Gay Mexico City
Travel alert concerning Covid-19:
Mexico Is Frighteningly Unprepared for the Coronavirus. As the virus spreads, the government is still downplaying the danger. See Slate, March 19, 2020.
On March 24th, Mexico announced it would suspend all public and private gatherings. As of June 3rd, newly reported cases and deaths are continuing to rise, even as officials push ahead to ease the lockdown with their "new normal" plan.
Mexico City has been one of the areas most affected by COVID-19, and authorities have extended the ban on non-essential travel at the US border until June 22nd. Hotels have begun to reopen, but with common areas such as pools and spas closed. When permitted to reopen, restaurants and cafes will initially operate at one-half capacity, but bars, clubs, cinemas, theaters, gyms and spas would remain closed. Most events have been cancelled or postponed until further notice.
Gay travelers love Mexico City. They keep coming in spite of the pollution, crime, traffic, and flu scares. Those who love cities know their inconveniences are just the cover charge you pay to dance in dynamic urban spaces. Mexico City is a fantastic juxtaposition of grandeur and squalor, high art and low hedonism, often in the same block, that gay guys just get instinctively.
Neighborhoods all over the city pique the imagination. The Centro Histórico, Mexico City’s grand, crumbling downtown, with relics from seven centuries of urban life, is a favorite. Then there’s the Zona Rosa, Mexico City’s recognizably “gay” neighborhood. What to say? Long ago the city’s hippest area, the glitter faded about 1980. Still, every gay guy finds himself there, sooner or later.
But there are plenty of other neighborhoods with a low-key gay vibe. Roma and Condesa neighborhoods, adjacent to Zona Rosa, are impossible to resist, with verdant parks and buzzy outdoor cafés, well-preserved architecture, interesting galleries, and kicky shops. It’s swanky, but still very Mexico City; as you sip a latte with the beautiful people, low-tech pushcart vendors amble by, hawking steamed tamales and sweet potatoes.
As for foreigner visitors, they will get as lucky as they want to; usually a smile and saying hola is enough to start the ball rolling. Most guys here tend not to worry about being checked out by another guy, if their own sense of manhood isn't challenged and there's no risk of losing face among family or friends. Out-of-towners, even those past the full bloom of youth, often return home giggly and exhausted from all the action they've had.
Mexico City's Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez is the main gateway to the country. If you're taking a taxi to your hotel, buy a ticket at an official airport taxi counter, rather than from the driver. The trip downtown takes a minimum of 20 minutes.
Metrobus Line 4 operates 365 days a year, linking the airport with the capital’s main points of interest for just 30 pesos. The first stop, San Lázaro, offers three options: the north or south route buses; or the Metro Line 1 train to the center, with connections to eight additional lines to reach your final destination station. Board Metrobus at entrance 7, Terminal 1 or entrance 2, Terminal 2. Consult the Metro map and click on any of the 12 lines for details. Insurgentes station, on Line 1, is near the Zona Rosa gay scene, and the Belles Artes and Zócola stations are on Line 2.
Alternatively you can access Metro Line 5 at Terminal Aérea Station, a short walk from Terminal 1, with trains between Politécnico and Pantitlán stations. The latter station connects to Line 1 for trains to the center. Tickets are just 6 pesos, valid for 2 hours in one direction, and you can buy a reusable smart card at any station for 16 pesos that includes one trip. Seniors age 70 or over, children under five, and people with disabilities may ride for free.
Avoid hailing a taxi on the street if possible, some people are robbed this way. Much safer to pick one up at a hotel’s taxi queue, or to have your concierge call one. Making friends is the best way to have a good (and safe) time, as the locals know the ropes.
The Metro subway system is a great way to get around, but rush hour trains can get very crowded, so watch your valuables. Men, including hustlers, cruise here too, looking for eye contact on the platform, particularly at Hidalgo, Balderas, and Insurgentes stations. Couples who have exchanged glances board together, usually on the rear car, and need only yield to the crush of the crowd to get as physically intimate as they want.
Women who find this physical crush threatening, should be able to use designated carriages reserved exclusively for women and children under the age of 12 during peak hours. Platform waiting areas are supposed be in place on most lines during the hours of 6-9am and 6-9pm.
The guys at Gentle Tours can help you enjoy the size and complexity of Mexico City with their guided private tours in English or Spanish, exclusive hotels, transportation, restaurants and other services for gay men. They also do excursions to surrounding towns, landscapes, and the pyramids nearby.
