Latin America

The Best Mexico Bars in 6 Mexican Cities


Where can you find the best Mexico bars? For a second year in a row, the judges at North America’s 50 Best Bars are going to try and tell you. Since drinking and bars are a subjective pastime we will leave it up to you if you follow their advice or not, but here is our summary of the spots that made it.

best Mexico bars

This year’s second annual North America’s 50 Best Bars awards (brought to you by the 50 Best Restaurants folks) was held in Mexico this year! In what looks like the result of a lot of schmoozing and palm greasing, 50 Best landed in San Miguel de Allende, which ironically is NOT home to any of the bars from Mexico that won spots on the 2023 list. I would have thought it made much more sense to host it in Mexico City or Guadalajara where some winners are located but alas, no one consults me about these things.

Once again, there were bars on the list that I think have something extraordinary about them, and others that I don’t understand why they made it. There are also a million other great options for drinking in all the cities featured, so just use this list as a starting point. Once again, here is my very honest (and subjective) review of all of Mexico’s winners for the 50 Best.

#2 Handshake Speakeasy — Mexico City

For the second year in a row, Handshake came in at #2 on the 50 Best list and I still think it’s a great choice. Opened mid-pandemic, this bar has some of the best cocktails in town in my humble opinion. It’s just one of the many speakeasies that Mexico City now claims as part of its bar scene.

Their Art Deco-inspired space is cozy and exclusive, but obviously, this wouldn’t be in one of the top spots if the drink menu wasn’t spectacular. The butter mushroom Old-fashioned is a personal favorite, but all their creations (which are limited in scope so the menu is not unbearably onerous) are unique, creative, and thoughtfully developed with housemade mixers, bitters, and infusions.

 

best Mexico City bar

Photo by Handshake Bar

Also try the menu of mini classics – negronis, martinis, vespers, and boulevardiers – half the size and half the price for drinkers who want to try them all.

#4 – Licoreria Limantour — Mexico City

Limantour moved down one spot to #4 but is obviously still a crowd favorite. They have deliciously hand-crafted cocktails, many of which focus on Mexico’s two most famous spirits – tequila and mezcal. That’s one of theirs at the top of this post.

They also make many of their ingredients in-house including getting special ice made just for their cocktail menu (which, compared to Handshake’s is massive).

I am partial to the Al Pastor, which is a combination of many of my favorite Mexico City elements – mezcal, cocktails, and street food – but really there are so many good options on the menu it’s hard to go wrong. On the flip side of all this praise is a general grumbling recently about the service at their Roma location where drinks take forever and staff is coolly indifferent to their customers. Great cocktails go a long way, but service is key.

#11 Zapote Bar — Playa del Carmen

best bar Playa del Carmen

Photo by Rosewood Hotels

Zapote bar held steady at #11 this year, and the city of Playa del Carmen has yet to pick up another spot on the list, even though it has plenty of great bars – it’s basically a big vacation party town. One of several offerings in the Mayakoba Riviera Maya Rosewood hotel, the Zapote bar has a bohemian setting with soft natural lighting, vacation-chic wicker furniture, and tropical plants draping over the walls.

The food menu has a noticeable Mediterranean bent, with shakshuka, hummus, and couscous all on offer, but with local ingredients in the mix where possible. The drinks menu is tame, with some standard classics, plus their insignia drinks which reflect the Yucatecan roots of the area: guava leaves, pasilla chile, lima bitters.

Know before swinging by that the prices here are eye-popping, even compared to most of the other high-end places on this list, with all cocktails setting you back US$24 (mocktails are a “cheap” $12). This being an exclusive resort mostly frequented by wealthy Americans, the food menu is also for people who aren’t really coming to Mexico for the savings. Expect to pay New York City prices for your imbibes and bites in the Riviera Maya.

