You may have heard of Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City, best known as the local hub of mariachi action. I posted back in March about our visit there after the Cantina Crawl, but I thought I’d follow up with a bit more detail on how to spend a night out in Garibaldi (for those suspicious of/curious about the area).
We had heard rumors after arriving in DF that the Garibaldi area was a bit dangerous & best avoided at night. Based on our multiple experiences, we’ve had no issues nor felt remotely unsafe while hanging out in the Plaza. I do agree wandering off the beaten path onto sidestreets is best avoided. However, walking there on Lazaro Cardenas (coming from the cantinas around Calle Simon Bolivar) seemed fine (plenty of lighting/traffic around), and we’ve had no issues with getting a taxi from the sitio stand directly in front the plaza at the end of the night. John & I have taken both my brother & my parents there on separate occasions, so I would say it is an amusing, autentico Mexico experience for friends/siblings/parents alike.
We certainly have not explored all of the restaurants/bars/clubs around the Plaza, but what follows is a suggested Plaza Garibaldi itinerary based on what we have sussed out to date. Note: we have only visited on Friday or Saturday nights; you may want to stick with those nights for maximum bustle of activity.
Timeline A: best for visiting parents or folks who will be ready for bed by 11-12PM
7:30PM: Arrive at Plaza Garibaldi via taxi or metro (Metro Garibaldi station on line 8 or line B). There is an underground parking lot, but a) rumor has it that it’s fairly spendy and b) driving will limit your ability to drink tequila. Perhaps do a quick wander around the perimeter to suss out the available options for the evening. Head over to Mercado San Camilito for dinner. If you are facing Plaza Garibaldi from the street where the taxi dropped you off, walk towards the far left side of the plaza. You will eventually an encounter a passageway between the buildings, and the Mercado lines the left side of that walkway.
Upon finding the Mercado entrance, you will enter a very long hallway (or gauntlet, if you will) lined on both sides by fine dining options galore. At this hour, the vendors will likely be caught somewhat offguard by your arrival, so you may not receive “the full treatment” as you walk down the line. Being barked at by every waiter/waitress, handed menus, touched on the arm, and pleaded with to sit down & eat is not uncommon, especially later in the evening.
9:00PM: Walk over to Guadalajara de Noche, located at the far back of the plaza (when looking from the taxi-drop-off street) for their 9:00PM show (or espectaculo, as it is more glamorously known here). If you have a larger group/want good seats, ideally you called or emailed them earlier in the day or the day before to reserve a table. (This can be done here.) Since you are going there to watch a show, it’s worth having a table where you don’t have to crane your neck around someone to see the action.
This spot gives you a taste of Mexican music/entertainment at a very reasonable price with plenty of tequila options also at reasonable prices. If I am recalling correctly, the cover charge for the 9:00 show is $30 pesos (<$3 USD). If you have a quorum of tequila fans, I recommend buying a bottle of tequila which comes with 6 refrescos (I recommend Squirt to enable palomas). I think we paid around $600 pesos ($46 USD) for a decent bottle to share among 3 of us, which was, uh, plenty of tequila to go around. Guadalajara de Noche also serves food, but we have yet to test it out.
The entertainment consists first of a random cover band playing songs until the official show begins. Then a solid mariachi band steps out on stage, with trumpets & an assortment of guitars. (They take requests, but it is kind of a rip at around $90-100 pesos/song, I believe). Dancers make appearances ~3 times (2 women, 2 men), clad in a variety of gorgeous traditional outfits doing a variety of traditional dances (or so we assumed). A female singer & male singer, both with impressive vocal chords, make separate appearances to accompany the mariachi band. And last but not least, a cattle-roper dude comes out with his lasso (not sure what the proper term is here… lazador, perhaps en español??) and makes that rope dance like a varmint. The only thing you are missing at the 9:00 show that happens at the 11:00 show is the fake cockfight between two heavily-petted roosters. That is not an event to be taken lightly, but I suppose you can live without seeing it.
I am a fan of this place to bring visitors because a) it’s a little kitschy but not over the top, b) the music is pretty good, c) it combines the best of Garibaldi (mariachi music) with comfort (sitting indoors in chairs), d) the tequila seems reasonably priced, e) the actual show is only about an hour, making it quick & painless and f) there are generally no other loud gringo visitors, only tourists from Latin America. Between the 9PM & 11PM shows, the cover band plays popular Latin dance songs, and everyone gets up and dances on the stage. This is why having the Latin American tourists is key– they are all amazing dancers that I could watch for hours. Note: if you arrive at 9, it’s a little dead, but the audience fills in steadily as the show goes on & it’s usually full on the main floor by the 11:00 show.