Currency and Money
Mexico’s currency is the peso, which is divided into 100 centavos. They use the same symbol as the US dollar ($), so if prices seem high on first glance they really come to a lot less in US currency. In 2016-17 the exchange rate has ranged from 18-21 pesos to the US dollar. ATMs are everywhere in the capital, so there’s no need to carry a lot of cash, but use your street smarts concerning ATM locations. Check with your home bank before leaving, to find out if using a Mexican partner bank can save on cash withdrawal fees, and keep phone contact information in a safe place in case you need to report lost or stolen cards.
Media & Resources
Anal/ Butt Magazine is a local gay zine with Fag Map in English, written and published by people who love this city.
The Communidad Leather Mexico blogspot will keep you updated on everything leather and fetish in this city and beyond.
For local LGTBQ film screenings, check out Cinema Queer México, along with what's playing at Cine Tonalá, and Cinemex Plaza Insurgentes, both in the Roma Sur neighborhood. Cine Lido | Centro Cultural Bella Época and Cineteca Nacional are mainstream arthouse cinema options at city center.
Chilango is a useful general public guide to the capital city, with movie and live music listings, restaurant and bar reviews, and other tips for getting around town.
The bar scene changes constantly. See our map & listings pages for Mexico City bars, clubs, and saunas, along with some suggestions on hotels, shops, restaurants performing arts venues, and museums/galleries.
This is an ever-changing scene. No guide could ever be complete with all the openings, closings and pop-up parties, but some bars have been around for a decade or longer. We provide website links for businesses that have them, so check ahead to confirm they're open, and for event schedules. But many small cafes and cantinas leave no online traces, so ask around, and try exploring a bit.
Alba 33 (Glorieta de Insurgentes at Jalapa), Zona Rosa locals' gay party bar, men/women mix, shows.
El Almacén (Florencia 37-b), formerly the popular El Taller in Zona Rosa, men's dark/industrial institution, older crowd, drag shows, male strippers with the full monty. Now part of the Cabaré-Tito group.
Baby (Londres 71, Zona Rosa), Wednesday-Saturday gay dancing, drag shows, go-go boys, hot/packed young crowd, men/women mix, theme nights, smoking terrace.
Botas Bar (Niza 40, Zona Rosa), male strippers, drag shows, men-only erotic "total XXX shows," guest porn stars.
BB Show Bar (Amberes 21, Zona Rosa), Thursday-Sunday 10pm-5am gay show bar, hard body male strippers, private shows. The associated Kaos gay club dance nights feature go-go boys, entertainment and shows, at various locations.
Boy Bar (Amberes 14, Zona Rosa), nightly nude male strippers, hot room xxx shows, erotic Thursdays, karaoke, theme parties, terrace.
Cabaré-Tito Fusion (Londres 77, Zona Rosa), Wednesday-Saturday show club, men/women, karaoke, circus acts, tropical theme parties.
Cabaré-Tito Neón (Florencia 37-A), Tuesday-Sunday gay basement club below the El Almacin/El Taller club in Zona Rosa; drag shows, sexy strippers and go-go dancers.
Coldtail (Amberes 12, Zona Rosa), frozen cocktails, video bar, gay/mixed men/women. Formerly Le Cirque.
Contramar (Calle Durango 200, Roma), high-class Mexican cuisine, fish and seafood specialities; good food, fun people- watching.
Covadonga (Puebla, 121, Roma), hip young gay-friendly crowd, retro-style cantina.
Drrama by 42 (Amberes 4, Zona Rosa), gay/mixed upscale cafe/bar; drag shows, karaoke. Formerly 42nd St.
Envy / Guilt (Presidente Masaryk 393) or (Anatole France 120), Fridays, Saturdays and special event upscale gay/mixed, men/women lounge/club dance parties in Polanco; mostly young, well-dressed crowd.
Go Bar Cineclub (Calle Colón 30, at Reforma), gay music/video bar and cinema, drag shows, male strippers.
Hibrido (Coahuila 92 at Jalapa, Roma), gay/lesbian dance club, sexy young hard-body stripper shows, theme parties, ElektroSundays.
King Bar (Amberes 18, Zona Rosa), gay cocktail and video bar, weekend dancing and drag cabaret.
Kinky (Amberes 1, Zona Rosa), young/upscale gay crowd, hot shirtless bartenders, go-go boys, video lounge, terrace, karaoke, dark room, terrace, open late.
La Perla (Republica de Cuba 44, Centro), Thursday-Saturday drag cabaret show bar, open 8pm-4am on weekends.
La Purísima (República de Cuba 17, Centro), the Virgin, porn angels, male strippers, gay/mixed dancing.