#16 Baltra Bar — Mexico City

Photo by Baltra Bar

One of my favorite bars in the Condesa, Baltra moved down to #16 this year, but I’m not surprised since there are just so many great places to get craft cocktails in the city nowadays. They were one of the early pioneers and have had less of a spotlight with the flood of newcomers. Plus, they tend towards renditions of classics and it seems to me the 50 Best list is leaning towards (at least in Mexico) bars that are bringing back traditional Mexican spirits and off-the-wall combinations of endemic ingredients.

Named in honor of one of Darwin’s islands on his great discovery voyage above the SS Beagle, the bar combines nautical motifs with a Hemingway-like ambiance. It is a great place to cozy up on one of Mexico City’s rainy summer nights. The Old George Sour with tequila, Absinth, basil, cucumber, and cardamom is particularly delicious, but again you can’t go wrong ordering much of anything on the menu. The space is tiny (although post-pandemic they have added additional outdoor seating) and so can be packed on a busy night, better to drink with the pros earlier in the week.

#17 Rayo — Mexico City

Mexico City’s second new entry for 2023, Rayo was one of my favorite drinking experiences so far this year. It begins with the initial cocktail handed during the 45-second ascent in one of the city’s oldest elevators – Rayo is located in Colonia Roma in an early 20-century gem of a building, home to Fónico restaurant on the bottom floor.

Then the real drinking begins. A box of tiny stoppered glass bottles looking like homeopathic tinctures arrive at the table that are small samples of each of Rayo’s house cocktail inventions. There’s also a spoon. And as you squeeze yourself out a taste of each drink, it’s hard not to giggle with childlike joy. A blend of uncommon ingredients – like Greek yogurt with peanuts and cacao – are mixed with some of those traditional spirits I mentioned – pox, sotol, bacanora – and other more common liquors to create some of the most complex flavors I’ve encountered in my drinking “research” about town. I loved #2, a fuchsia-filled glass of pox, tequila, sweet potato, and palo santo, pictured below.

cocktails at Rayo Mexico City

© Rayo

Rayo is on the more expensive end of this list, but it’s still not New York or L.A. prices so tourists will be happy. And you will see a lot of them – tourists that is – as the crowd is a mix of upper-class locals and tourists with cash to spend and time to make reservations (which aren’t required but are encouraged, especially since they got put on this list). And while I could have done without the techno music as the night wore on, the space, which is a high-ceiled indoor/outdoor patio dark enough to keep your secrets intact, is kinda charming.

#20 Hanky Panky – Mexico City

Stylish, nostalgic, and exclusive, Hanky Panky was one of the first speakeasies to open up in Mexico City and one of the city’s cocktail pioneers, similarly to Baltra, which might be one of the reasons they slipped from #16 to #22 this year. They certainly haven’t lost their edge when it comes to crafting drinks.

Entering the bar through a pitch-black hallway, you will be stunned by the caramel-colored warmth and 1920s vibe that awaits you in this tiny bar. Totally cut off from the outside, it is tempting to just let the hours wash over you while you enjoy their ever-changing cocktail menu that includes combinations like gin with rose water and white chocolate, or mezcal with tomato-infused Italian bitters and vermouth. Once upon a time, you had to be a member to get in, with non-members only allowed on a certain day of the week, a situation which was more than a little pretentious, but these days you can make a reservation (in advance) for any day of the week through OpenTable.

The bartenders/owners (that’s right each bartender is a co-owner) are a knowledgeable and affable group of professional mixologists that change nightly and who often bring bartenders from other parts of the world for takeovers and other special events.

#21 El Gallo Altanero — Guadalajara

El Gallo Altanero Guadalajara remained at its #21 spot on this year’s list, and I have yet to find as fun of a bar as this one to imbibe in that GDL. There are very few places to taste small-batch, artisanal tequila in Mexico, but if there is a place it’s Guadalajara, and if there is a bar it’s El Gallo Altanero. This bar is also highlighting a lot of the traditional spirits I mentioned before, in particular raicilla, an agave distillate (like mezcal and tequila) that is native to the state of Jalisco, mostly produced in its southwestern corner.

