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In Style


									In Style
November, 2002
Mexico City; History gets hip in North America's oldest metropolis
By Lisa Armstrong

Here's what you may have heard about Mexico's capital: It is a city of superlatives--the oldest
(678 years) and highest (7,350 feet) in North America and, with 24 million inhabitants, one
of the most populous in the world. You can add "mutable" to that list. Originally built by the
Aztecs on an island in Lake Texcoco, Mexico City has multiplied 10 times in area since 1940,
growing to 772 square miles. Its heart is a pastiche of lively colonias (neighborhoods), some
steeped in native culture, others teeming with posh new boutiques, restaurants and hotels. A
trip here feels like time travel: You can step back a few hundred years by visiting colonial
Coyoacan, where artist Frida Kahlo once lived. Or leap forward in trendy Polanco, where
stores such as Burberry and Gucci line the main avenue. But whether you're checking out an
ancient Aztec ruin or a glitzy rooftop bar, you'll find Mexico City to be a heady mix of the
majestically old and irresistibly new. --Lisa Armstrong


WEATHER Highs around 70 degrees F, lows in the 40s, year-round. Air pollution is a fact
of life; it's least obtrusive during the rainy season (June through September).

CULTURE watch October 31-November 2: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead),
celebrated with flowers and feasts.

COMMON SENSE Use the same street smarts you'd switch on in any major city to avoid
pickpockets, etc. Regarding taxicabs: It's easy to flag down one of the trademark VW Beetle
taxis but safer to call a sitio (radio cab): 5519-7690.

10 things to do

1 Sail a trajinera (gondola) through Xochimilco's floating gardens--grown on rafts built by
the Aztecs for crops and now planted with flowers (5676-8879; $ 14).

2 Climb Teotihuacan's 215-foot-high Pyramid of the Sun, the third largest in the world
(5949-5600-52; $ 3.50).

3 Check out Frida Kahlo's bedroom in Casa Azul, her home in Coyoacan (Londres 247,
5554-5999; $ 3).

4 Gaze at the gilded domes of the Metropolitan Cathedral (Zocalo, 5510-0440).

5 Sip (and only sip!) some pulque, potent cactus liquor, at La Hija de Los Apaches (Av.
Cuauhtemoc 39, Roma).

6 Take in the entire city from the turrets of Chapultepec Castle (5286-0700; $ 3.50).

7 Shake things up with a Cuban band at the club Mama Rumba (Queretaro 230, Roma,

8 Explore Mayan relics at the National Anthropology Museum (5553-6381; $ 3.50).

9 See the Ballet Folklorico at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Avenida Juarez, 5512-3633; $ 22-$

10 Take a trolley tour of the city's historic center (Avenidas Juarez and Revillagigedo; $ 3.50).


BUSTLING BISTRO Stop by light and airy L'Olivier (Presidente Masaryk 49-C, Polanco,
5545-3133) for a late afternoon lunch. The French-Mexican fusion cuisine includes house
specialties such as a guacamole and smoked salmon pizza tart ($ 9), Botana L'Olivier
(mussels au gratin with shrimp tacos; $ 8.50), and berries with Jamaica liquor souffle ($ 5.50).

MODERN MEXICAN Run by high-profile Mexican chef Patricia Quintana, Izote
(Presidente Masaryk 513, Polanco, 5280-1671) features updated versions of pre-Hispanic
cuisine. Everything on the menu--dishes prepared with yucca flower, cactus and other
indigenous ingredients--is spectacular, but the endings are the sweetest. Leave room for the
Tarta Zaachila ($ 5), a chocolate pastry filled with nuts, or Cafe de Olla ($ 1.50), coffee with
brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon.

LOCAL FAVORITE Families, as well as couples, come to La Fonda del Recuerdo (Bahia de
las Palmas 37, Veronica Anzures, 5260-7339) to be serenaded by mariachis as they dine. Just
listen, or make your own requests; $ 4.50 buys a song. The menu features seafood dishes
from the state of Veracruz; with dinner, try a Torito ($ 3), sugarcane liquor mixed with
tropical juice.


CASA VIEJA (Eugenio Sue 45, Polanco, 5282-0067; from $ 350) This 10-suite hotel has a
lively decor inspired by prominent Mexican artists. The rooftop restaurant offers superior
Mexican fare, but suites have kitchens for those who prefer to cook. Antonio Banderas
whipped up a pot of paella for Melanie Griffith and friends on a recent visit.

