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Mexico Travel - Mexico City
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
MEXICO CITY HAS AN ABUNDANCE OF HOTELS SUITABLE FOR the tourist. Naturally, I have not attempted to list them all. These few, I hope, will serve your purpose.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
In my opinion, the best hotel in Mexico City is the RITZ. It is fairly small and, situated as it is on the Avenida Madero, might well be a noisy place, but somehow it is not. Its restaurant and bar are famous all over Mexico.
Running neck and neck with the Ritz is the REFORMA. This hotel is a few blocks from the center of town on the great avenue of the same name, which is more or less the "Park Avenue of Mexico City." It is a luxurious hotel, offering the ultimate in comfort and ease.
The largest hotel in Mexico City is the GENEVA. The decoration leans heavily on the colonial and Mayan side; the trade is predominantly of the American tourist vari ety. About the best way I can describe it is to say that it is somewhat "super-Statler." Many people swear by it.
On the Avenida Juarez, near the Alameda, is the REGIS. This is the kind of hotel which has a Turkish bath in the basement and an American drugstore in the corner. Its bar, barber shop, and beauty shop are popular, but I do not think it ranks with any of the three hotels mentioned above.
The IMPERIAL, also out on the Paseo de la Reforma, is said to be very popular with the diplomatic corps, and the hotel is making every effort to preserve a certain atmosphere of dignity. Every room has a bath, and the establishment is extremely well recommended. At Avenida Madero 5 is the GUARDIOLA. This is not so high in price as some of the other hotels, but it has a convenient location and has been recently modernized. It is somewhat on the commercial type.
The ONTARIO is located in the older section of the city, but it is absolutely up to date, with a lovely roof restaurant and garden. Both the food and service are good.
If you are looking for a place in the suburbs, the SAN ANGEL INN should be your choice. This is a small, quiet hotel, on the de luxe side, with an excellent cuisine. The surrounding country is beautiful.
SHIRLEY TOURIST COURTS, the great automobile court of Mexico, is deservedly famous. Full hotel service is provided, with the opportunity to do your own cooking if you wish in your own kitchenette. Rooms with baths and kitchenettes adjoining, completely equipped with cooking and table utensils adequate for a party of four, are available. It is easy to find as you come into Mexico City, and even if you do not wish to stay there, it is a good place to spend a night or so while you are looking around and making up your mind where you do wish to establish yourself. The food is simple, but good.
What to Do in Mexico City
Mexico City abounds in first-class restaurants. The restaurants in the better hotels are, of course, uniformly good, the Ritz probably being the most famous, as you would expect.
Of those establishments which are purely restaurants, PAOLO, at Gante 1 1 I think, is probably the best. Paolo is usually listed as an Italian restaurant, but as a matter of fact, I found it to be one of the smart international restaurants of the world, with cooking in the best French tradition and with an impeccable wine cellar. If you are primed for an epicurean adventure, go to Paolo and compose a luncheon around a pigeon Paolo, for a main course, with some of his Pommard to wash it down. It's an event. The restaurant is extremely expensive for Mexico City, a four-course luncheon with wine for two people costing about $4 to $5 in American money.
Almost equally famous, with a leaning toward Spanish food, is PRENDES, at 16 de Septiembre 4. The cooking here is good, especially the soups. Their wine list, however, does not compare with Paolo, although the relatively few wines they have are of excellent quality. This is a good place to eat one of the native delicacies, gusanos de maguey. These are worms taken from the heart of the century plant and are to the Mexican what the snail is to the Frenchman. They are not at all repulsive in appearance when fried crisp and have a perfectly delightful taste. If you have the usual American prejudice, cure yourself by having a Mexican friend feed them to you before you know what they are. Then you will be converted for life. I did not find either the service or the appearance of Prendes to be quite what its price would lead one to expect.
If it's snails you are after, try a little restaurant called the GALLIA, practically across the street from Paolo in the Gante. I found the snails here quite as good as any I ever ate anywhere in France. It's cheap, besides. This tiny little restaurant is typically bourgeois French, complete with monsieur, madame, and the woolly white dog. But this time madame, instead of being behind the cash drawer, is in the kitchen, and monsieur, instead of being in the kitchen, is behind the cash drawer.
Particularly famous for its Mexican cooking is the CAFE TACUBA, at Tacuba 28. Here you can get the Mexican delicacies prepared as they really should be in Mexico. Frankly, I could almost get lyrical about the Cafe Tacuba.
A French place well recommended is SILVAIN, at 16 de Septiembre 61, and for German cooking, I have heard some rather enthusiastic reports about LA CULINAR at Genova 97. Of the latter, however, I cannot give a personal opinion.
