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Frommer's nightlife in Mexico City

From mariachi, reggae, and opera to folkloric dance, classical ballet, and dinner shows, the choice of nighttime entertainment in Mexico City is enormous and sophisticated. Prices are much lower than those for comparable entertainment in most of the world's major cities.
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From mariachi, reggae, and opera to folkloric dance, classical ballet, and dinner shows, the choice of nighttime entertainment in Mexico City is enormous and sophisticated. Prices are much lower than those for comparable entertainment in most of the world's major cities. If you're willing to let la vida mexicana put on its own fascinating show for you, the bill will be even less. People-watching, cafe-sitting, music, and even a dozen mariachi bands all playing at once can be yours for next to nothing. For those looking for the hottest spots in dance clubs, head straight for the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods.

Crime at Night
Make sure to leave valuables -- especially watches and jewelry -- at your hotel, and bring only the cash you will need. While I list Metro stops, these should probably be used only for orientation; take only authorized sitio taxis or hire a private taxi by the hour and have an escort waiting for you as you sample the festivities of the city. Your hotel can help with these arrangements.

A Note of Caution in Garibaldi Square
Plaza de Garibaldi, both day and night, is increasingly populated by thieves looking to separate tourists from their valuables. Although the police presence has increased, it's still best to visit by private taxi. If you go, don't take credit cards or excess money with you. Go with a crowd of friends rather than alone, or take a tour that includes Garibaldi.

The Entertainment Scene
Mexico City has a very impressive club scene, with great places for dancing to music ranging from salsa to house. In recent years, the Centro Histórico downtown has earned a reputation for a broad range of chic clubs concentrated within walking distance. The posh Polanco neighborhood is known for its perennial hot nightclub scene, but in recent years, the hippest clubs are found in the Condesa neighborhood (reputedly the SoHo of Mexico City, though the nightlife scene is more akin to New York's East Village). The Zona Rosa remains highly popular, and continues to be the most comfortable place for tourists. There the music tends to be more English-language than Spanish, and the masses of people strolling the sidewalks give the area a festive, friendly feel. Clubs and dinner-dance establishments don't even begin to get going until around 10 or 11 p.m. and stay open until at least 3 a.m. Many clubs operate only Thursday through Saturday.

Fiesta nights give visitors a chance to dine on typical Mexican food and see wonderful regional dancing, which seems always to be a treat no matter how many times you've seen it.

For lower-key nightlife and people-watching, outdoor cafes remain a popular option. Those on Calle Copenhague, in the thick of the Zona Rosa scene, are among the liveliest, but with one or two exceptions, they have become more expensive than they are good. Another tradition is Garibaldi Square, where mariachis tune up and wait to be hired, but be especially careful -- it's now known as much for chronic street crime as for music.

Hotel lobby bars tend to have live entertainment of the low-key type in the late afternoon and into the evening. The exception is the lobby bar at the Camino Real, which occasionally books top-name Latin American talent.

The Performing Arts
Mexico City's performing arts scene is among the finest and most comprehensive in the world. It includes opera, theater, ballet, and dance, along with concerts of symphonic, rock, and popular music.

For current information on cultural offerings, Donde, Tiempo Libre, and Concierge, free magazines found in hotels, are good sources for locating the newest places, though they don't have complete listings of changing entertainment or current exhibits. Ticketmaster (tel. 55/5325-9000) usually handles ticket sales for major performances.

The Club & Music Scene
This warning can't be reiterated enough: Take an authorized sitio taxi or hire a car for transportation to all nightspots. Metro stops are given merely as a point of reference.

Mariachis play the music of Mexico. Although the songs they play may be familiar -- ranging from traditional boleros to Mozart to the Beatles -- their style and presentation are unique to Mexico. Known for their distinctive dress, strolling presentation, and mix of brass and guitars, they epitomize the romance and tradition of the country. They look a little like Mexican cowboys dressed up for a special occasion -- tight trousers studded with silver buttons down the outside of the legs, elaborate cropped jackets, embroidered shirts with big bow ties, and grandiose sombrero hats. The dress dates to the French occupation of Mexico in the mid-19th century, as does the name. Mariachi is believed to be an adaptation of the French word for marriage; this was the type of music commonly played at weddings in the 15th and 16th centuries. The music is a derivative of fandango, which was the most popular dance music of the elite classes in 16th-century Spain. In Mexico, fandango became the peasant's song and dance.

In Mexico City, the mariachis make their headquarters around the Plaza de Garibaldi, 5 blocks north of the Palacio de Bellas Artes -- up Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas, at Avenida República de Honduras. Mariachi players are everywhere in the plaza. At every corner, guitars are stacked together like rifles in an army camp. Young musicians strut proudly in their outfits, on the lookout for señoritas to impress. They play when they feel like it, when there's a good chance to gather some tips, or when someone orders a song -- the going rate is $1.50 to $3.25 per song.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed nightlife spots, visit our online nightlife index.

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