10:30PM: After watching the impressive dance skills of the audience members for a while, settle your bill & wander outside back into the heart of Plaza Garibaldi. The crowd should be picking up a bit now, but this place doesn’t really hit its stride until midnight & beyond (and then goes until 5-6AM!!). Go hang out in the central bit where all the mariachis are putting out the vibe, and eavesdrop on a few songs or try to negotiate one yourself. The going-rate for a mariachi song varies widely, and seems to be driven primarily by # of band members and # of songs you buy, with a small variance for ‘quality of band’. Tip: If you are bringing guests here, look smart by doing some research in advance so you know the names of a few mariachi songs other than Cielito Lindo. I am a fan of Mariachi Loco and El Rey, to name two.
11:15PM: Head to the taxi stand and attempt to negotiate a decent rate for your trip home. For going to Polanco, we have come to be happy with anything <$100 pesos. Your visitors should be in bed by mighnight!
Timeline B: best for visiting friends, 20/30-somethings, or when you do not have plans to be functioning before 10AM the next day.
10:30PM: Arrive at Plaza Garibaldi & head directly to Guadalajara de Noche to catch some of the dancing prior to the 11:00 espectaculo. (If you’ve not eaten dinner, arrive 45-60 min earlier & hit the aforementioned stalls in the Mercado.) Order bottle of tequila ASAP.
12:00PM: After the show wraps up, head outside to the now more-bustling plaza. You will be immediately solicited by a random dude to buy a beer/michelada/tequila shot. Plaza Garibaldi is one of the few places of which I am aware where you can drink outside while wandering around. Take advantage of this, ideally after you first find a good spot to stand & people watch. Order a huge michelada (you may want just a cerveza if you are not a fan of the added spicy sauce, or as for a michelada con limon y nada mas- just lime juice). Pause to consider your stomach strength before subsequently deciding to mix in some tequila shots.
Next, attempt to identify a competent mariachi band to perform for your group. Note: this will be challenging because all the good ones will have already been hired to go play at private parties for the evening, will already be playing for large groups of Mexicans in the plaza, or will be charging more than your tight-fisted gringo tendencies want to pay. You will be left to choose between 3 possibly-homeless men without any trumpets who are wearing trenchcoats, or 5 men whose outfits don’t match and are slightly intoxicated. Regardless of who you choose, it will make for a good story/pictures.
Alternatively, just eavesdrop on other mariachi performances and instead spend your pesos on the Balloon Dart Toss, the best game ever. This is located on the far right side of the plaza (when facing in from the street), near the building overhangs. Last month I finally broke my winning streak of “3 for 3 balloons popped”, thereby capping my number of horrible ceramic figurines at 2. Prices begin at $20 pesos for a chance to win the crappy ones, and increase to $40/50 pesos for the “good” ones, I think. Note: be prepared to win while using darts as sharp as a pillow.
Drink additional micheladas/cervezas until you realize that you have not properly assessed the available bathroom options prior to ingesting this much liquid. Momentarily panic. Then recall the bathrooms available inside & just outsidethe Mercado San Camilito, or sneak into Salon Tenampa to use theirs. (John claims there are bathrooms in the parking garage as well, but I vote for staying above ground level.) When people in your group start to complain about their feet hurting, consider going to Salon Tenampa for a drink & a sit. There is also a pulqueria in the plaza, but it closes at midnight. Over in the direction of the Mercado entrance, look for a grandma sitting on the ground with several baskets around her. These are filled with tamales; ask for a tamale verde. Alternatively, order some esquites from the corn guy in the same vicinity & try to figure out what happened to the rest of this chicken:
2:00AM: Consider going to one of the Latin dance clubs along the plaza or across the street. We visited one that is just on your right when facing the plaza from the street, where they tried to stick us with a fairly high cover charge. Be prepared to pay fairly high cover charge or convince some silver-tongued devil in your group to try to negotiate a hot discount. Once inside, you will witness more amazing Latin dancing that people from the Midwest are not programmed to be able to do. Try to dance to a few songs with your husband until you realize you might maim someone with your flopping around & you get frustrated because the ceiling is too low for him to actually spin you without whapping your arms on the roof. (Note: last directive may be unique to me)
3:30-4:00AM: Depart the dance clubs & make a final assessment of any additional purchases needed. Have you given sufficient consideration to a cowboy hat?
Send your group’s most fluent/sober member to negotiate the taxi, and pile in to head home. Congratulations, you’ve just spend a nite in the land of mariachis.