SANBORN'S at Avenida Madero 4, is one of those places that every American resident of Mexico City and most Mexicans get around to at one time or another. It is more than a restaurant-it is an institution. It is particularly pleasant for breakfast, for the moment you sit down at a table, and even before you are asked for your order, a tiny cup of black coffee, two or three strawberries with a little powdered sugar to dip them in, and a morning paper are placed before you. The morning paper will be largely in Spanish, but will have an English page. Don't be impatient if you have to wait a long time for your boiled eggs. Because of the altitude, it takes about seven minutes to boil a three-minute egg, but while waiting, you can console yourself with the thought that they will be perfect when you get them. Sanborn's serves both Mexican and American food. The coffee is perfect, although as a compromise to Mexican prejudice, it is made too strong for the American taste. They give you a pitcher of hot water with it, and if you are going to drink it as American coffee with cream, I suggest as a mixture about two-thirds coffee to one-third hot water in the cup.
The great rival of Sanborn's among the American visitors is LADY BALTIMORE, at Avenida Madero 7, practically across the street. I myself don't like it as well as Sanborn's, although it is a good restaurant in the American style.
Nearby is MRS. THIMGREN'S COFFEE SHOP, a "creamed chicken" place, but very good of its kind.
Among the less expensive of the restaurants of the Mexican type, and famous for its southern Mexican cooking, is the MITLA, in the Republica de Chile 6. For unusual food, try EL RETIRO, near the bull ring, where, directly after the fight, the fans gravitate for a tasty dish of fragments of the animals recently killed.
For smart dining in smart surroundings, you cannot possibly do better than the SAN ANGEL INN in Villa Obregon. It is one of the loveliest restaurants imaginable, and the food and wines are fully up to the standard of the surroundings.
Near the entrance to Chapultepec Park, on the Paseo de la Reforma, is Tio Hupfer's CHAPULTEPEC RESTAURANT. The cooking is excellent here.
All in all, and leaving price to one side, of all the restaurants I tried personally, I found the best cooking at the Ritz, Paolo, Prendes, the Cafe de Tacuba, the San Angel Inn, and the tiny Gallia.
A good place for a quick lunch is BUTCH'S, in the Pasaje Americano, or the REGIS LUNCH, in the corner of the Regis Hotel. Sanborn's also has a soda fountain and sandwich and coffee bar. This is usually crowded, and oddly enough, frequented almost entirely by Mexicans.
There are plenty of good BARS in town. Probably the three most fashionable are the Ritz, Paolo, and the Cuca racha. The RITZ, of course, is in the Ritz Hotel at Avenida Madero 30, and is particularly correct for cocktails before dinner. The cocktail hour, like the dinner hour, is late in Mexico City. You will probably find the bars practically deserted before seven o'clock.
LA CUCARACHA, at Gante 3, is not only smart, but artistic as well. The murals of old Mexican folk dances done by Machado are superb, and the liquors are perfect.
The PAOLO BAR adjoins the restaurant. Although I found the food and wines served in the restaurant excellent, the mixed drinks served at the bar did not measure up to those at the Ritz or the Cucaracha. However, it is highly recommended as a place to "rally 'round."
There are, of course, many more, such as the Casino Americano, better known as MAC's, at Filomeno Mata 15; the COLON, on the Paseo de la Reforma; PRENI3ES, where the bar is much more exclusively male than most in Mexico City; and many, many others worthy of as much attention as you can possibly give them without cutting into the time that you expect to spend on sightseeing.
There are several CABARETS in Mexico City, although they do not often have entertainers. They are mostly dine-and-dance places. Mexico City has amazingly little night life for a city of its size, presumably because the clear air of the high altitudes makes everybody too sleepy to care about sitting up all night. However, if you simply must, you might try the RETIRO, which is open just about all night, the MONTPARNASSE, or, particularly on Saturday nights, TIO HUPFER's. Popular with the art crowd seems to be the CAFE CALIFORNIA, open practically until dawn. One of the things to do is, of course, to visit the BULLFIGHTS, but for this I shall have to refer you back to Chapter 6, page 67.
More an amusement than a sight is the JAI ALAI played at the great Fronton near the Arch of the Revolution. If you have never seen this fascinating game in Havana (or at home, when the rare opportunity presents itself), you should certainly go and see it in Mexico City. It is a fascinating sport.
There is GOLF at the Chapultepec Golf Club and also at the Country Club on the way to Xochimilco. An excellent form of diversion for a Sunday morning is a visit to the CHARRO RANCH on the other side of Chapultepec Park. The Charros are an association of rough riders who perform on Sundays between eleven and one o'clock. A good Sunday morning program would be a visit to the ranch first, then a brief stop at Chapultepec Park for a band concert, and finally, lunch at Tio Hupfer's nearby.
