Monday, June 17, 2024

24 hours in Mexico City’s Colonia Juárez: its former glory is coming back

It’s impossible not to be charmed by the French architecture and dilapidated decadence of Mexico City’s Colonia Juárez.

Built as an enclave for the wealthy elite in the 19th century, this rhombus-shaped sliver between Paseo de Reforma and Avenida Chapultepec in the borough of Cuauhtémoc has been loved, reviled and loved again many times over. The 1960s brought a bohemian renaissance to the neighborhood and it has been the center of Mexico City’s young gay scene for years.

But post-1985 earthquake damage and a rent freeze that lasted into the 1990s kept much of the development of the hood at bay and many of its buildings (and streets) abandoned for the last several decades.

Not so these days. Along with Colonias Condesa and Roma the Juárez is being swept along a gentrifying hipster wave that despite the possible downsides for longtime residents has brought badly needed investment into a neighborhood whose former glory is hidden just below a layer of dust.

Around 2013, with the opening of an outpost of the Rosetta bakery, a nascent but powerful culinary movement started to sprout in the crumbling mansions. This was part of the draw for many newer residents moving into the city and training their eyes on the next neighborhood hot spot. What followed were several gourmet restaurants, tiny boutique shops, yoga studios and a handful of speakeasies that were added to the list of cool hangouts.

That’s not to say that the raunchy, clubby ambiance of the Zona Rosa (the part of the neighborhood west of Insurgentes) has gone away, or that the restaurants of Mexico City’s Little Korea have disappeared, or that there are no more street vendors plying you with incredible huaraches and gorditas.

The neighborhood is in that golden in-between moment right now. The Zona Rosa is still a hectic, bustling scene throughout the day, but there is also noticeably more pedestrian traffic to the east of Insurgentes, day and night. Plus, the options for eating, drinking and shopping in Juárez continue to get better every month. If you want to explore the changing face of the colonia, here are our suggestions for 24 hours in Mexico City’s most up-and-coming neighborhood.

The Juárez has lots of mid-range, uninteresting hotels in it, but there are a few exceptions. Stara Hamburgo is a sleek eco-friendly boutique hotel inside a colonial shell and the Hotel Geneve is a real piece of history, complete with a mini-museum in the lobby. Airbnb is also a great option in this area and gives you an opportunity to get behind some of those gorgeous facades.

Prep for your evening by making a reservation at one of the neighborhood’s speakeasies: Hanky Panky, Parker and Lenox or the Backroom. All require pre-warning before you walk in off the street. Parker and Lenox is the most laid back and least exclusive, with live bands that play blues and jazz almost every night of the week. Hanky Panky has an over-the-top 1920s vibe that’s quite lovable (those waiters and their bow ties!) and the Backroom, inside an Italian restaurant, is the most mafia-like.

Once you’re ready it’s time to head out into the city.

The essence to a good day is starting with a great cup of coffee in a charming location. You will find both at Coco’s Lovely Food, a vintage café set inside one of the colonia’s monster mansions. The owner, Abril, is a great source of history of the neighborhood — and the French toast with mascarpone cheese is heaven.

Coco’s is right around the corner from the Chocolate Museum, which is obligatory for a day wandering the Juárez. It not only tells the story of cacao in Mexico but they have a chocolate “library” in the downstairs café with special chocolate varieties from around the country.

For a laugh you can hit up the nearby Museo de Cera (wax museum) and snap some selfies with Pope Francis, Salvador Dali or Luis Miguel.

For a mid-morning pick-me-up we like the hip and tiny Blom coffeehouse, but prefer to take it out and to go to Amapola bakery, which has divine sweets. Lunch in Mexico City is an afternoon affair so at two or three head over to Cicatriz for a kale salad and a peanut butter cookie. If you want something a little more down-home, go to Tortas Don Carlos for a massive Mexican sandwich overflowing with ingredients and cholesterol.

Shopping in the Juárez is pick your pleasure. The Zona Rosa is packed with lingerie and sex shops for the adults-only crowd, but there are also a few less risqué options spread throughout the hood. Casa Fusión is home to around 25 different independent designers and artisans that fill the rooms of the collective’s house on Londres street with shoes, jewelry, clothing and knickknacks. On weekends they have outdoor fairs in the courtyard selling everything from organic soap to homemade doggie beds.

The Utilitario Mexicano is set up like a neon-lit, wide-open hardware store and while most of the items are no-assembly-required (colanders, notebooks, kitchenware and ceramics) you will walk in and instantly want to build something.

Loose Blues has a mash-up of vintage houseware, quirky art, boho chic clothing and old vinyls. They have a surprisingly ample selection of men’s clothing and if you are tired of Mexican fare, a rad Asian fusion restaurant on their upstairs level. On Saturdays, one of the city’s best antique flea markets sets up in the Plaza San Ángel, great for treasure hunting.

After all that shopping consider cooling down for a cone at recently opened Joe Gelato. Owner José Luis Cervantes is whipping up inspired gelato creations like hoja santa with lime or blue corn. Take the time to stroll down Abraham González street and see the massive 1912 tenement house built by Mexican industrialist Ernesto Pugibet and then head to dinner at one of the neighborhood’s casual gourmet restaurants.

Everything you need for a French feast is available at chef Lalo Garcia’s French bistro, Havre 77 – escargot, duck confit and crème brulee. Or check out the ever-shifting menu at Amaya, brainchild of Merotoro chef Jair Tellez.

Try Farmacia Internacional for a quick pre-party coffee or Mexican craft beer, and if you want to continue down the craft beer road, Hop: The Beer Experience has about 20 different kinds on draft, many made right here within the city limits. If you are ready to go straight to the speakeasy glamour, hit up wherever you made your reservation in the morning.

Feeling a little toastier as you stumble out of the speakeasy darkness, it’s time to face the mayhem and sing your ass off at one of the Zona Rosa’s karaoke clubs. The scene is rollicking and wild with young LGBTQ tourists embracing all the city has to offer. For an alternative vibe, you could try the late-night electronica dance party in the basement of the Gente de Mezcal bar or Fifty Mils in the Four Seasons hotel for a nightcap with class.

Early-morning bleary-eyed travelers often find themselves in the neighborhood’s VIPS on Hamburgo street, open 24 hours. This VIPS has a lot of history, including being the prime gay cruising spot in the 1970s and 80s. It’s also the perfect stop for drowning a growing hangover with chilaquiles or pancakes.

If you are still awake at dawn enjoy the sun’s first rays glimmering off Mexico’s City’s golden Ángel de Independencia and take a walk down Reforma avenue to watch the city slowly come alive for another day in Mexico’s capital.

Lydia Carey is a freelance writer based in Mexico City.

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