La Suite Club (Amberes 21, Zona Rosa), DJ-driven gay electronic dance club on 2 levels, go-go boys.
Marrakech Salón (República de Cuba 18, Centro), young all-night gay party crowd, cheap drinks, strippers, drag shows.
Nicho/ BearMex (Londres 182, Zona Rosa), popular dance club for men, bears and friends, karaoke, theme parties.
El Oasis Bar (República de Cuba 2G, at Eje), all-ages gay machos/ cowboys bar by Bellas Artes station; karaoke and drag shows, live music, male strippers, theme parties.
PK Club Fresh Beats at Dance Floor (Coahuila 92), Friday and/or Saturday dance club nights from the guys behind the old Living Club brand. Also Crazy Nights special events at Cabaré-Tito Fusion (Londres 77, Zona Rosa). See their facebook page.
Puerca (Av Independencia 72 at Revillagigedo, Centro), gay electronic music Friday dance club, shirts-off sweaty guys, theme parties, underwear nights, drag shows, hot room. Popular spinoff parties at Baby (see above). Perra Saturday pop music straight nights at the Puerca space.
Saint Night Club (Campos Eliseos 290, Polanco), Friday/Saturday gay/mixed dance club, theme parties.
Teatro Bar el Vicia | Cabaret las Reinas Chulas (Madrid 13, Coyoacán), women's theater/bar, cabaret shows.
Tom's (Insurgentes Sur 357, Condesa), dark men's cruise bar, mixed age macho crowd, beer blasts, underwear parties, bear and leather events include Tom's Leather Fest in late May.
Touch (Amberes 11, Zona Rosa), 3-level club, live rock, disco, patio, snack foods, stage shows, bingo.
Vaqueros Bar (Florencia 35, Zona Rosa), men-only cowboy bar, social events, theme parties.
Viena Bar (Republica de Cuba 2E), casual gay Mexican cantina, beers and taquila.
VD+ (La Viga 667/ Eje 4/5 Sur), LGBT dance club, international DJs, stage shows, hot young crowd, Circus Freak Shows; also at other venues.
Youkali Cabaret (Amberes 61-3, Zona Rosa), Thursday-Saturday gay cabaret by Cabaré-Tito near their Punto y Aparte club, 8 and 10pm drag shows, music, live music, food and cocktails, theme events.
CLOSED: Internet Night Club (Cristóbal Colon 1, local A, Centro), gay party bar/cantina, mostly men; La Sacristía Bar (Génova 39-E/ Hamburgo, Zona Rosa), queer arts and theater crowd, drag cabaret shows, art exhibitions, cultural ephemera.
Saunas & Sex
La Toalla Club (Av Alvaro Obregón 259, Roma), men's sauna and steam club, cruise and relax areas.
So Do Me (Mariano Escobedo 716, Anzures), men's steam/sauna, Jacuzzi, bar/lounge, videos, DJs, go-go dancers.
Tepoz Spa (Carretera a San Andrés de la Cal #69, Tepoztlán, Morelos), spa for gay men, an hour south of Mexico City, 15 minutes east of Cuernavaca. Indoor and outdoor hot tubs, steam room, glory holes, showers, swimming pool, garden area.
See more saunas/ bathhouses at our Mexico City map and listings pages.
One man's view:
by Michael Parker-Stainback (August 2009 - updated by DailyXtra January 2018)
"It's Babylon, it's the Tower of Babel ... it's ...." So struggles Arturo, toned and well scrubbed, to find the right metaphor for Mexico City and its immense gay life. He talks about scores of places and gay identities. Macho cantinas where urban cowboys trade mole recipes, exclusive clubs whose preening eye candy boggles the mind, places to get your sleaze on, bear lairs, twink hangouts....
Gay travelers love Mexico City. They keep coming in spite of it all. By now, who hasn't heard there's pollution, crime, traffic, and, lately, flu scares? Yet those who love cities know their inconveniences are the cover charge you pay to dance in dynamic urban spaces. Mexico City is a fantastic juxtaposition of grandeur and squalor, high art and low hedonism, often in the same block, that gay guys just get instinctively.
Neighborhoods all over the city pique the imagination. The Centro Histórico, Mexico City's grand, crumbling downtown, with relics from seven centuries of urban life, is my particular favorite. At a recent museum opening there, I started talking with Pepe, who works in fashion and music. He suggested we step over to Marrakech, a smallish bar on raffish República de Cuba Street that's bringing gays downtown in droves.
"I was here before anyone cared," boasts Pepe. "And now you need lube to get in!"
