Tuesday, September 27, 2011


We rented our first place in Mexico City in 1998 in Colonia Roma, before it became the hotspot it is today. The 2-bedroom 1950's era apartment was cheap enough (3000 pesos a month) to overlook the ugly block with its earthquake damaged buildings and garbage strewn vecindades. How things have changed since then!

Roma is one of Mexico City’s great hodge-podge neighborhoods. Inaugurated in the early 1900’s, it was the first fully planned subdivision, with underground cables, running water, and even a trolley line. It was home to famous politicians, actors, writers and bull fighters.

From the beginning it was a mixed neighborhood, a sociological experiment in egalitarianism. Grand mansions sat next to apartment buildings and single family houses of various economic levels. Parks, fountains, and lots of trees helped create the French ambiénce beloved of president Porfírio Díaz.

The mix of high-low, rich-poor, beautiful-ugly became more pronounced over the years. In the 30’s the money moved west to Condesa and Polanco. Decay set in. The houses of the Porfirato period were torn down and replaced with more utilitarian buildings, often of breathtaking ugliness. Mansions became offices or schools. The earthquake of 1985 severely damaged the area, leaving it neglected and unloved, like Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard’.

But now it seems the time has come to bring the old diva out of retirement, dress her up, and put her in a new show. Restaurants, cafés, bookstores, boutiques, art galleries, and organic food stores are sprouting like whiskers on an adolescent’s chin. Weekend markets entice crowds to stroll down the tree-shaded alleé which runs the length of Avenida Álvaro Obregón, Roma’s main drag. Even the garbage collectors add to the eclectic mix—one truck I passed was blaring Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman.’

The neighborhood is perfect for a walking tour. The intersection of Calle Orizaba and Álvaro Obregón is the hub of the area. Along Orizaba are two small parks, Plaza Rio de Janiero, with its reproduction of Michaelangelo’s naked David (there are lots of naked men in the fountains of Colonia Roma—the camellón of Álvaro Obregon is lined with them.) A few blocks south is Plaza Luis Cabrera. Streets branching out from here are the most interesting in Roma. Stroll along Colima, Tabasco, Durango, or Jalapa to soak up the feeling of yesteryear that Roma offers. Below are some photos to give you a preview.

Some Highlights of Colonia Roma:

1. Casa Lamm—Cultural center in an old mansion

2. Hotel Brick—have a drink at the swanky bar

3. Broka--Comida corrida & tapas bar

4. Rosetta—Superior Italian food in a lovely old house

5. Delirio—Cool lunch spot with great take out items (try the lemon/cardamom marmalade!)

6. Trouvé and Chic by Accident—Retro home decor stores

7. MUCA—Contemporary art museum

8. MODO—Museum of design—collections of weird objects

9. Artes de Mexico—small craft store in a great old house

10. Art galeries--Arroníz, OMR and Nina Menocal are three of the best

11. El Pendulo--Bookstore, café, cabaret theater—great rooftop.

12. Taco stands at Álvaro Obregón and Insurgentes—street food heaven

13. Weekend markets: Vendors set up along Álvaro Obregon on Saturdays and Sundays. Saturdays only there's a flea market in the park at Cuauhtémoc and Tabasco. Sundays only there's a tianguis in the other park at Álvaro Obregón and Cuauhtemoc--there are great food stalls along Tabasco.

14. MOG, Asian fusion food, retro/futuro decor

15. Bar Covadonga, The ultimate Roma-mix bar.

My first apartment (below). The pozole verde at the place downstairs is one of the best things you'll eat in Mexico City (it's on Zacatecas between Córdoba and Merida).


Anonymous said...

Wow, I love those ornate door details and tile floors!

The more I see of Mexico City, the more I want to explore it! (6 years in Mexico, and I've never been!)

Send gifts to pakistan said...

nice collections of pictures!
thanks for sharing these

Gary Denness said...

Colonia Roma is, by a country mile, my favourite area of all Mexico City. Thanks for the photos. Even though I have a million of my own from those streets! I love seeing snaps of that 'hood. I very much miss my Saturday afternoon stroll down Alvaro Obregon. And my chats with the market stall holders about footy. Why on earth did I ever leave.... (

Ralph said...

Jim, That was great stuff...I have got to get to Mexico City

Patrice said...

JIM, another great post. A wonderful place in Roma is Caravansarai, the tea salon on the corner of Alvaro Obregon and Orizaba. Also, the Fusion Bazaar, the best independent and artesanal designer show in the city, is happening at Plaza Luis Cabrera Friday-Sunday October 14th-16th, 11am to 7pm. Come pass by the Abrazos space and say hello, fans of Jim's blog and Jim!

Luisa said...

I love your writing and enjoyed reading the history of Colonia Roma. Do you think you will give us the histories of other colonias? I love the various references both you and Nick incorporate into your writings. Have either of you consider writing a memoir - together or singley - about moving to and living in mexico?

Stuart said...

I love the pictures! Keep up the good work.

zabdi said...

I'm Mexican and I totally agree with you. "La Roma" is the best hood ever by far in the city. It's so bohemian and it has become so chic over the past couple of years. It's amazing for long walks or sitting in a banch and read a book. It's so full of life and theres loads to see. Hopefully more foreign people can come and see the beauty of La Roma.

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