The Zona Rosa (“Pink Zone”) in Mexico City is almost overwhelming in gayness. Walking the tree-lined sidewalks of the tight streets, with the outdoor cafes lining the pedestrian avenues, rainbow flags flying everywhere, and the two men in front of us walking hand-in-hand, my partner and I had the sudden realization that we weren’t in Oklahoma City anymore.
The calles (Spanish for streets) of the Zona Rosa are names of world cities, such as Niza, Londres, Hamburgo, Florencia, Amberes, Liverpool, Genova, and the like. And the sophistication fits. Lining these tight streets with overhanging trees are pricy boutiques, sidewalk cafes, park-like areas, music makers, Gentlemen’s Clubs, erotic shops, and……gay bars.
Calle Amberes is particularly busy after the sun sets. For those that enjoy the pumping, throbbing, heart-massaging sounds, this is the calle to be walking after dusk. From Londres going toward the elegant boulevard – the Paseo de la Reforma – Amberes is bar after bar after pink-neoned shop. Out in front of each are heavenly creatures sent down to earth to entice the thirsty reveler into their bar. You have a choice of Papi, LeCirque, Candy Bar’s, In Touch, Kinky’s (mostly gals), 42nd Street, Lollypop, along with many gay clothing and erotic shops – all within two short blocks! Signs everywhere were advertising Diversity Week. Over on Calle Florencia, is El Almacen next door to El Vaquero, crowded with eye-catching Mexican cowboys. The cowboys here are dancing the cumbia and salsa dances, though, not the two-step. But this isn’t just guys night out. Women can usually be found out dancing in all the bars, generally friends with the guy they came in with. On Calle Londres, the other side of Florencia, is Osos, the bar for “bears” – – crowded, pulsating, exploding out onto the street. Even the Starbucks at Amberes and the Reforma is the cruisiest we’d seen. Crowded, mainly guys, from morning long into the evening. A good place to get acquainted with the new friends you just met.
The city is modern and booming. It was impossible not to notice all the newly built 20-30 story office towers along the Paseo de la Reforma, the grand boulevard. Radically modern for the new millennium. Construction cranes are everywhere. But the Paseo has established bike lanes where cars are prohibited, and on Sundays from 9-3 the boulevard is closed to vehicles, and only bicycles are permitted. Thousands of people, many families, out riding their bikes down the boulevard — great to see! And there are bike racks all over the city, everywhere. You can rent a bike in one place and drop it off at another. And the cafes still retain that old world pace: the servers do not put the bill on your table until you ask for it. You could sit for hours with a cup of coffee and just absorb the atmosphere, until you’re ready to request “La cuenta, por favor.”
Downtown, right off Calle Eje Central, are three bars around the corner from each other that can be fun. On Central is the “69”, a garish can’t-miss painted front. Around the corner are the Bar Viena and The Oasis – both mellow with old juke boxes that play vintage music, good places to hear some Abba or Teresa Brewer if you’re into that kind of thing. Both get busy and friendly around happy hour, and can be a memorable way to spend an evening. Didn’t see any women in these three this time, though.
As a first-timer in Mexico City, you will probably want to stay in the heart of the action. We stayed in a couple of moderately-priced hotels, and here’s three we’d recommend. First is the Hotel Geneve on Calle Londres, the grand old dowager, built in 1907. There is still a hint of hushed mahogany elegance, with a very attractive garden room with ivy-covered walls and a central fountain that serves as the hotel café. It also has an excellent Sanborn’s restaurant on the premises for a good breakfast in the morning with excellent flavored coffee, and the female servers still wear the peasant frocks. It also has a quiet cocktail lounge called Phone Bar, where we met two women from Topeka over margaritas. When they found we were from OKC, the more butch of the two said, “If we hear Boomer Sooner, you’re dead!” Several of the South American airlines use this hotel for their layovers in Mexico City, so it’s certainly worth spending some time here.
The second hotel we’d suggest is Valentina Room Mate, a very contemporary Spanish-owned hotel on Amberes at Hamburgo. We met two guys from Queens, New York at Vaquero’s that were staying there, and they seemed to really like it. The third hotel is the EuroStar-ZonaRosa, directly across the street from the Hotel Geneva. The suite we stayed in was huge – a living room with TV, a bar, microwave, fridge, iron and board, a bedroom with two queen-sized beds and TV, and a good bathroom with spa tub. I reserved this through Expedia for a really reasonable rate. If it had a bit more kitchen facilities, I could have easily lived there on a monthly basis. (By the way, I used hotels.com and Expedia to check on hotel reservations. Through these type of sites you can generally get better rates than by just contacting a hotel.)
If you’re looking for a gay-friendly vacation for your first visit to Mexico City, I personally wouldn’t stay anywhere but the Zona Rosa, as this is where the gay nightlife is located. On your second trip, once you’re more comfortable with the locale, you’ll feel freer to stay elsewhere if you choose.
Daytime is for the many worthwhile tourist activities. Here are a few you shouldn’t miss. First, take the city tour sitting on the top of a double-decker bus. It’s one of the experiences you’ll be telling your friends about (well, the ones you spared the more colorful details of your Zona Rosa adventures, anyway). The Zocalo city center and national cathedral are worth your time, and check out the Ballet Folklorico – one of the best in the world. Of course there’s the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, and the anthropological museum in Chapultepec Park – the best on Meso-America.
On Calle Genova, between Hamburgo and Londres, is the Gay Community Center – LGBTTTI, behind a wrought iron grill. They have all kinds of info, in Spanish of course, condoms, and AIDS testing upstairs. If you’ve been putting off getting tested at your local LGBT community center, you might as well make it part of your trip here. And if you happen to wear a pair of leather shoes, be sure to get a shine from Hermando’s stand in front of VIP’s on Hamburgo. He’s the best, and for less than two bucks.
We walked miles and miles, all hours of both day and night. We rode the jam-packed Metro trains both day and night. Just as a common sense safety precaution, we always packed our wallets into our front pants pockets. Due to the patting, pinching, and groping that seems prevalent in this Latin culture, there are now special subway cars that are reserved for women only during the rush hour. Although my butt did get patted once on a packed train, it was so crowded I couldn’t see who the hand belonged to, or what the person’s intention was. We wore no bling — another common sense move on any foreign vacation — only jeans and sweatshirts, and carried a cheapie backpack. We also left anything of value in the hotel room safe. But aside from these simple precautions, neither of us felt any threat or negativity, even in some of the less affluent areas we wandered.
As the two guys from Queens pointed out, now that Mexico City has legal same-sex marriage, it has become the gayest city in Latin America.
photo credits: Julio Martinez via photopin cc, Felixe via photopin cc, and Zach Mullaney