Mad for mezcal
Finding the middle ground between haute couture and hipster, Meghan Jessiman says Mexico City's Polanco neighbourhood is the perfect home base for those who love to eat and drink
It's business – and pleasure – as usual in Mexico City. Although the megametropolis suffered a powerful 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19, the people of CDMX – as the Mexican capital is known to locals – banded together, cleaned up the rubble of those rare buildings that weren't brought up to code after the region's 1985 earthquake, and persevered with the Mexican spirit of hospitality and happiness intact.
With so many downright cool neighbourhoods to explore in Distrito Federal, it's tough for a first-time visitor to decide where to best situate oneself to take it all in. Walking the line of high-end, hip and happening is the pocket of the city known as Polanco. Once considered "Beverly Hills en Espanol," the area's gorgeous architecture and white-stone promenades still give off a bourgeois vibe, but with the edgier energy of neighbouring 'hoods Condesa, Roma and Zona Rosa pushing inward, the lines of the boroughs are blurring, and there has been a distinct shift in the businesses that call Polanco home. The area now offers the best of both worlds to those who like a bit of pomp and circumstance in their social scene from time to time, but also love some killer street food after hitting the mezcaleria.
The Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel boutiques are all accounted for. But if a Rolex or a Birkin bag aren't on your arm, don't sweat it. There are plenty of ground-breaking eateries, watering holes and sights to see in Polanco, where jeans are the uniform of choice.
The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons Hotel Mexico DF has always been a iconic building in this bustling city, but thanks to modern enhancements envisioned by avant-garde French designers Gilles & Boissier, the hacienda-style property now screams luxury.
Renovations were completed in the spring of last year and it now has the look one expects from a Four Seasons. The colonial architecture remains intact throughout, including beautiful, arched, oversized windows and doors out to Juliet balconies in many of the rooms overlooking the property's stunningly lush internal courtyard, but the contemporary colour palette, high-end finishings, spacious room layouts and rooftop pool, gym and spa areas are all 21st century.
Behind the hotel's façade lies an unexpectedly expansive garden area. A long-favoured spot in Mexico City, the courtyard – complete with tropical birds, cozy fire pits and the central water fountain around which the property was originally built – is a true sanctuary in the heart of Reforma Avenue.
The courtyard also provides the setting for the terraced seating of the property's newest restaurant offering, Zanaya. Led by chef Tonatiuh Cuevas, Zanaya pays homage to the rich culinary culture of the state of Nayarit, on the country's Pacific coast. Nayarit is best known for its zarandeado fish, and Cuevas and the Four Seasons team knew that in order to deliver the proper depth of flavour and authenticity of this pre-Hispanic recipe in downtown Mexico City, they were going to have to build a wood-burning barbecue right in the middle of their kitchen. Be glad they did: The results are spectacular. You will come for the whole zarandeado (served with citrus, pickled onions, fresh herbs, beans and tortillas to fashion your feast the way you like it), but you will stay for the lobster quesadillas and the ceviche and aguachile bar.
The hotel has 200 rooms and 40 luxury suites, ranging from $850 to $1,280 (U.S.). Paseo de la Reforma 500, fourseasons.com/mexico.
With the motto "passion is the most important ingredient," you expect big things to appear on chef Martha Ortiz's plates. While great expectations are so often the kiss of death in the culinary world, Ortiz's whimsical Technicolor takes on Mexican classics (think pink mole garnished with edible flowers) do not disappoint. Tucked neatly inside the uber-chic Las Alcobas Hotel, Dulce Patria's masterful plates have to be seen – and tasted – to be believed. Anatole France 100, Miguel Hidalgo; dulcepatriamexico.com.
The more casual and Mexi-centric sibling of chef Edgar Nunez's hip high-end offering Sud 777, Comedor Jacinta is a nod to Mexico's diverse and delicious culinary history and a wink to those who don't believe these traditional dishes can be done in a refined and modern way. Quality and freshness prevail, as Nunez is a huge proponent of the farm-to-fork movement and even grows many of his offerings on floating plots of land in the ancient Xochimilco canal system just outside the city. Flavours are always on point and with the use of traditional peltre plates and platters and homey decor, Nunez's abuela must be proud. Virgilio 40; comedorjacinta.com.
If you opt to stay at the Four Seasons, you don't have to leave the premises to experience some to the best mixology Mexico City has to offer. Managers Mica Rousseau and Axel Pimentel, along with their team of a half-dozen equally talented cocktailers, have created an innovative, but most importantly delicious, collection of beverages with something to suit every palate. Bestsellers include Billy the Kid, Bugs Bunny and Ant Man, but with this crew the hits just keep coming (along with the mixology awards), so choose your spirit of choice and leave the rest to the professionals. Paseo de la Reforma 500; fiftymils.com.
Though its original location is located in the Roma district, Limantour opened its second shop in Polanco in 2013 and both bars have been booming ever since. With five talented and personable bartenders behind the wood, there is no shame in asking for a bit of help navigating their extensive and innovative cocktail list to find the perfect pick to quench your thirst. These mixologists are among the most knowledgeable in CDMX and are more than happy to help you choose. Limantour's cocktail accolades abound (currently ranked 14th on the World's 50 Best Bars list), so pull up a stool and you will quickly find out what all the fuss is about. Oscar Wilde No. 9; limantour.tv.
Behind a stainless-steel refrigerator door in an unassuming casual restaurant in Polanco lies one of Mexico City's coolest craft-cocktail establishments. Jules Basement was originally opened as a speakeasy concept where industry folks and friends of friends could meet underground and raise a glass. Word spreads fast when your drinks are this good, though, and thanks to the powers of social media, this high-design dungeon has become a favourite haunt of those who love to have their interior design as strong as their drinks.
With an extensive list of spirits and skilled barmen to mix them, you can feel equally confident asking for a bartender's choice as ordering from the menu. When in Mexico it's best not to pass up a taste of tequila or mezcal, so you can't go wrong with a Mamie Z – a refreshing yet smoky blend of mezcal, ginseng extract, smoked agave syrup, ginger, lime and soda that keeps you coming back for more. Best of all, when you've had your fill of cocktails head upstairs for some late-night eats. The tacos are something else to write home about. Julio Verne 93; julesbasement.com.
Bosque de Chapultepec
If Sunday brunch is your jam, you may be inclined to get in a pre- or postworkout to work off some of those pastries. Conveniently, Polanco is home to Bosque de Chapultepec, a 1,695-acre wonderland of forest, pathways and even a castle, circa 1785. Grab a free bike rental at Auditorio Nacional (Paseo de la Reforma 50) to cover more ground. Paseo de la Reforma is also closed to car traffic on Sundays until 2 p.m., leaving kilometres of paved road open for bikers, joggers and strollers alike.