When you think of Mexico, what do you picture? Sun-soaked resorts? Aztec ruins? Tequila and tacos? Well, it certainly has all that stuff, but as I learned on a recent jaunt to the massive, centrally located capital, Mexico City, there are a lot whole lot of other things going on, too. CDMX Tourism was kind enough to host me and show me the sights, so here are some highlights worth checking out on your next trip south of the border…
1. A Barber Shop That’s a Cut Above
Even if you rest well in a charming boutique spot like Hotel Carlota, you’ve gotta get cleaned up before you go out. And there may be no better place in the world for personal primping than La Logia Barberia. With six locations (three in Mexico City), The Lodge is the bomb. I eased into my visit with a couple tasty cocktails before moving on to a beard trim (complete with a straight razor shave of the cheeks and neck), charcoal facial treatment and mini massage.
Now, I’m not really a pampering kind of guy, but when my barber reclined my comfy leather chair, I just relaxed and let him go to work with sharp tools and proprietary grooming products designed by creative director Hugo Muñoz, including Shinny Beard and Beard Cement.
The whole vibe was warm and welcoming, the music was cool and damn if the facial didn’t take a few years off my craggy mug. Of course, the fact that the whole experienced totaled 34 bucks didn’t hurt, either. Bonus: Though I did not partake, there are on-site tattoo artists as well, and from the looks of La Logia’s Instagram, they’ve got some skills!
2. A Trio of Superior Spirits
For as long as I can remember, Mexico and tequila have been pretty much synonymous. Which makes sense given the fact that literally all the tequila on the planet hails from the agave oasis of Jalisco and a few other specially permitted regions. But I’ve also felt that the whole “sipping tequila” movement of the past few years is kinda nonsense. Everybody knows you just shoot it with some salt and lime, regret it and forget it. Then I tried Casa Dragones Joven. This blend of silver tequila and extra aged tequila, aged five years in oak barrels, is legit. Totally sippable with no salt or lime in sight. I sit corrected—and do not wake up with a hangover de muerte.
Perhaps even more entrancing than the tequila, however, was some of the mezcal I sipped in Mexico. I tried several varieties of Mezcal Alipús during an afternoon tasting. I’m hardly an expert on the spirit but found each one spicy and satisfying, and believe it or not, the drinking got smoother and smoother the more I had! At dinner on another night, I found myself quite taken with Convite Mezcal Tobalá, a smoky interpretation that I started to think of as Mexican Scotch. Tell you this much: If I’d been traveling with more than a carry-on, multiple bottles would have followed me onto the plane.
Of course, my tour of local spirits could not be complete without one I had never even heard of, pox. Don’t let the name fool you. Pronounced poshe and produced by Siglo Cero, this corn-based liquor is modeled after one created by the Aztecs. It’s quite a treat, especially in specialty drinks like the Rosa Mexicana and Hummingbird. Ask for them at craft cocktail bars like Xaman and Casa Franca and with any suerte they’ll serve them right up.
3. A Semi-Secret Restaurant
While I dined well just about everywhere—from traditional spots like Lucerne Comedor Bar and El Cardenal to more global eateries like Padella and La Barra de Fran—I would be remiss not to highlight an unforgettable meal at a little place called The Hidden Kitchen. Part of a trend that’s been sweeping through American cities over the past several years, this hole in the wall prepares one-of-a-kind meals for small groups (that book well ahead of time, of course).
Prepared right in front of the diners, the meal I attended featured five courses of tacos followed by a sorbet dessert, and it was absolutely delicious. Two of the best dishes were one dominated by an ungodly thick slice of bacon (top right) and sous-vide turkey with a mustard leaf-lined tortilla (bottom left). But probably the highest praise I can give sous chef Sergio Quiroga and his crew is that they managed to take the lowly cauliflower and turn it into one of the tastiest tacos I’ve ever had (top middle). Even at such a rare feast, I consider that a rare feat.
4. Seven Hundred Years of History
It’s a real mistake to visit somewhere and not take in a bit of the past, and that’s especially true in Mexico City, which boasts, quite literally, layers of history. It’s where you’ll find the Templo Mayor, the ruins of the Aztecs’ most important temple, dating back to the 1300s. Taking a little tour, I heard all about their beliefs, their gods and, yes, their human sacrifices. Perhaps the coolest thing, however, was the Aztecs’ perception of the dichotomy of existence: water and fire, light and dark, life and death. That understanding guided a proud culture that Mexicans still celebrate today.
Another cool thing is that the ruins are located quite near the Zócalo, the second largest plaza in the world. And if you stand at the entrance to the gorgeous Templo Mayor Museum and gaze out over the ruins you can also take in the ornate Catedral Metropolitina de Mexico and, further in the distance, some of Mexico’s modern buildings. In other words, you’re looking at several centuries of Mexican history with a single glance. Quite a sight.
5. An Artist’s Residence
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Frida Kahlo a week ago, besides the fact that she was Mexican, Salma Hayek played her in a movie and she had a unibrow. So visiting the Museo Frida Kahlo was quite educational. Located within the sprawling property she grew up in—and later painted a lovely shade of blue while sharing with husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera—it tells the story of her life and showcases several of her works and personal effects including art supplies, furniture and dresses.
As a total Frida noob, here are a few things that stood out to me: She was stricken with polio as a child and ended up with one leg shorter than the other. As a teenager she survived a gruesome bus accident that left her unable to bear children. Recovering in bed for several months, she found solace in painting, and because there wasn’t much to look at besides a mirror, she did a lot of self portraits. She had several surgeries throughout her life and really struggled with her health. She was an artistic and social badass, a Communist and, despite or perhaps in part because of the unibrow, quite striking.
Oh, and despite a lot of physical and emotional suffering, leading up to her death at just 47, Kahlo had a real lust for life. Indeed, just eight days before she died, she signed her name to her final work, Viva la Vida, Watermelons (above). It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
6. Two Spectacular Sports
You don’t have to be a genius to realize soccer is huge in Mexico. Two big reminders for me were the “fútbol” button on the TV remote in my hotel room and visiting the Estadio Azteca, the gigantic, intimidating stadium where Team USA regularly loses to El Tri. What I didn’t know was that the ancient Basque pursuit, jai alai, is also played there. You can get a feel for this mesmerizing hand-basket, ball and wall sport in the above video, which I shot at Fronton Mexico, a shiny new casino and entertainment complex.
One video I will not show is meeting the players and attempting to replicate their 200 mph flings of the ball. Holy crap is it difficult and humbling. I never really got the hang of it because I couldn’t relax my wrist enough. Suffice it to say, it’s much more fun to watch the pros than to emulate them. Really cool and patient fellows, I must say.
Finally, we come to what might have been the biggest highlight of the whole trip: lucha libre! This masked grappling sport is probably familiar to most Americans thanks to the underrated Jack Black flick Nacho Libre. That and some videos I’d seen online had me already pretty stoked as we headed to Arena Mexico on a Friday night. But nothing could have prepared me for the true wonder of Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre.
I hope the video above helps, but you really do have to witness this thing live. Sitting maybe six rows from the front, I was able to take in some truly epic tag team matches, featuring masked and unmasked wrestlers from all over the world punching, kicking, body slamming, flying off the ropes, primping, posing, working the crowd and generally brutalizing each other in and out of the ring. I’ve been to WWE events before, and they’re fun, but this kind of action left me in a state of utter euphoria for hours. So much color and sound and joy and pride and passion, it was impossible not to get caught up in the magic of it all.
Which I guess, when it comes down to it, is a pretty good description of my whole Mexico City experience. Ya sabes?