Art, Asian food & gay bars: A guide to Mexico City’s hippest hideaways

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You may have noticed that your coolest friends are suddenly AWOL. That’s because those in the know are in Ciudad de México, aka, CDMX, aka Mexico City. Artists, intellectuals and tastemakers — modern day Frida Kahlos, Diego Riveras and Leon Trotskys — are flocking to the massive Mexican capital right now in search of a vibrant and affordable way of life.

In short, there’s no buzzier big city in the world right now. So we asked insiders to share their hottest spots, from restaurants to shops, galleries to hotels.

Wear to go

“There’s so much respect for the culture of craftsmanship here,” said Olivia Villani, a fashion designer, who launched Chava womenswear in 2020 after moving from New York with her Mexican husband, and opened an invitation-only atelier last summer.

“There’s an energy in the city that feels particularly alive right now,” she added.

Her favorite spots include Cicatriz, a funky cafe run by fellow former New Yorkers Jake & Scarlett Lindeman (try the roasted carrots) steps from the city’s Centro and the laidback late-night spot Paramo in the artsy Roma Norte neighborhood. While you are there stop by Hugo El Winebar, a newer spot, specializing in natural wines.

Side by side of Olivia Villante and an interior of Cicatriz
You’ll likely stumble upon womanswear designer Olivia Villani (left) at funky eatery Cicatriz (right).
Anylú Hinojosa-Peña; Cicatriz

“It’s one of those places where you invariably run into someone you know and end up joining tables. It’s the best,” she raves.

But she also recommends grabbing a cocktail at the bar inside the city’s swankiest hotel, the Four Seasons. “It’s a scene — editors, artists, creatives. I always recommend it to friends visiting the city,” she said.

Interior of the equipment inside the Abasolo distillery.
Out with the tequila, in with the whiskey at open-air Abasolo.
Abasolo Ancestral Co.

Wherever you’re drinking, hunt down mezcal made by the all-female team from Yola, or the first-ever Mexican whiskey, Abasolo; the latter’s open-air distillery, an hour or so from CDMX, just started offering tasting tours to the public.

Interior of a room at Octavia Casa
Less is more at boutique Octavia Casa.
Maureen M. Evans

Stay at the brand new, seven-room minimalist Octavia Casa, a new Condesa hotel from the namesake womenswear brand or Casa Teo.

“It’s right above Enrique Olvera’s Bar Ticuchi, which serves great food,” she said “It’s in a great location, and super beautiful.”

A gay old time

The CDMX-born PR powerhouse Adolfo Lopez Serrano Reyes, who owns Base Agecy, lived around the world before being lured home. Unlike his former home, Berlin, this city retains one asset that’s more empowering than any other: affordability.

Headshot of Adolfo Lopez Serrano Reyes.
Adolfo Lopez Serrano Reyes praises Mexico City for its loving embrace of artists and progressive vibe.
Fabian Martin

“It’s one of the last world capitals that’s still livable for artists and creatives,” he said.

It also encourages immigration, which adds texture, richness and often unexpected delights — like Dooriban by Mama Park in Doctores, a restaurant started by a Mexican-born Korean restaurant vet and her partner when the pandemic clipped hospitality’s wings. They started cooking up kimchi in their home, using family recipes, and it was so popular they’ve just opened a permanent site a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s been very progressive, historically, including passing marriage equality more than a decade ago.”

PR guru Adolfo Lopez Serrano Reyes

CDMX has long had a thriving LGBTQ+ scene that shares the same ‘hood as the Korean community, Colonia Juarez, especially the so-called Zona Rosa.

“It’s been very progressive, historically, including passing marriage equality more than a decade ago,” Reyes said.

He recommends checking out the new mashup of café, bar and plant store, Cafe Pacifico there or dancing at Centro’s La Purísima, “an almost derelict queer dive bar showing religious iconography and provocative neon signs as decoration.”  For more big gay fun there is the roving party Pervert and the even raunchier Technomen — check their socials for the next date and venue.

External shot of artwork at Salon Casa.
Salon Casa is a pop-up of contemporary artwork and design.
Pía Riverola

But to OD on art, he suggests visiting during Zona Maco art fair, when the city’s cultural scene is at its liveliest, especially after last year’s pandemic-pruned edition. In early February, it will transform the city, along with other pop-ups like his client Salon Cosa, a shoppable assortment in the best of contemporary design.

State of the art

Estonian-born Age Salajõe co-founded the roaming gallery Masa three years ago, and it’s quickly become the coolest cultural asset in CDMX. It’s the collaborative spirit that sets Mexico City apart, she said.

Inset of Age Salajõe over her Masa gallery.
Estonia’s Age Salajõe (inset) is behind the roaming Masa gallery.
Maureen M. Evans; MASA Galeria

 “If you have great ideas, people are excited to connect — art, fashion, design — everyone’s united,” she said.

Nothing embodies that better than the soon-to-open LAGO: OMR gallery has co-opted the groovy modernist building on a lake in Chapultepec Forest that was once an oceanfront restaurant and will soon reboot it as a public art center, with a cocktail bar, restaurant and workshop space.

Exterior of Lago.
Waterfront Lago will soon host visitors.
Lago

Thai- and Peru-inflected fusion restaurant Choza in Roma Norte is another standout — try the green mango salad; there’s a huge vinyl-heavy music collection here which forms the backdrop to most evenings.

“It doesn’t become a party but you don’t need to go to a club,” Salajõe said. Have “the best comal breakfast” at Expendio de Maíz Sin Nombre, and indulge in some classic Italian at the new Polpo, co-owned by the Massimo Botttura-trained chef Marco Carboni.

As for shopping, pilgrimage to the appointment-only micro-boutique run by curator, writer and unofficial Pied Piper of CDMX coolness Su Wu, Casa Ahorita (“The House of Now-ish”) — check her Insta for updates.

Cam and get it

“The creative arts scene is small, but it’s getting bigger, so you can succeed really fast,” said Mexico City-born photographer Ana Hop.

She suggests taking a snapshot of what’s hot right with a stroll down Calle Havre, the leafy walkable drag at the heart of Colonia Juarez that’s lined with funky restaurants, shops and bars. For instance, stop by the Mexican-made menswear at Casa Caballeria and grab a snack at the all-day Café Nin, run by renowned chef Elena Reygadas — the croissants are Paris-matching.

She has two new spots on her must-try list: the woodfired Mediterranean menu at Taverna and Botanico.

“The creative arts scene is small, but it’s getting bigger, so you can succeed really fast.”

Photographer Ana Hop

 “It’s in a house, so it feels very cozy, not like a massive restaurant — and you can meet people, too,” Hop said.

She’s also devoted to breakfasts at Niddo, a Middle Eastern spot that reflects the city’s longtime diversity: Duck in through the kitchen to try punchy shakshuka in the tiny space.

“Chef Karen is Jewish but was born in Mexico,” she said. “That place is always full.”

Exterior of Casa Polanco.
Casa Polanco opens next month.
Casa Polanco

Browse a world class assortment of local and international magazines at bookstore Casa Bosques, Hop’s fave hangout. Casa Polanco, which opens in March, will be a must-see new crashpad, too: a 19-suite reboot of a 1940s aristocratic mansion at the heart of tony Polanco.

Salud!



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