On the Road Trip

On the Road: Mexico City, Day 2

by Pavia Rosati
Mexico Pretty houses in Condesa.

On her second day in Mexico City, Pavia explores the cool neighborhoods Roma and Condesa, but doesn't necessarily find what she's looking for.

MEXICO CITY – This isn't much of a walking city.

At least not like New York or London or Paris or Rome. Mexico City is vastly spread out, like Los Angeles. Julie (the BFF whose business trip I'm crashing) and I set out to visit the neighborhoods I'd heard so much about: Roma (edgy, emerging, Williamsburg-like) and Condesa (residential, chic, boho like SoHo). We were expecting to find boutiques, boutique hotels, and cafes clustered around a few intersections. Instead, well, we did a lot of walking, sometimes back and forth down the same streets looking for places that didn't necessarily exist.

"It's the journey," Julie reminds me. "Besides, this is amazing architecture. Look at how blue that building is. And that one: so pink."

I was frustrated because I wanted to see a lot in a little time, and for all that I read about Mexico City, I hadn't been warned about that the city was so diffuse. The Los Angeles comparison isn't really accurate because LA has concentrated retail areas in Silverlake and Venice, not just Beverly Hills. Yes, it's stupid to make comparisons among cities, but it's impossible not to. We have internal compasses and we try to navigate as we recalibrate in different settings.

Our first destination in Roma was El Museo del Objeto del Objeto, recommended by Fathom contributor Rima Suqi, who wrote about it for the New York Times. The museum founder, businessman Bruno Newman, has amassed an immense collection of consumer goods over the course of his life, and he converted this beautiful Art Nouveau building into a temple of stuff. On display on the ground floor is a whimsical fraction of his collection, which ran the gamut from a copper, hand-crank washing machine to an Iron Maiden cassette tape. In the rest of the museum he showcases the collections of other obsessives. Exhibits rotate every few months; we saw pencils, vintage skateboards, men's sneakers, women's hats, old-timey Mexico postcards. A gallery filled with nothing but pencils: total nerdy joy.

Museo del Objeto, Mexico City
Laundry, the really old-fashioned way, at El Museo del Objeto (MODO).
Goodbyefolk, Mexico City
The barbershop at Goodbyefolk in Roma.
Chic by Accident, Mexico City
Chic by Accident in Roma.

Down the street from MODO was Goodbyefolk: in the front, it's a funky boutique with vintage clothes and glasses and bright oxford shoes; in back, it's a barbershop staffed by sweet, young gay stylists. A few doors away was Rosetta (Colima 166), a beautiful Italian restaurant — Belle Epoque building, hanging vines throughout, old lady rolling croissants in the kitchen. Nearby was the totally cute Hotel Brick, everyone's favorite new boutique hotel. Around the corner, we found brightly colored, polka-dotted trench coats at Sabrina Rey and octopus-embellished gold jewelry at the spanking new Sangre de Mi Sangre boutique.

This all sounds totally efficient, right? Nope. What should have been a leisurely 45-minute stroll took two hours, even with my detailed map (okay, my two detailed maps). It didn't help that street numbers are an every-ten-buildings afterthought. Then again, the hunt made the finds that much better, as at Chic by Accident, a mod furniture showroom that's the stuff set designers dream of. Don't look for a sign on the door. Just buzz, and they'll let you in.

"That's Roma," the guy at Chic told me. "Sometimes, the good things are hidden."

I was aware that I was dragging Julie on a coolhunter's goose chase, instead of, you know, going to the awesome Frida Kahlo Museum, so I saved the best for last: La Valise, a four-room showroom filled with curated curious inspired by global travel — part bookshop, part boutique, part gallery.

It was a total bust. We found two stoners stapling bad artwork to the ceiling of a space the size of a walk-in closet. I walked into Broka (Zacatecas 126), the funky restaurant next door. "Yes, that's La Valise" the waitress told me. "That's it?" I said, barely hiding my disappointment. The disconnect between the shop I had read about and the place I saw was too much. I'm convinced we missed it, that I flew all the way to Mexico City, made a map, found the shop with the same name in the same address, but was in the wrong place. Unless all the travel writers are lying, or the shop owners are trying to pull a fast one on me.

No disappointment can survive a good meal, so shortly after 3 p.m., we tumbled into Fonda el Refugio (Liverpool 166) for an authentic Mexican lunch of caldo tlalpeño (chicken soup with vegetables and avocado), romeritos con torta de camaron (dried shrimp and rosemary patties in a rich mole sauce), huachinango (red snapper), and a mountain of simple, perfect guacamole served by kindly grandpa waiters who kept presenting plates of dessert because they couldn't believe we didn't want any.

Which brings me to a few more observations about the D. F.:

1. Mexicans are crazy about sweets. They put sugar on their sugar.

2. Nobody calls it "Mexico City." It's "D.F.," for "Distrito Federal."

3. This is a Blackberry town, and BBM is everyone's favorite method of communication. Totally refreshing to be in a town that hasn't yet been colonized by the iPhone.

4. The metro is amazing. Mexicans may prefer to sit in traffic ("You guys took the subway? Such New Yorkers..."), but we zipped everywhere on the blazingly fast subway. The aesthetic is terrific: bright orange signs, bubbly 1970s font, an icon representing each station (pine trees for San Pedro de los Pinos). Commuting should always be this cheery. And safe: During rush hours, the first three cars are reserved for women and children. (Well, in theory at least. No one told the lone guy in our car to get out.) And cheap: The fare was about 25 cents.

Mexico City
A typically pretty house in Condesa.
Red Tree House B&B, Mexico City
The view from the treehouse room at Red Tree House B&B.
Tout Chocolat, Mexico City
Shopping for sweets at Tout Chocolat.

Over in Condesa, things were a little more jumping, bourgeois, and residential. Condesa D.F. is the Grupo Habita hotel I've loved from afar for years for good reasons: the cool atrium, the library abutting the bar, their inspiring use of turquoise paint. On a funkier note, we were totally charmed by Red Tree House, a vibrant and friendly bed and breakfast where rooms run less than $100 a night.

Mob stocked modernist housewares, furniture, and whimsical gifts. La Tienda del Savoy (Amsterdam 252) had an older collection of silver-plated tea sets, artwork, and antiques. Tout Chocolat (Amsterdam 145) is a sleek, new Parisian-style chocolate shop where the display cases are lined with cookies and dark chocolate with cilantro bon bons.

Mexico City is a town of low buildings and lots of sky. Its location in a volcanic basin means pollution gets trapped, and it's not uncommon to see a dull red-brown haze over the city as you fly in. It's too bad people stay in their cars, because walking the streets is a total pleasure. The architectural styles are varied but universally interesting. The predominant motif is Spanish: ornate and beautiful, colorful and rambling, with bougainvillea and vines everywhere. Parks abound, full of families and dogs and twentysomething couples who really like kissing in public.

Among friends, the kissing style is single cheek. Among men, the greeting is firm shake, single arm hug with strong pats on the back, firm shake.

More on hanging out with Mexicans tomorrow.

Read more Fathom on the Road Mexico City: Day 1 and Day 3

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