Founded by Australians Nick Reid and Alan Mulvihill, (Reid is also the co-founder of Tequila Tromba), El Gallo is making a name for itself among the agave-obsessed in Jalisco. This intimate and laidback bar in Guadalajara’s cool Colonia Americana neighborhood is up the stairs and behind the Fitzroy Expresso bar. El Gallo has impressive cocktails but also great down-to-earth food menu: try the elotes and the huitlacoche quesadillas. The scene is a who’s who of town but with a relaxed vibe that makes even the newbies feel welcome.

#22 Sabina Sabe — Oaxaca City

Showing up first for the south once again is Sabina Sabe bar and restaurant in Oaxaca City, which moved from #20 to #22 this year. The food is good, typical Mexican fare, but the cocktails are the star of the show. The bar is small and intimate and the selection of mezcal is absolutely thrilling for aficionados and novices alike (this town is the mezcal mecca after all).

best Oaxaca bar

Sabina Sabe photo by Tripadvisor

The wait staffers are very well informed and helpful in walking you through their selection, including clueing you in on some brands and bottles that you won’t find anywhere else and providing a taste if you are unsure about your choice. Talk to the bartender first and explain your likes and dislikes and you will be guided by a guru.

I haven’t been in Oaxaca City for a bit, but this bar has both a standard menu and a seasonal one so make sure you ask for both to see what’s on when you go.

#23 Arca — Tulum

No longer the beachside backwater of twenty years ago, the town of Tulum is now the favorite beachside town of the rich and famous. Not surprising then, that Arca—a gourmet restaurant and cocktail bar—would slowly moving up the 50 Best Bars in North America list, this year going from #37 to #23 (the restaurant is already listed in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, no small feat for a young locale like this one).

I still haven’t been, I just can’t seem to muster the energy to go to super-saturated Tulum, but the menu looks mouth-watering and the restaurant prides itself in working with local producers so you can expect a reflection of Mexico’s tropical, coastal abundance in the dishes. The cocktail menu is tame, with no wild spirits or outlandish ingredients, but their concoctions represent the strong flavor influences of Mexico with mezcals, tequilas, citrus, and spice all well represented.

#25 Cafe de Nadie — Mexico City

Cafe de Nadie slipped from #15 to #25 this year, and this super hip, super loud, and super-packed-on-the-weekends bar is definitely still drawing in young drinkers who want to be out on the town, see and be seen, and not have to worry about making any kind of small talk with their neighbors (since they won’t be able to hear each other anyway).

The neon red bathroom mirror and the wall of vinyl records give Cafe de Nadie a certain vintage vibe, confirmed by the funk on the DJ’s turntable and the 90s-styled patrons dancing the night in tube tops and mom jeans. Their cocktail menu has some interesting options, including sotol and bacanero, two regional Mexican spirits that are hot right now. Each has a healthy quantity of alcohol, which let’s be honest, you want when you are paying 15 dollars a drink for half a tumbler of liquid.

Cafe de Nadie bar Mexico City

The staff here is friendly and helpful and even if you go on a busy Friday or Saturday you still feel like you are receiving attentive service. I’ve only eaten here once and was sorely unimpressed, but it was just once, so take my opinion for what you will.

#26 Kaito del Valle — Mexico City

best bars in Mexico City Kaito del Valle

This listing still has me scratching my head, but they have moved from #13 to #26 which makes a tad more sense to me. While the cocktail menu has some interesting elements thrown in – fortune cookies, wasabi, a square of nori for garnish – I don’t think they have the wow factor of some of these other locations. That, in addition to the fact that the food here is very underwhelming (the soy sauce has lime in it for Pete’s sake), the showing is a bit strange.

