When my book Las llaves de la ciudad came out here, various interviewers asked me what my favorite cantina in Mexico City is. I think they were testing me, to see if I would come up with someplace they'd never been to, or a joint that's in every tourist guidebook.
Photo by Everett McCourt
Asking me which is my favorite cantina is a little bit like asking a mother which is her favorite child. Choosing a cantina has to do with various factors: what time of day it is, what neighborhood in which I find myself, whether I want to eat or am only interested in drinking. But if I absolutely had to choose one, I believe it would be Tio Pepe, at the corner of Independencia and Dolores, a stone's throw from the Alameda Central and at the portal of Mexico City's one-block-long Chinatown.
Shabby-genteel, the fixtures, and the stained-glass advertisement for Hennessy cognac above the bar, are from the turn of the 20th century. I like to go to Tio Pepe in the late afternoon, and sometimes stay until closing time, which is usually fairly early, around 10 pm. There is no food here, except peanuts. Most of the customers are older gentlemen getting progressively shitfaced. Sometimes itinerant troubadors wander in, guitar straps slung across their shoulders, but they are usually more interested in drinking than in performing.
Pictured above is Sebastian, who has been waiting tables at Tio Pepe for at least as long as I have been a customer (since 1990). Sometimes many months go by between my visits, but Sebastian always treats me --and whichever guests I may bring -- as if we show up every night and spend thousands of pesos.