Mexico City, all too often, gets a bad press. Who hasn't heard about its traffic, corruption, pollution etc, for at least 20 years running now? So basta – enough.
Michael Parker met with three locals to get the inside story on Mexico's much maligned capital city.
Mexico City reevaluated
Is it really that scary?
Like many great cities there are daunting problems. But while you're here, think of these as the cover charge (it's really not that scary, believe me) for what makes Mexico City so fascinating: design, music, nightlife, art. And, of course, the mad human pageant of its megapopulation. Emerging from somewhere in all that is Mexico City's high-energy bohemian life, a scene that's exploded in recent years, with elements familiar to – yet unlike – what artsy sophisticates from other world capitals know. Sure, eat your tacos, listen to a mariachi and guzzle tequila (hipsters do, too). But when you're done with that, dress up and dive into the city's not-so-obvious vida dulce.
The Condesa district
As elsewhere, we mood-watchers perennially carp about what's no longer in, what's barely cool right now, and what's the Next Big Thing. So though I truly love its leafy streets, deco architecture, fashionable watering holes, etc, I'm saying the famed Condesa district, perhaps the city's poshest, can no longer be considered hip. Every visitor should see it: wander around, lunch with the ladies, do happy hour on the roof of the Condesa DF Hotel (truly chic), enjoy great bars such as the T Gallery after sunset... Condesa is gorgeous, but cast your nets wider for real bohemia.
Arturo Delgado, actor/ intellectual/hat-wearer
I met Arturo for a spin in Colonia Roma – the cool-right-now neighborhood. We started on Calle Colima – once home to numerous undertakers, now where you'll find the city's edgiest clothing, design and antiques district. Vintage furnishings are probably out as souvenirs, but there are tons of gorgeous Mexican-designed clothes, accessories, and graphic arts to be found all along the strip (standouts include Kong, Sicario and Dime, two blocks over on Alvaro Obregón). Galería Borde, on Zacatecas, is always worth a look-see, specialising in young and emerging Mexican artists. Gallery patrons are easy on the eye, too.
At drinks time, Arturo says that Covadonga – an always fun, fluorescent-lit fellowship hall (no joke) for elderly Spaniards – has become the place for young literati, media folk and fashionistas. Dig the buzz and marvel at the table-hopping on weeknights until late. Even out-of-towners run into someone they know.
Tania Negrete, journalist
You'd never encounter Tania Negrete in Covadonga – it bores her – so we meet in the Centro Histórico: 'The Next Next Big Thing,' she says. Sophisticated, slummy nightlife hits a high in this ancient neighbourhood. We started at the Hostel Virreyes, the down-at-heel yet stylish home to numerous artists, and the bar was packed with every galactic life form, gyrating to a rock band and spilling into the tatty lobby for major hetero flirting. This crew is also fond of Pasagûero, a few blocks away.
Calle República de Cuba, still downtown, is an emerging stretch of odd, kicky queer joints (though totally straight-friendly). We loved Marrakech, with a great people mix, a zaftig burlesque revue, and cheap Mexican horror/sci-fi projected on the walls. Nearby is another must-see: La Perla, a retro lounge with dancing, drag, and a swingy crowd that is equal parts homo, boho and cholo. Alarmingly, I wasn't alarmed by the place's David Lynch feel. Then it was on to Pasaje América, an early 1900s retail space, now the dance club of choice for the acutely au courant. Once in (the more girls in your party, the better), it is just so, but it's also just so fun. Tania pretended not to care we were 'hanging out' with Gael García Bernal.
After all that, I was ready to stagger home. But dear Tania said I had to last until 5.30am, when Cantina la Margarita, in a random corner of Colonia del Valle, opens, serving breakfast – or stronger fare – to a mix of truckers, families and, of course, Mexico City's fabulous night crawlers. Don't scarf your food or rush home to bed – live music starts at 8.30.
Claire Rigby, Time Out editor
‘The city has fascinating layers of history. A stroll past the Templo Mayor and in the Centro Histórico is a perfect first afternoon. Then stop off in a cantina: Salon España (corner of República de Argentina and Luis González Obregón), serves cold beer, good tequila and tasty botanas (bar snacks).’
BA (www.britishairways.com) flies from Heathrow to Mexico City three times a week; returns from £629 incl all taxes and charges. From Jan 19, Mexicana (www.mexicana.com) will fly direct from Gatwick to Mexico City twice a week, returns from £660 incl taxes and charges.
Where to stay
Hotel Condesa DF (Veracruz 102, Colonia Condesa; + 52 55 5241 2600/www.condesadf.com). Mexico City’s coolest, with high-design interior and hot bar scene. Doubles US$235.
Where to eat
Covadonga (Puebla 121, Colonia Roma; + 52 55 5533 2922). Is it the best meal in Mexico City? No, but its Spanish menu is entirely solid, and anyway, baby, Cova is where the action is.