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’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.
You ever get the feeling that people celebrate wherever you go? I’m not talking about people smiling when you announce you’re leaving – I get that a lot. But I’m talking about thousands of people coming together with you in a celebration of you being there. Well it feels that way whenever I’m in Munich.
I’ve been here before, as you may recall. On my mystery trip I ended up in Munich for Oktoberfest. Now I’m not claiming that Oktoberfest was just for me. Clearly that’s not the case. But it did kinda lose some of its oomph (but not it’s oompapa) when I left. Or so I hear.
Now I’m back in Munich and come to find out there is another beerfest coinciding with my arrival. The Starkbierfest or Strong Beer Festival, is to be held the weekend I’m here at the Paulaner am Nockherberg Brewery, just a stones throw from town. These are semi regular events but I highly suspect that they plan them around the schedules of visiting dignitaries and soon-to-be-legends like myself.
So I walked along Fraunhoferstraße which turns into Ohlmüllerstraße across the river on the way to the festival. It’s a pretty cool street. Record shops. Antique shops. Place to get what look like real dirndls. But why is there a Confederate Battle Flag?
Went in to the festival – a combination outdoor and indoor venue. First thing I did was went and got a maß (literally “measure” but use here for a liter) of Salvator, a schweinefleisch haxe (which is like a pigs knee or something) and a bretzel and dug in. The haxe was interesting – seasoned with rye an deep fried so the outside was crispy and tasted like a pork rind (which it is) but fairly dry inside despite being full of fat. Tasted great though.
When it started getting dark and cooling down I went inside the festhalle and accidentally sat next to 3 Americans who are here working at a hotel on a military base. They’re students studying hotel management at the University of Oklahoma. On my other side was a group of Germans. It was one of their birthdays. The guy would randomly look over and loudly sing “I’m proud to be an American! And I’m proud to know I’m free!” It was so funny I didn’t correct him but let him just go on butchering Lee Greenwood for hours.
After a while of that we all split up an I headed up to near the front where the band was playing and where a lot of volks were singing and dancing. Every once in a while the band would strike up an English song like Country Roads and I would belt out the lyrics like the rest of them. I left as they were shutting the place down, having thoroughly exhausted myself on singing, dancing and drink. The event was definitely reminiscent of Oktoberfest and I guess most Bavarian beer fests would be the same.
Nuremberg, or Nürnberg in German, is famous for their bratwurst. And rightly so. Several types of sausages are made in the Franconia region. And about 300 active breweries in the area! Gutmann Dunkel is a good one that you likely won’t find elsewhere. All the beers and wursts I tried were great.
The Bratwurstkuche lays claim to the title of oldest bratwurst restaurant in the world! They’ve supposedly been serving up sausages here since before Columbus’ parents were even born. And though I’d suspect the place has been improved and rebuilt a time or two, it still seems pretty authentic – low ceilings, exposed beams, bricks and stone, etc. The famous dish here is the grilled version of their sausages that come with a pretzel and some potatoes or cabbage. It’s wonderful.
If you’re in need of an Internet fix when you arrive be sure to stop into the little Internet cafe in the main train station. From coffee to beer to wine to Jägermeister, they can quench your thirst. And you can sit all day on their Internet, unlike many cafes.
All through St. Sebald church in Nürnberg are photos of the area before, during and after World War II. You can see how the place looked and how they rebuilt. Some poetry crudely translated from German adorns the placards. Some of it is funny. The place is certainly worth a look if you’re in the area.
As I was on the way out of town I saw they had some kind of booth set up in the train station with a wheel of fortune and a line with people waiting to spin it. I had some time to kill so of course I decided to hop in line. When it was my turn I spun the wheel and it landed on 10. They gave me 10 little coins. I asked what they were for and they said it was good for 0.50 Euro each in spending at the train station. Cool!
Flew into Baltimore for the weekend. I’d never been there before, but figured it’d be a good place to go for Halloween. The forecast earlier in the week was for sunny and mild temperatures. But by the time I arrived it’d been downgraded to cold and rainy, with a chance of flurries. Damn. Oh well, try to make the best of it. I took some notes and some photos and here they are.