THE FOUR SEASONS (Paseo de la Reforma 500, Juarez, 5230-1818; from $ 250) Britney
Spears was a recent guest at this Spanish colonial-style hotel (you may not want to drop her
name, though). Rooms face an inner courtyard where you can dine next to the outdoor
fountain or join a tequila tasting.

HABITA (Presidente Masaryk 201, Polanco, 5282-3100; from $ 195) This small luxury hotel
on the city's most fashionable avenue is a study in minimalist chic: Eames chairs, flat-screen
TVs and marble bathrooms, some with oversize tubs.

THE MAJESTIC (Madero 73, Centro, 5521-8600; from $ 95) This colonial-style hotel in the
historic downtown area has a seventh-floor terrace with great views of the Zocalo (main
square) and the National Palace.

TOP OF THE WORLD Those who like to live the high life can do so literally at Area, the
chic rooftop bar at Hotel Habita (5282-3100). You can sit fireside to sample an Aura, a
mixture of tamarind juice and tequila ($ 7.50), or if you're lucky, lounge poolside in the VIP
area with an Habita (tamarind and champagne, $ 14.25) in hand.

MARIACHI MADNESS Mariachi bands gather at Plaza Garibaldi from about 11 p.m. till
the early hours for the city's after-party (there are more than 200 bands on the weekends).
Enjoy the revelry outdoors or go to Tenampa (5526-6176), a cantina in the plaza. The music
continues indoors--order a tequila and the musicians will follow, charging about $ 6 for a

BOHEMIAN BRUNCH Artists, musicians and other creative types spend weekend
mornings at El Pendulo (Nuevo Leon 115, Condesa, 5286-9493), a charming cafe tucked in
the corner of a bookstore. Have brunch between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to catch the classical

SINGLES SPOT Rexo, a hip hangout in the trendy Colonia Condesa (Saltillo 1, 5553-5337),
is the ultimate place to see and be seen: Glass walls leave the bar's three split levels exposed.
Inside, revelers sip wine and cocktails and snack on tapas. The Pitares ($ 4.50), rolled pitas
filled with beef filet and Gruyere, are a house favorite.


SILVER Check Emilia Castillo (Camino Real Hotel, Nueva Anzures, 5531-8873) for
tableware and jewelry by a daughter of the well-known family of silversmiths. Many items are
crafted with porcelain and inlaid with pure silver; most feature wildlife or floral motifs.

DEALS Brush up on your bargaining skills before going to San Angel's Bazar Sabado. Every
Saturday, two tree-shaded squares along Plaza San Jacinto are packed with local artists selling
jewelry, pottery and other crafts.

ANTIQUES Visit the Bazar de Antiguedades in the Zona Rosa (the Pink Zone, the city's
most popular shopping district). More than 30 stores line the picturesque alley between
Hamburgo and Londres streets, and on Saturday mornings vendors let their vintage clothing
and artifacts spill out into the courtyard.

side trip

For a taste of pre-Hispanic culture, drive three hours southwest of Mexico City to Valle de
Bravo, a 400-year-old lakeside hamlet where many residents still speak Nahuatl, the Aztec
language. Nestled in the pine-covered mountains, this popular weekend retreat has a
delightful mix of restaurants, galleries and 18th- century churches. Stay in a chalet-style
bungalow at the luxurious Avandaro Golf and Spa Resort (Vega del Rio, 726-266-0366; $
167-$ 478 per night). Drive into the heart of town to sail, paraglide or water-ski on the lake.
Or stroll the cobblestone streets to take in the white stucco houses with wrought-iron
balconies and shop for Valle's famous deshilados (intricate lacelike fabrics). Be sure to visit
the Santuario de Santa Maria to see the "black Christ" statue, which worshipers say grants
special favors. Have lunch at La Michoacana (Calle de la Cruz 100, 726-262-1625), a
traditional Mexican restaurant where free starters include roasted chipotle peppers. Then
spend the rest of the afternoon at Los Saucos butterfly reserve: Each year from November
to March millions of monarch butterflies migrate to Valle de Bravo from cooler climes,
blanketing the pine forests in a sea of vibrant orange and black.

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