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.
This past weekend I took a walk downtown to the Zocalo. Past the modern and the Art Deco buildings. Past all the nice cafés with open seating and small patios. Past the weekend market and Alameda Central Park. Past the castles, churches and mansions. And into the main town square.
The weekend crowd was large and bustling. The Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral looms over the Zocalo the way most of the churches I’ve run into in Europe can’t seem to impose themselves upon their square. The structure is massive and covers an area at least as large as the huge open area in front of it. Imposing buildings flanked the square, one monolith per side, making the space feel entombing for its openness. And the church here seems to be the center of gravity and attention, with the majority of the action and vibrance drawn towards it and a lesser amount of action orbiting the outline of the square.
There was a stage set up in the square this weekend. The site is often used for political demonstrations and protests so this was no surprise. But this weekend the stage was occupied by dancers and pop music. As I got closer I heard the distinct Psy style. Gangnam Style. Closer still, I saw t-shirts and posters in Korean. The song shifted to Psy’s more recent song, Gentleman. After a minute or so, back to Gangnam Style. The songs swapped back and forth with the people on stage apparently learning the different dance moves for each. Eventually it came to an end and the crowd, mostly Chilangitas (young women from Mexico City), cheered loudly. I’m not sure what this was but it’s clear that there’s a great love of K-Pop in Mexico City.
I continued walking around near the church, through the crowd. And through the buskers with their wares spread on tarps, pushed in carts and hawked with calls about the quality and cost of what was on offer. Hungry and curious I tried a snack I’d seen others eating. Onto a crispy blue corn tortilla was smothered refried beans, cilantro, sautéed peppers, queso fresco and some picante sauce. You eat it by breaking the chip-like tortilla and scooping some of the topping into your mouth. Kind of like nachos you can hold in your hand!
After finishing the snack I went inside the main entrance of the Zocalo church. (The church has many side chapels which seem to be for specific purposes: confession, baptism, etc.) It is as large inside as you would expect. But another difference between it and Northern European churches struck me. This is a pragmatic place, set to be used not just toured. Chairs were set up around the popular altars; a portrait of the Pope who had visited many years ago was an active area; a mass was being conducted. I was a visitor, and even in this touristic area, I was the exception. So I stopped being in the way and walked back into the bright sunlight.
I leaned in the shade and checked where to go next. Quickly I was set upon by a group of teenage girls. Likely many of the same from the K-Pop show. The lead one asked me in Spanish if I spoke English and if I wouldn’t mind answering some questions. I didn’t. So a quick scripted and recorded interview later I was on my way. Kids practicing English often want to speak with a native speaker so it’s not out of the ordinary.
But I was stopped several other times for interviews. At one point there was a line of groups of kids waiting to interview me. They all seemed to be doing this for the same school (I asked several groups)band were all about the same age. I can imagine the giggles as every student realizes that they spoke with me. And the stifled chuckles of the professor imagining how I’d spent my day at the Zocalo speaking with his/her class about my favorite sports, my name, age, favorite Mexican food, and whether I’d like to come back to Mexico some time.
Of all the interviews I gave today one stand out. The boy was alone, except for his videographer mother, in contrast to the groups of girls as most were. He had his questions printed out and carried a pen, rather than written long hand as others. He wore thick glasses and looked like McLovin’s younger Mexican brother. He also asked the most intelligent questions and noted everything on his script as it was being documented. I have the feeling he is going to be either a scientist or a reporter and I wish him luck in either endeavor (or in whatever he chooses).
As the sun dipped below the clouds in the afternoon I walked away. I realized my skin stayed warm even in the shade and that brought back the realization that Mexico City was close to the equator and high in altitude, making sunburn virtually guaranteed on my unscreened skin. So staying in the shade I walked to find a little cafe overlooking the Alameda Central Park. It was hard to find because you have to go through the nine-story Sears to get there. But it was worth it for the view and the coffee frappe. Sitting there (in the shade) overlooking the park and the Architecture Museum while the sun set was beyond just pleasant. The drink was emptied too quickly, as was my energy.
I headed back to the hotel tired but full of appreciation for the things I’d seen and the experiences I’d had. I told all the kids that I had Liked Mexico and would return. That wasn’t just a nicety for their sake, I meant it. Mexico City is a vibrant metropolis with many different sides. It feels both Latin and European at times, which is not surprising given its geography and history. But the two work well together, matching culture and insanity the way a merengue mixes a gas into a liquid with the help of a little sugar and lime juice. A pleasant treat.