If You Want to Try Something New
Pulque is the spontaneously fermented sap that certain giant agaves give toward the end of their lives. The mucilaginous liquid is about the strength of beer, and rich in nutrients and probiotics (indeed, the plain, "blanco" version tastes like a cross between a hefeweizen and a lassi). Pulquerías were ubiquitous in Mexico City in the 19th century, but have slowly fallen out of favor (despite periodic attempts to restore them to hipness), so originals like the century-old Las Duelistas, which serves nothing but pulque and attracts everyone from young metal/goth kids to teetering octogenarians, are national treasures. Try the curados, pulque mixed with fresh juices like celery, pine nut, guava, oat, and guanabana (soursop).
Calle Aranda, Cuauhtémoc, Centro
Located above the wildly popular antojería El Parnita, the new Páramo — or "Barnita" as some call it — opens when El Parnita closes in the early evening. It serves beer, wine, and a tasty house mezcal alongside homey dishes (in individual tacos, or large cazuelas for group taco-making) like Michoacán-style pork shank and longaniza in a tomato-chile morita sauce. The chill crowd embodies Mexico City’s special kind of effortless chic, and the unpretentious scene attracts local luminaries who blend right in.
Yucatán 84, Roma Norte
...Be Lost in Time
Behind the ornate neoclassical facade of an 18th-century palace lies this capacious cantina, which doubles as a bullfighting museum. Little has changed since it opened in 1958, and it’s the perfect choice after a day of roaming the Centro. If the live mariachi band isn’t serenading patrons, just put some narcocorridos on the jukebox and order the very respectable sopa azteca (tortilla soup) with your micheladas. (To note: In Mexico City, a michelada is just beer with fresh lime juice and a salt rim; what’s called a michelada in most of Mexico – beer with lime and various seasonings [tabasco, Worcestershire, Maggi, etc.] – is called a cubana here.)
Calle Venustiano Carranza No. 49"B", Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc
Baltra, named for one of the Galapagos Islands, is the more intimate bar coctelero from the owners of Limantour, the city's first legit "mixology" bar. The living-room atmosphere belies the seriousness of drinks, like the Viejo George (tequila with cucumber, egg white, cardamom, basil, and aniseed) and the Tres Bòn Tiki (gin, Cointreau, lemon, pink peppercorn, and homemade orgeat), and it’s one of the few places in town to get a classic Sazerac or a not-too-sweet margarita.
Iztaccíhuatl 36-D, Condesa
...Dance Your Face Off
The '80s are alive at Patrick Miller, the pseudonym of legendary DJ Roberto Devesa and his eponymous club, open Fridays only. The speedy staccato sounds of 80s dance music (with occasional techno and Italo-disco) mix with a packed crowd of several hundred to make a virtual steam room, where you have no choice but to dance or watch one of the many spontaneous dance battles. The drink selections range from beer to ... well, water and Red Bull. But you’ll need that water.
Mérida No. 17, Roma
Plaza Garibaldi is a rough-and-tumble part of the Centro, where mariachi bands swarm the central square and surrounding streets drumming up business, like remarkably talented, tenacious streetwalkers. At Salon Tenampa you can hire, per song, a blaring mariachi band or a more subdued son jarocho combo (string musicians, including a harpist, playing folk music from Veracruz). Mariachi developed from the original folk music of Jalisco state, home of tequila, so that’s the drink to get here (tip: bottle service is a bargain). Watch for the guys going table to table with metal handles on an electric current: That’s toques, a good ol’ electrocution drinking game. It’s loud, exaggerated, and touristy (including Mexican tourists), and amazingly fun.
Plaza Garibaldi 12 , Centro
...Keep a Secret
Among the crowd at this kitschy Centro standby, on a street in the shadow of the showy Palacio de Bellas Artes that has several gay bars in a row, are traditionally dressed older men — many with wedding rings — finding unlikely refuge with a clamorous soundtrack of cumbia and banda tunes. There’s no cover and women are welcome, though the weekend travesti (drag) shows draw the occasional bachelorette party that spoils the secretive-alternate-reality fantasy.
República de Cuba 2-G, Centro Historico
...Go Deep With Mezcal
Mezcal is more than a smoky, rustic booze; it’s a complex spirit that’s inextricable from the history, agriculture, geography, gastronomy, and class issues of Mexico. El Palenquito’s proprietor, Karla Moles, is a longtime proponent of nonindustrial mezcal in Mexico City, with the mezcal brands El Milagrito and Enmascardo, and two other mezcalerías (La Clandestina and La Lavandería). The dozens of mezcals at the mellow, diminutive El Palenquito are carefully sourced throughout the country, each listed with obsessive details about their production methods. You can kick back with a mellow espadín and a dish of fried chapulines (grasshoppers), but the best way to understand mezcal is to taste-test several types.
Av Álvaro Obregón 39, Roma
...Absorb Cantina Culture
"Cantina" is a word that confounds many a gringo in DF: Where you might expect a dim dive bar, you more often find what looks like a cafeteria, with jacketed waiters, soccer on TV, and lights so blindingly bright it’s like perpetual last call. Nonetheless, Mexican cantina culture is beloved and deeply rooted, and hipsters have (usually) embraced them unironically. Located in the Juárez neighborhood where it borders on Roma, Salón Niza has a smaller, more convivial vibe than the popular Salón Covadonga a block away. Try a cuba campechana: rum with Coke, seltzer, and ample lime wedges, portioned to taste at the table.
Calle Niza 259, Juárez
...Support the Local Beer Scene
None of the Mexican beers you’ve heard of, from Bohemia to Victoria, are actually Mexican-owned anymore; all are now part of either the Grupo Modelo or FEMSA conglomerates, owned, respectively, by the Belgium-based AB InBev or the Netherlands’ Heineken. In response to the recent buyouts, the craft beer movement throughout Mexico has exploded, and there are terrific beers, though availability is still limited due to contracts with the two big boys (each of which have their own faux-indie brew). Hoppy House has 30-plus rotating beers on tap, most Mexican, with rules against ice and lime, and a knowledgeable staff eager to talk about the changing scene.
Nuevo León 160, Condesa
Top photo of La Duelistas by Daniela Galarza