The THEATRE does not seem to play the outstanding role in the life of Mexico City that it does in. many other capitals of the world. Few great foreign actors come to Mexico now, chiefly because of economic reasons, and Mexico has not yet developed a real theatre of its own. The principal theatre of Mexico City is the PALACE OF FINE ARTS, devoted to opera and larger productions. Presenting comedies, operettas, and dramas are the ARBEU, the HIDALGO, and the VIRGINIA FABREGAS. You will have to consult your hotel porter or the daily press to find out what's on and when. Prices vary according to the attraction offered. If Roberto Soto, the great Mexican comic, happens to be performing, you should make an effort to be there. Otherwise, unless you understand Spanish perfectly, you may have a dull time.
The theatres offer their best entertainment during the winter season. The more popular theatres usually give two performances a night. The first one, beginning at six or six-thirty, is the most fashionable one.
The same is true of the MOVIE HOUSES. The "smart set" attends the early showing at around six-thirty or seven o'clock and adjourns for dinner immediately afterward. Most of the films shown are products of Hollywood, although occasionally you may see a good Spanish film. The Radio City of Mexico City is the ALAMEDA, Opposite the Alameda Park on the Avenida Juarez. It is decorated in cinema churrigueresque. The shows there are "first run," and here can sometimes be seen the newer products of the rapidly advancing Mexican film industry.
There are many others, but again you should consult the papers for details.
Good performances of OPERA and excellent SYMPHONIC CONCERTS are given at the Palace of Fine Arts. If you have a chance to hear a concert conducted by Chavez or Revueltas, don't miss it.
What to Buy in Mexico City
Undoubtedly, the most amusing place to shop in Mexico City is in the great Merced Market. Here, in the covered market itself and in the streets outside, you can find about every native product imaginable. You will probably have a little difficulty in making selections, because even the finest products are apt to look somewhat commonplace, simply because there is so much of everything. Moreover, the merchandise is so startlingly cheap that one is inclined to be suspicious.
If you are going to shop in the market, probably the first thing you will need is a basket to take your purchases home in, and for later use as the most convenient way of getting them back to the United States. Hernandez Brothers has a store called EL FUERTE DE PALMAR at the corner of the Avenida Venustiano Carranza and the Calle de Tabaqueros. It is easy to find, being right across the street from the skeleton of the new Supreme Court building (or from the Supreme Court itself, if the building is finished by the time you get there). The store practically oozes BASKETS and STRAW HATS all over the pavement. In this particular section, the whole Avenida Venustiano Carranza has become an open-air adjunct to the market, and you will find all sorts of things as you go through. Of course, you can purchase baskets elsewhere, even in the market itself.
A good gift suggestion is a Mexican WICKER BIRD CAGE. These are not only cheap but really beautiful.
The Mexican PAINTED CHAIRS are an asset to any sun porch. These gaily covered chairs with heavily woven and durable straw seats can be bought in the markets for less than $ 1 apiece. Articles like chairs should, of course, be shipped home. I shipped four chairs and a basket nearly as big as a trunk, and the carting, shipping, and clearing through customs from Mexico City to New York came to a total of about $14.
POTTERY makes an excellent gift. The little bowls which look so commonplace in Mexico City are perfect small presents when you get back to New York, and they cost only 50 centavos to a peso.
The huge FLAT POTTERY PLATES on which they bake tortillas make wonderful cocktail trays. They are amazingly inexpensive.
The PLAIN BROWN CLAY POTS can be used as flower vases for a summer cottage, a studio, or a modern room.
Naturally, you do not get the better-quality native products in the market. For these you must go to the CURIO STORES of Mexico City. I have found the best collections at Sanborn's, at the Artes de Mexico at San Juan de Letran r-5, at Native Arts, Pasaje America 13, and at Weston's, at Madero 13. In these places you must expect to pay a little more than you do in the market, but the goods are of the best, and you have a certain guarantee of reliability.
LACQUER WARE is one of the famous products of Mexico and can be bought at these shops and at many others up and down the Avenida Madero and in the side streets off the Avenue. ANTIQUES are sometimes a good buy. One of the best of the antique stores, but an expensive place in which to shop, is Guillermo, at Cinco de Mayo g. Here, among other beautiful articles, I found some rare old Spanish shawls.
Mexican GLASSWARE is, of course, famous all over the world. The glass factory of the Avalos Brothers, at Carretonas 5, with a branch in Guadalajara, will offer you everything in glass that you could possibly desire. Their craftsmanship is phenomenal. Notice the glass curtain, which took four years to make, separating two parts of the showroom. Their GLASS CARICATURES, for which they are famous, make charming gifts.