Marrakech is quite a party, presided over with love by owner Juan Carlos Batista, an artist and gay-rights pioneer. Amid décor that combines a roadhouse and your grandmother's place, Juan Carlos presents everything from lesbian burlesque to queer poetry readings to campy old Mexican movies. The fine arts program brings in bohemians who are very easy on the eyes; flirting and dancing are obligatory, too. República de Cuba Street also features venerable gay cantinas from the old school and La Perla, a drag bar whose audience might even be more intriguing than the performers.
Then there's the Zona Rosa, Mexico City's recognizably gay neighborhood. What to say? Long ago the city's hippest area, the glitter faded about 1980. Still, every gay guy finds himself there, sooner or later. There are decent hotels that aren't fussy about overnight "guests," and if the young ones are your thing, you won't want to miss the two loud, tinsel-y Cabare-Tito Fusion and Cabare-Tito Neon discos. Kinky (the former Lipstick) is a three-level club with three concept bars, La Chipocluda Neo-Cantina, La Carpita Karaoke, and the Gran Terraza with great views of Paseo de la Reforma. But be forewarned the area feels tired.
But there are plenty of other neighborhoods with a low-key gay vibe. Unlike the Zona Rosa, the adjacent neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa are impossible to resist, with verdant parks and buzzy outdoor cafés, well-preserved architecture, interesting galleries, and kicky shops. It's swanky, but still very Mexico City: while you sip a latte with the beautiful people, low- tech pushcart vendors amble by, hawking steamed tamales and sweet potatoes.
Nick and Jim, a couple from New York who've been in Mexico City for 11 years, meet me for comida, the city's late, leisurely lunch (running from about 2:30pm to 5). We toy with Covadonga, a fluorescent-lit domino parlor, now jammed with a hip young crowd.
"Naaaw..." Nick judges, in a Manhattan accent he hasn't quite lost. "That's for table-hopping, not food."
He suggests Contramar, a stylishly decorated loft-like space that is reckoned to be one of the city's finest eateries. The food is delicious, and so is the people- watching, featuring everything from hard-coiffed senoras to willowy fashionistas to power-lunching fat cats.
"I like looking at the waiters," Jim says playfully. We agree. We also agree that Mexico City is not about gay restaurants or cafés as such. Is that part of the wide acceptance of gay life everyone talks about here?
Later, Arturo, an officer in Mexico's foreign service, and his boyfriend Paco, a professional dancer, invite me to their airy Roma apartment. Their set-up is enviable: smart furniture, some costly art, an ample balcony overlooking the area's leafy streets. They go out as often as they'd like, and run in fashionable, worldly circles. Their open displays of affection disarm you, and they seem to hide nothing about their gay life from anyone.
That said, Arturo describes a certain Mexican reticence and deference that gums up many gay men's relationships with their families. While Arturo's sophisticated relatives would never object to him taking Paco to family events, he still describes his relationship with them as "being in a closet with windows, more or less frosted." He knows his parents know, but has never told them personally.
"Maybe we have it too easy; maybe it's too comfortable not to change," says Arturo, in reference to what he calls Mexico's "complacency with the status quo."
Gilberto, an office administrator, and Hugo, a hairstylist, live in Colonia Guerrero, where junked cars and peeling paint, rather than modern art and terrace views, are common. But the couple lives its dream, too. They enjoy much of what Arturo and Paco do in gay Mexico City: freedom, social and cultural offerings, no one prying into their personal lives.
With all that, family dynamics again come up. Hugo's low-drama coming-out to his parents has morphed into a stricter "don't ask-don't tell" policy regarding intimacies that his straight siblings share as a matter of course.
"I know better than to take my nephews out for an ice cream alone, without grandma or some other female chaperone in place," he admits candidly, since there's a homophobic brother-in-law who, while supposedly cool with Hugo and Gil, is convinced gay men molest children. Most of the guys I talked to described similar relationships with family: a vague notion of injustice without much will to fight it.
This year's gay pride march, which fell on a weekend in late June, is a good metaphor for gay Mexico City. It was fascinating, fun and diverse, yet chaotic and politically unengaged. Nevertheless, it represents tremendous gains for the city's gay population. An event that started out 30 years ago with 350 intrepid marchers is now said to be the city's biggest political rally. When you're there you do feel proud, even elated. Everyone over 40 says they never thought they'd see the day when an estimated 150,000 people would advocate for gay visibility in the light of day and in the city's most iconic public spaces. The visibility, most agree, led to officially recognized same-sex civil unions in the capital, in contrast to the rest of Mexico.
