Mexico City is a cultural hub known for its mix of ancient and modern art, centuries-old churches and iconic plazas. It’s a gateway to the Teotihuacan pyramids, the important Mesoamerican archaeological site. And it’s one of the most revered culinary cities in the world, with options ranging from humble al pastor taco stands to Michelin-starred restaurants.
It’s also one of the best places in the world to drink. That’s evidenced by the city’s many excellent cocktail havens, mezcal bars and pulquerías, plus the fact that Mexico City currently hosts four of the World’s 50 Best Bars.
“Mexico City has become a hotbed for international talent, while also giving rise to a great number of home-grown bars,” says Mark Sansom, the content editor for The World’s 50 Best Bars and The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. That quality is complemented by breadth, with everything from high-end cocktail joints to dives and Japanese-influenced haunts. Perhaps best of all, Mexico City bars aren’t stagnant — you’re bound to find something new each time you visit.
“It essentially is at the forefront of change, fast to react and with some hugely knowledgeable, smart and talented bar owners with great ideas playing prominent roles,” Sansom adds.
In short, there’s a lot to be excited about. That’s why I recently went to Mexico City for the third time, with the express goal of checking off as many top-notch restaurants and bars as possible, including stops at all four of the cocktail spots currently on the top 50 list. Unsurprisingly, all lived up to the hype. But surprisingly, most of the meticulously crafted drinks clocked in around $9 to $11, which is a steal compared to bars — even subpar bars — in other major cities like New York, San Francisco and London. Even more reason to do some south-of-the-border drinking.
A note on these rankings: North America’s 50 Best Bars list was just released last week, so you can see how that shook out. For now, we’re focusing on those featured in the World’s 50 Best Bars list, which holds steady until October, when the 2022 update comes out. Until then, here are highlights from each Mexico City stop, plus the bar’s current world ranking.
This is Mexico City’s OG cocktail bar. It opened in 2012 in Roma Norte, debuted on the World’s 50 Best list in 2014, and has steadily climbed the rankings ever since. The two-story, Art Deco bar is a gorgeous spot to get a drink, with a mix of local guests and international clientele. And its impact extends to other great bars in the city, as Limantour bartenders have gone on to open spots of their own.
The menu features creative signature drinks and riffs on classics. It’s always smart to start with a Negroni Limantour, a sans-Campari version that includes gin, housemade vermouth, fino sherry and maraschino liqueur and will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the Negroni. Or try the Breakfast of Champions, with peanut butter-infused Scotch, clarified banana juice and lemon juice. On paper, it sounds questionable, but in practice I promise you it’s delicious.
Licorería Limantour also has an offshoot location in the posh Polanco neighborhood. It serves the same drink menu in a smaller, more casual space. The original has the best atmosphere, but you can’t go wrong with either spot.
Hanky Panky is purposely hard to find — you enter through a taqueria and exit through a refrigerator door. But once inside the dimly lit bar with its white marble bar top and red leather chairs, you’ll find one of the city’s most seductive drinking dens. The bar opened in late 2015 and debuted on the top 50 list in 2021, marking the highest entrance of any spot on the roster. It’s named for the classic Hanky Panky cocktail (equal parts gin and sweet vermouth, plus a dash of Fernet-Branca) that was created by barkeep Ada Coleman at the Savoy Hotel in 1930s London. You can be sure they make a solid one. But also try the rotating menu of original drinks, with options like the mango-spiked Go Man Go and the garden-fresh Celery Daiquiri.
The bar can accommodate walk-ins if there’s space, but your best chance of scoring a seat (and the address) is to make a reservation.
I walked right past this bar twice before finding the entrance, as it’s hidden behind another unmarked door. You can’t let yourself in, but once the staff spots you on camera, they’ll open the door. That’s where any pretension ends — Handshake is a fun experience from the time you’re seated with a cold towel, glass of water and snacks until you exit, probably a little stumbly after some drinks.
The menu begins with miniature classics, so you can sip a tiny (and priced accordingly) Martini, Negroni, Vesper or Boulevardier while perusing the signature serves. You’ll find a few Asian-inspired drinks on the menu, like the Big in Japan, a highball made with Japanese whisky, toasted barley and shiso, or the Jasmin, made with Japanese gin and jasmine tea. If you want to step outside the box, the bar also makes a burned-butter-and-mushroom-spiked Old Fashioned and a drink modeled on the caprese salad, with gin, basil and tomato. Rather than gimmicky, both are well-balanced and thoughtful, featuring savory notes alongside more expected flavors.
The most casual of the bunch, Baltra Bar is another project from Licorería Limantour bar director José Luis León. Located in the lively Condesa neighborhood, the bar is named for one of the Galápagos islands visited by Charles Darwin during his travels, and you’ll notice the theme via walls and shelves lined with animal prints, nautical ropes and other curios.
Find a spot inside at one of the low tables or on the patio, and begin filling your table with drinks from the ever-evolving menu. Try the Bolena with mezcal, gentian wine, sake and maraschino liqueur, or the New Lands, with gin, white port, avocado leaf cordial and tonic water. Or try any of the other numerous drinks that are often surprising but always well balanced, and may include DIY ingredients like a water-potato cordial, mango shrub and corn orgeat.
Once you’ve knocked the Big Four off your list, you don’t have to just, like, go home — there’s always another great bar around the corner. Other stops to consider are Fifty Mils, a polished hangout inside the Four Seasons; Kaito del Valle, an izakaya with Japanese-inspired food and drinks; Café de Nadie, which takes cocktails and its vinyl record collection seriously; and tons of other excellent bars that don’t make international lists. If you’re just in town for a few days, there’s not enough time to hit every noteworthy spot in this massive city, but that fact shouldn’t preclude you from trying.
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