In some of the side streets you can find some interesting small shops. On the Avenida de Uruguay, three blocks over from the Avenida Madero, I found some lovely PUEBLA TILES at No. 10, No. 17, and No. 22B.
At Avenida de Uruguay 16, I found some exceedingly attractive MEXICAN COSTUMES AND COMBS. The Palais Royal, on the Calle de los Palmas and the Avenida 16 de Septiembre, offers among their JEWELRY strings of wooden beads which only cost about 2 pesos each, and which make a very interesting present for a schoolgirl. Good for jewelry is La Esmeralda, at the corner of Avenida Madero and Isabel la Catolica, and also at La Violeta and La Perra, both on the corner of Avenida Madero and the Calle de Motolima.
Of course, you should wander up and down the Avenida Madero and window shop. This street is a combination of Madison Avenue, Bond Street, and the Rue de la Paix. Here, as long as your money holds out, you will find all sorts of delightful things to take home.
SMALL GIFTS and beautiful COPPER ARTICLES Can be found at Cadoro's, at Avenida Madero 54, and modern Mexican costumes and COSTUMES FOR CHILDREN at Mexico Lindo, occupying the other half of the shop at the same number.
LEATHER GOODS can be found all over the city, for Mexico is particularly famous for them. Most of the articles are made by hand, and if you hunt hard, you will probably be able to find something that does not carry the design of the Aztec calendar stone on it. Of course, you must remember that the Aztec calendar stone does not look half so trite in America as it does in Mexico, and leather goods are inexpensive. By all means, before you buy any leather goods, wander up and down TINO SUAREZ STREET. This is the street of the leather workers, and while the leather here is often of slightly poorer quality than that in the shops along the Avenida Madero, it is usually cheaper and very suitable for small presents.
CAMERAS of European make are theoretically cheaper in Mexico City than they are in New York. I say theoretically because if you can get in New York a Leica or a Contax brought out of Germany by a refugee, you will probably pay less for it than you would for a similar camera in Mexico City. On the other hand, to get one of these cameras in New York, you first have to find your refugee. At any rate, before buying a camera in Mexico City, I would find out first what the price is at home.
PERFUMES are definitely cheaper in Mexico City than they are at home and can be bought safely at any one of a dozen shops. You will probably find what you want at Sanborn's, at Daniel's at Avenida Madero 24, at Coty at Juarez 64, or at many others.
CHINESE GOODS of excellent quality and very low price are for sale at the Dragon de Oro at Madero 24.
SILVER can be bought in all the better Mexican art and curio shops. It is extremely beautiful and always a good buy.
For MEXICAN DELICACIES, or imported delicacies as well, try the Puerta del Sol, at 16 de Septiembre 12. Here they sell little salted pumpkin seeds and cans of the imitation chicharrones, guaranteed to make a hit at any cocktail party.
TINWARE is another famous product which can be found in most of the better art shops or curio shops. The WAX CARICATURES OF HIDALGO are celebrated. Hidalgo's studio is opposite Wells Fargo's side entrance at Mata 17. The articles he has on display are not cheap, but they are really unique. If he still has it, ask him to show you his caricature of the plumber. Luis Hidalgo himself works directly in wax, and in wax only. His brother makes very amusing, but much less expensive, things in wax and cloth. The brothers are of the seventh generation of wax workers.
MEXICAN ART WORK is sold at several galleries. Among the best are Frances Toor's, at Manchester S, off the Paseo de la Reforma, and Ines Amor's Gallery of Modern Art at Avenida General Prim 104. Ines Amor has a reputation for discovering artists whose works increase rapidly in value, and her galleries are well worth visiting. Also interesting are the Central Art Galleries, at Juarez 4, for the lithographs and works of Diego Rivera and Orozco.
SARAPES can be bought at Sanborn's, Weston's, or any of the other curio shops that I have mentioned, and sometimes in the markets. Of course, for the really fine ones, you will have to go to one of the better shops. Here they will undoubtedly be expensive, but at least you will know that you are getting what you pay for. A good sarape (if you can keep the moths out) makes a practically imperishable rug.
MEXICAN NEEDLEWORK can be bought in the larger curio shops. The tablecloths are particularly interesting.
Let me repeat that the shops I have listed here are not the only good ones. There are many others which space does not permit my mentioning. Let me urge you again to go window shopping up and down the Avenida Madero, and particularly the side streets off the Avenida Madero. All I have tried to do here is to give you a general idea of the best products to look for and the best places to find them conveniently and within easy distance of the shopping center.