The place itself, while surprisingly mellow compared to some on this list, doesn’t do much for me either, just a normal industrial-chic space with some select pop art on the walls. If you are going to skip any of the bars on this list on your next trip to Mexico City, this would be my suggestion.

best bars Mexico City

That is, unless you’re looking for something cute to put on Instagram. We have to admit that this cocktail above is sure to make people smile when you post it.

#31 Selva — Oaxaca City

Selva moved down to #31 this year. A beautiful upscale cocktail bar, Selva is an extension of the Los Danzantes restaurant (they also make their own mezcal) and is the hip place to be in downtown Oaxaca City. In fact, if you didn’t know you were in Oaxaca, you might be in a cool cocktail bar anywhere in the world.

But then you head out to the balcony and watch the delightfully Oaxacan hustle and bustle below and remember how fortunate you are that such great cocktails exist in such a place. Like the other Oaxacan bar on this list, Sabina Sabe, the waitstaff at Selva is super friendly and helpful, and offers a full range of liquor including shelf after shelf of local mezcal.

The cocktail Selva, with Danzantes mezcal, hoja santa, and chile ancho liquor is the shining star of their current menu, but almost anything you get will charm you. You can even ask for a Taylormade cocktail and they will be happy to oblige, now that is the sign of a talented person behind the bar. There is a menu of light fare which is just ok, the ambiance and mixology being what makes this bar worthy of its spot on the 50 best.

#40 Aruba Day Drink – Tijuana

A new entry and the very first on this list from Tijuana, this year saw Aruba Day Drink take the #40 spot, and man were they excited about it! This bar seems to veer off in a more neighborhood and city-specific direction than some of the other bars on this list and takes itself a little less seriously than some of the bougier spots.

A light and airy locale in this border town with a heavy reputation, Aruba Day Drink has small plates like fish and chips or tuna tostadas and a long list of regionally-inspired cocktails. Tropically colored and simply served, their creations are named things like Flamingosis, Tijuana Salvaje and Green Hornet.

#47 Brujas – Mexico City

cocktails 50 best mexico

© Brujas Bar

Another new entry! Las Brujas bar has been around for a few years now, and I hear tell from long-time clients that they have changed lots of things along the way (including the very elaborate menus they used to have), with some of the changes not amazing.

But I went for the first time the other night myself so I could bring you all my very personal review of Brujas. I loved the vibe there, it feels very neighborhoody, and there is a good mix of locals and out-of-towners. The ambar-lit interior features a long, classic wooden bar and old books and knick-knacks on the shelf (an homage to the space’s former life as a bookstore). Inside can get a little packed (especially late in the evening) but the outdoor seating is fantastic.

I thought a lot of the cocktails we tried were solidly good but with some it felt like they just need one thing to make them a little more punchy and they didn’t have it. All the same, the recipes are inventive and each drink is inspired by a famous female activist that the waiters (also all ladies, this bar’s staff is 100% female) will give you the shortened Wikipedia of when they bring the first round. The best drink, by far, of the entire night was the Vesper Dolores – Xila liqueur (an agave spirit made by a woman-owned distillery in the city), red prickly pear (I am assuming a mistype on the menu, it said red prickle in English), purple grape shrub, and bougainvillea soda. It was spicy and slightly effervescent, with a likeness of a sweet Bloody Mary.

As we said at the beginning, this is an incredibly subjective list and it’s our guess that half the judges haven’t even been to more than a few locations in Mexico and each judge probably has 100 great Mexican (and U.S.) bars that were left unvisited. There were none on this list from San Miguel de Allende, which frequently tops glossy magazine lists as the best city in the world, and there’s nothing from the wealthy business hub of Monterrey or the rich Californians’ playgrounds of Ensenada, Los Cabos, and Punta de Mita.

That’s okay though, the “best Mexico bars” just might be the ones you’re headed to tonight, especially if there’s a great bartender behind the counter and good company to share cocktails with. Salut!

Article by associate editor (and Mexico resident) Lydia Carey, photos by Carey except where indicated, this post was updated June 2023.





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