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!)
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).