Out now on the blog War on the Rocks:
It is too early to be in Plaza Garibaldi, located in the heart of Mexico D.F., Mexico’s sprawling capital. The sun is just beginning to set on a Tuesday, so mariachis and revelers only dot the plaza, instead of packing it with colorful characters like a page from “Where’s Waldo.” Instead of the weekend din of a hundred simultaneous ballads, the chords of lonely guitars and the verses of solitary crooners drift upwards to the terrace bar of the Museum of Tequila and Mezcal (MUTEM), where I take in the scene. Men in ornate charro outfits try to sell serenades to passersby. Jarocho duos in white suits carry harps and hope for a gig.
The scene is unmistakably Mexican. In one corner of the storied plaza is the Salón Tenampa, a bar that has for nearly a century served as a mariachi mecca. It is the anchor of Plaza Garibaldi and the surrounding multitude of cantinas, which range from touristy to seedy. In fact, it is much more than just another cantina —Tenampa was a destination. Following a larger Mexican social pattern of urbanization and northward migration that stretched from the country’s southwest coast to Los Angeles, mariachi music moved from the countryside of Jalisco to the north of Mexico at the turn of the 20th century. Both Tenampa and the music it helped popularize are awash in another most Mexican of traditions — tequila, and its less internationally recognized cousin, mezcal.