the walls and menus. Obscure punk and beach boys music undertone the conversation. Run out to the back bar and get your ears peeled by Bad Religion, Social D and other punk favorites. Might be trouble for those who live here. Austinians? Austinites? Austinites I’m told by the bartender. That delicious smell near and in the Jackalope? Jack’s pizza. They’re connected. Get it? Also connected but less sensical is the Mooseknuckle.
I’m starting to get a feel for the place. The Austin beneath the capital tinsel and college teeny-boppers. A place where you’re likely to run into a Mod fresh from a Duran Duran video drinking with a guy dressed like he’s at a 70s disco, listening to NOFX and drinking Shiner. Their eyes ping ponging between a cult movie and a Rangers preseason game.
And further down the road toward I35 is Casino El Camino. A bar cum burger joint. Guinness and Shiner on tap. Good top shelf liquor and even port wine. Very eclectic jukebox. Monkees and Beatles mix with Black Keys and Cee-Lo Green. Hipsters mix with argyle shirt dockers wearers mix with tatted rockers. Good burgers. Not vortex quality but good. Made the mistake of doing the Amarillo Burger at the same time as what the bartendress called a “dark and spicy” bloody Mary. Fire in the hole!
If you continue on past the Interstate you’ll run into another, weirder part of town. On the left there’s a place called the East Side Show Room. Six quality beers on tap. It’s got the speakeasy feel without the pretense. This place seems like how a real speakeasy would operate – bartenders with their sleeves crumpled rolled up and their ties loosened, shirts untucked, constantly in motion. The band takes the spotlight and beats out a rhythm for the place. I’d call them all girl but three quarters of them are in drag as men. When the band takes a set break they throw a movie on the projector and a vision of yesteryear comes to life. The visage of Buster Keaton is cast upon a canvas framed by, well, a picture frame hung above the stage. But the star of the show is the real cocktails. Some are aged for six weeks. Sounds wild I will agree but just try them. The Norwegian Wood is aquavit (when have you ever seen this outside Scandinavia?), vermouth and other players, aged for six weeks in a whiskey barrel. Or the New Pal, also aged, which features a sweetness on your lips but a fiercely bitter aftertaste. Makes you want to drink more. But take note that the bar stools are not made for anyone with hips wider than 30″. It’d be painful if there weren’t ample anesthetic. I think I’ve got to add this as one of my top 10 bars I’ve been to.
Next door is a shack. In the back of the shack is a yard. In the yard there are food trucks and trailers. And picnic benches for eating on. On the benches are hipsters. This is a bar for them. And you if you want too. The place is painfully hip. I don’t think it even has a name. Keep Austin weird.
“We got red and white. Which one you wont?” Not what you want to hear at a bar in the heart of America’s wine country. Must have winced. “They’re Mondaby.” I didn’t ask if she meant Mondavi.
“I won’t. Beer?” I said, playing off her mispronunciation of “want” earlier. I didn’t expect her to catch the subtle jibe. I was rewarded when she didn’t miss a beat and described their selection of bottles. Sometimes it’s little games that get you through.
I settled on a local brew I’d never heard of and sat back to imbibe the local flavor. Of the brew and of the bar. The Green Door is definitely a townie spot. Those are hit-and-miss affairs depending on the night. Mondays are a miss.
So I continued to trek toward town. Over the interstate. Past the Butter Creme Bakery, closed but still fragrant from a day of pumping out pastries. Heading toward downtown Napa is a sprawling series of sleepy little streets that look residential but which host professionals 9-5 during the week and silence on the weekends.
The downtown area is alive like a resort town tends to be on any given night. Mid week, not on or off season, a mix if full and part time locals and tourists sit and stroll along the sidewalks.
Downtown Joe’s Brewery beckons me in for a pint (12oz really) and to soak in more atmosphere. It’s a lite version of the last place. More upscale, the locals aren’t as drunk and are younger and there are a few fresh faces who don’t spend every hour and dollar here. Some in this room will doubtless end up at The Green Door someday.
The town reminds me of many I’ve visited. Older place that has seen a revival in recent years. Quaint redone buildings downtown, new places built to strict codes, gorgeous restored homes from the turn of the century or before, upscale restaurants, suburbs inside the official outskirts. And more police than crime.
Old women and girls on bikes populate the dimly lit street I’m walking along. A testament to the town’s safety. Mostly quiet and dark excepting the occasional car, the skies are alight with twinkles of suns whose light may have been snuffed out millions of years ago. Trees as dark silhouettes against a slightly brighter sky. This is Main Street a couple of blocks from the city center.