We march down the city's grand, Champs Elysées-like central boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma, toward the ancient central square, the Zócalo, for drag shows and disco divas in front of the seat of the federal government and (gasp!) the massive cathedral. But throngs of merrymakers slow down and often halt the progress of the stripper-laden floats. It's more of a Mexican Mardi Gras than a political rally, obligatory not only for gays, but for teens and hipsters, people who like a show, and not least of all, those who have some costume and no place to wear it. Wigs, leather and rippling flesh abound, but so do (huh?) moments involving scary pirates, monster masks or straight women dressed up like Shirley Temple.
"Of course it's great, sexy and wide-open," Gilberto had said of the parade when we met earlier. "But are we getting anywhere?" He pointed out there is no openly gay leader in Mexico who might unite the diverse community. Indeed, no one I talked to sees the city's gay community existing in much more than theoretical terms.
Community or no community, the city is undeniably sexy. Whether it was Sergio, a mild-mannered art historian, or Alex, a pierced graphic designer and unapologetic party boy, everyone mentioned libertad (freedom) as a major attraction to gay life here. That freedom includes a culture of cruising, offline hook-ups, and the kinds of public venues for anonymous and group sex that are tamer, and harder to find, in New York, San Francisco and other famously "gay" cities.
Rough rent boys can be had for the price of a hamburger beneath the cottonwood trees in the city's oldest park, the Alameda Central. Elsewhere, scruffy bathhouses like the Baños San Juan, once for real bathing, now owe their existence to working-class guys and married men, plus sundry slummers, who cram into steam rooms for hot, unabashed group gropes.
In the high-end neighborhood of Polanco there's Sodomé, an exclusive sauna that attracts knock-out talent to its Friday-to-Sunday frolics. Private sex-parties are listed on numerous local blogs, alongside bitter objections to a recent law that shuts down bars at 2am. As for foreigner visitors, they will get as lucky as they want to; usually a smile and an hola is enough to start the ball rolling. Out-of-towners, even past the full bloom of youth, return home giggly and exhausted from all the action they get.
Is there a downside to so much apparent libertad? This is a city where commercial interests regularly trump moral ones, but where a self-censoring embarrassment called pena undergirds so many social interactions. Some say the acceptance of gays is not so much a sign of progress as it is of compartmentalization.
Take the last car on the subway trains that run in and out of the Zona Rosa, colloquially known as the vagón de la felicidad, the happiness car. Boys, mostly young and working class, cluster in the rear (pardon the pun) even when seats are available. For those with boyfriends, kissing, touching, and anything up to heavy petting is permitted. Stags in the pack enjoy the show or catch a stranger's eye. The car's "civilians:" older women, commuters and families within eyeshot, act as if nothing unusual is occurring. Yet there's an unwritten rule that the randy teens never take the party to another car. They've carved out their space for libertad, but they're supposed to stay there.
Meaning in the mess
I went to Tom's, in Condesa, one of the bluest spots west of Bangkok. Along with its castle-like aesthetic, there are continuous porn videos, a dozen fully fluffed, full-monty strippers, and a roiling backroom. José Luis, nerdy-cute and in publishing, says he's "looking for a boyfriend" but figures he'll never find one here.
"All the quick sex works against long-term relationships," he says. "You get discouraged, then have another beer and hit the backroom." Maybe it's so easy to get off that there's less motivation to fight for a more publicly gay life. Or maybe I should just have another beer.
As in all great cities, people in Mexico City are obsessed with where they live. They know what they love about their city, but they can also tell you what's wrong, then live with the contradictions. Perhaps that's true sophistication, somehow finding meaning in the mess of contemporary urban life. Doing what you can to make things better while enjoying the pageant.
My friend Jorge, who runs the stylish Red Treehouse guesthouse in Condesa with his ex-pat partner, has the right idea about such things: he took me to a nightclub called Spartacus (now closed), way out in a gritty neighborhood beyond the airport. An only-in-Mexico-City original, it united hundreds nightly: locals, intrepid gringos, the occasional celebrity, trannies, lesbians, and gay men of every type. Table service (a classy touch) was alloyed by the waiters' uniforms, a male version of the Hooters concept.
Together, everyone did his own thing: romances live and die on the dance floor, and strippers and drag queens exposed themselves for the love of their art. Players would head to the upper deck for quick assignations and couples canoodled or entertained friends. You'd never mistake this for Manhattan chic or Geneva tidiness. Unmistakably Mexico City: elegant yet squalid, profound and superficial, tough, loving, complacent, astounding, alarming. And never, ever boring.