Max’s Empanadas in Little Italy is a small lively Argentine joint. Funky music, funky paintings, photos from around the world, and of course Argentine wine. The empanada is a dish I traditionally associate with Mexico, but it makes sense that there would be a broader use of the term. Certainly the dish isn’t local to Latin America – its fried dumplings or gnocchi or pirogi in other parts of the world. Here at Max’s it’s delicious. It seems like a great neighborhood spot and a hidden gem down a side street.
Fell’s Point is an eclectic area. The main street is called Broadway and it is a broad way. Lined with bars and storefronts, it’s a nice place for a stroll. This is THE place to be on Halloween in Baltimore. All the revelers come out in costume to see and be seen. The uniqueness of each costume made identifying the people much easier. So their behavior was made more apparent as they’d hop in one door, out another (many bars seem to have two doors), in again, out again. Like ants into and out of a mound, or like an episode of Benny Hill.
I visited a couple of restaurants in this area and both were good. Lebanese Taverna had a good Halloween party, with proceeds to benefit the Edgar Allan Poe House – a charity dedicated to preserving the legacy of the famous Baltimoron…Baltimorean…Baltemorite…whatever. The food was good, as was the specialty Raven beer, from a local brewery also participating in the event. Obrycki’s Seafood is a great place to get crabs. It’s been popularized by many TV shows and articles on the Internet.
On Sundays, there’s a Farmer’s Market & Bazaar that looks to have some of everything. I particularly enjoyed the Mexican crepes.
I went to Brazil and didn’t tell you for too long. Sorry, Internets. Here’s a short catchup.
Flew into Sao Paolo to do a presentation for work. Getting a Visa to go was an expensive hassle but got it done by shipping my passport and a pile of cash to some dude in New York who carried it to the consulate the next day, waited around to get it approved and added, then shipped it back. I’m not sure how he got it done, but nobody at the immigrations office seemed to have any problems with it so I was good to go.
Met up with a colleague, then went and got checked into the hotel. He is fluent in Spanish and passable in Brazilian Portuguese so we got around OK. Next day we went into the local office and met a bunch more folks. Ended going out with them for dinner that night and a couple of drinks after. We went by a very interesting place called Hotel Unique, which is shaped like a giant wooden boat. Then we went to a rooftop bar from which we could see a large portion of the skyscrapers in the city of 20+ million.
After the work event I headed down to the small city of Porto Alegre, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Another colleague lives there and I met up with him. He had a day of activities planned, including a tour around the corporate and university campus, lunch in the eclectic cafeteria and hanging out with friends. Over the weekend he invited me and a lot of friends over to his place to do a traditional Brazilian barbecue (barbacoa). Their way is different because they set the meat far away from the fire and do a slow roast. They use wood, rather than charcoal, so the meat takes on a smokier flavor too. It was absolutely delicious!
Porto Alegre, POA to those who fly in, is a great little city. About 3 million people so not really a metropolis. Rolling hills for a backdrop and gaucho culture similar to that of Argentina. Lots of beef. Churrascorias and things. Some slow roast the meat for a dozen hours or more so it’s very tender and delicious. No sauce or rubs except a sprinkling of salt so it’s just the flavor of the meat. There’s a really fantastic little place called Costela no Rolete you should ask about if you go! There are some hills overlooking the city and they give a magnificent view of the city, river, rolling hills and plains off in the distance. Very nice city. Great weather the whole time I was there.
Some other notes on Brazil:
- A sweetened, carbonated guarana juice is a popular drink here. It’s easy to see why – tasty and refreshing. There seem to be several regional favorites with slightly different flavors.
- In Rio Grande do Sul they’ve got a traditional drink that’s like a chilled yerba mate. It’s pretty tasty.
- Everything is really expensive. A value meal from McDonalds is over $10, and drinks range from $7-8 for a cheap beer to $30 for a draft in a nice bar. Outrageous!
- Lots of local beers. Fine German and Italian beer tradition. One of the best I had was Bohemia. Classic pilsner taste – very clean. I’m not a big pilsner fan but this one was good and great on a hot day at a cookout.
- At the airport the security line goes very fast. Mainly because a strip search isn’t involved but also because they’re well staffed. Don’t have to take off your shoes. Don’t have to remove your laptop. Don’t have to remove liquids. I don’t know what the rules are for size etc. because I didn’t run into any of the limits. And nobody checks your documents when getting on the plane.
- The grocery store has a whole aisle of meat. It’s fascinating.
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.