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  Zona Sabrosa Mexico City�s Zona Rosa

Story & Photos by Charles Dews

I used to advise people to stay out of Mexico City�s famous Pink Zone (Zona Rosa). I still don�t think it�s a great place to go at night--too many sleazy types aggressively handing out push cards for table dances and "streepers." And a woman friend had her laptop snatched out of her arms at seven o�clock in the evening on one of the busier streets in the Zone. Even the legitimate guide books tell you to beware a whole host of creepy scams that are endemic to the district.
Cubaner�as Restaurant and Bar
Cubaner�as Restaurant and Bar
Still, now that I am living near the Zone and have had many opportunities to explore it in the daylight, I have to admit, I love the place. I love the trees and the flowers and the public sculptures (although some of them are not completely appropriate for viewing by young children) and the shady, narrow streets lined with world-class shops. I love the smell of fabulous food being prepared in hundreds of first-rate restaurants.

I love the tinkling of ice cubes in generous glasses full of, oh, let�s say, cuba libre (made with Havana Club�s delectable a�ejo rum, of course) as I walk by sidewalk watering holes. I mainly love the Zone because I love a great scene.

Genova is the street that is more or less the main drag of the Zone, and happily it is a walking street. No cars. Just broad sidewalks full of lots and lots of snappily dressed people, beautiful people, people who are in the know. How do I know they are in the know? It�s the look, the wary smile, the pretend-not-to-see glance.

And what are all these smart folks doing in the Zone? Hanging out, mostly, sipping cappuccinos in front of Mixup-the best collection of recorded music for sale in the City-or enjoying a t�te-�-t�te at Blah-Blah Caf� or having mouthwatering blackberry mousse and kaffee served at the table Danish style in copper pots at Konditori. Some people may be on their way to do a little antique shopping (the antiques may be little, but the prices aren�t) or to try on souvenir T-shirts and buy Mexican tchotchkes for granny back home in Conroe.

Hamburgo & Genova the best corner in the Zona Rosa
Hamburgo & Genova "the best corner" in the Zona Rosa
It�s for sure that at lunch time, if they�re Chilangos, they are either heading to Caf� Ventura or are already seated and happily anticipating their Baguette Europea (spinach, cream cheese, salami, and tomato on a foot-long baguette with a perfect crust) or their Ensalada Buenaventura (lettuce, spinach, tomato, hardboiled egg, salami, ham, chicken, Manchego cheese, and country-style cheese) or maybe for their Arrachera Americana con papas curly y guacamole. They are also likely to be indulging in some of the best people watching available anywhere in the world there at the corner of Genova and Hamburgo, "the best corner in the Zona Rosa." No, the restaurateur hasn�t offered me so much as a Negra Modelo to plug the place so shamelessly. I always get excited about really great food for poco dinero, a rare happenstance in the Zone. And, really, that corner�

Shopping in the Zone is no bargain, with one notable exception, Mercado Insurgentes at Londres 154, a died-and-gone-to-heaven sort of place for fanciers of all things Mexican.
Dress store in Mercado Insurgentes
Dress store in Mercado Insurgentes
Inside this huge market are hundreds, really, of storelets and stalls that specialize in zarapes, ponchos, talavera pottery from Dolores Hidalgo and Puebla, those beautiful frilly Mexican dresses, painted amate paper, "pre-Columbian artifacts," and enough silver jewelry to sink the QE2. Bargaining is de rigueur, and everyone seems eager to sell.

They invite you into their shops as though they were inviting you in to tea. If you get lost in that cavernous place, just head to a wall and follow it to an exit. Not a good place for claustrophobes or people who tend to the bull-in-a-china-shop style of shopping.

In keeping with the cultural glitz of the Zone, there are a pair of "museums" that will not fail to please the youngsters and anyone who loves the truly odd. The Ripley Museum and the House of Wax are side-by-side just east of the Zona Rosa proper (there are signs on all the main streets). You pay one time to visit both.

Now, the Ripley concept was simple: the world is a novelty shop, and Ripley liked to collect trinkets. The trinket might be a model of an ornate cathedral fashioned from match sticks, a shrunken head from New Guinea, a landscape painted on a potato chip, a statue made from a million dollars of shredded money, the preserved body of a two-headed goat, a set of Ubangi lip plates, or tiny figurines made from dried roach parts. Not exactly the National Museum of Anthropology, but amusing in its way.

In the wax museum there are meticulously decorated rooms for royalty, sports figures, Mexican movie stars, Hollywood stars, Mexican TV personalities, and an unusual assortment of other figures: Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci with La Gioconda posing for the Mona Lisa, Gandhi, Agust�n Lara, and Cervantes with his imaginary characters from Don Quixote. There is even a small theater with a wax Placido Domingo that sings; i.e., a film of his face singing is projected onto the face of the immobile statue. It is a rather creepy illusion.

In the museum�s (remember I am using this term very loosely) basement it is a different story--an animated and undiscriminating horror show: There are depictions of the real horrors of the Inquisition, with naked wax people tied to a rotating drum and roasting over a fire. There are the Hollywood monsters of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the spinning head of Linda Blair from the Exorcist. A fiendish B-movie Hollywood doll called Chucky is exhibited next to a true social monster, Jeffrey Dahmer, kneeling before an open fridge half filled with human viscera. No plastic bags! No Tupperware! Just raw viscera on open shelves. And Dahmer is gnawing on a jejunum.

Mixup cd and tape store on Genova
Mixup cd and tape store on Genova
If you�re like me, you�d rather be chipping away at a Napoleon and sipping a cup of Oolong at Sal�n de T� Duca d�Este or chomping a fajita de camar�n at Taco Inn.

Believe it or not, Mexico City�s Zona Rosa used to be a quiet neighborhood of up-market homes in the sort-of-French style popular during the late 19th century. The tree-lined streets are still there, and people do live in some of the elegant high-rise apartments and hotels that dot the area, but the quiet neighborhood is history. If you go for the noise, the "culture," and, like I said, the never-ending stream of eminently watchable denizens, you won�t be disappointed. But, really, go in the daytime.

Editor's Note: Charles Dews lives in Mexico City�s beautiful Colonia Cuauht�moc with David, his partner of 25 years, and Eartha Kitt, the Cat. Dews devotes much of his time to promoting the myriad delights of the World�s Biggest City. Contact him by e-mail at

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