The Tramp is a Lady: Expendio de Pulques Finos Los Insurgentes
“Expendio de pulques finos” proclaimed the sign, posted in front of a faded Porfiriato casa on the Roma Norte side of Avenida Insurgentes. I had sailed by many times on the metrobus but this time M. and I decided to jump off and investigate. “There used to be a gay sex club there” cautioned M. “Funny”, I mused, “ saying pulque fino is like a tramp who calls herself a lady”. But on further investigation I found a very likeable, funky, fun bar/cantina or better said “nueva pulquería”. And she’s a respectable lady indeed.
Pulque, made by fermenting the fresh sap of the maguey plant, has a thick texture and a yeasty taste. (see http://pulquenuestro.blogspot.com/ if you read Spanish) Unique to Mexico and used in Aztec rituals, pulque has long been considered the drink of the common man, and was so until beer and stronger alcoholic drinks became the preferred libations, sending the outmoded pulque to the endangered species list. It was traditionally served only in bars called pulquerías, which have been slowly disappearing.
Fifty years ago there were hundreds in the capital, now only a dozen or so survive. Some, such as La Risa, the city’s oldest and the neo-‘60’s Las Dualistas have made a comeback as fashionable places for young people to meet. Others are so sleazy that only the most adventurous dare enter. But now, open only 4 months, is Mexico’s first post-modern pulquería, really a bar/cantina which also serves this age old elixir.
I chatted with Alan Ureña, one of Los Insurgentes’ personable young partners on a recent muggy afternoon while several tables of 20 somethings and even a couple of foreign over-40 somethings happily imbibed. “It was our dream to open this place, to preserve and promote the wonderful culture of pulque, which is really such a part of being Mexican” he recounted. “It is rapidly disappearing while at the same time there is a revival of interest in it. While obviously we couldn’t re-create a traditional pulquería, we tried to capture some of the ambiance of a “popular” place, while at the same time updating and expanding on it.”
Traditional pulquerías only served pulque and curados , neither beer nor tequila, although they sometimes offered botanas or snacks (Los Insurgentes features a full bar and light food.) They closed early and were off limits to women, selling to female patrons through a side window. A few of the older surviving joints still retain this now defunct format as well as a trough along the bar where multiple-liter guzzling patrons could relieve themselves without giving up their spots. Nicer places featured murals: it is said that Orozco and Siqueiros got their start painting murals in pulquerías. Los Insurgentes is set in three floors of this turn-of-the-century mansion that has been stripped of much of its decoration to reveal the bare rafters and flooring – some original moldings and windows survive as does the old layout. The house did indeed serve as a cabaret and then as a sex emporium; so the ambiance of bohemian behavour lingers.
The raw material is brought in several times a week from the state of Tlaxcala, but “cured” on premises in barrels: fruit is left to macerate then pulverized and strained. On a recent visit unusual flavors such as zapote negro and mamey were on offer. “Most people order the fruit curados”, Alan explains, “plain pulque is really for hard core aficionados”.
A small selection of excellent tacos is proffered: the combo shrimp, octopus and marlin I ordered were succulent and needed no salsa to augment them. Prices are more than reasonable.
Ambient music is eclectic and adult: jazz, latin and indie rule, although unfortunately the juke box, when invoked, blares mercilessly. Los Insurgentes is a friendly, relaxed unpretentious spot. It is fitting, in this year of the bicentennial, to see a tradition reborn. ¡Salud!
See previous post on Pulquería La Pirata
Expendio de Pulques Finos Los Insurgentes Av. Insurgentes Sur 226 (between Colima and Durango) Tel. 5207 0917 Metro Insurgentes, Metrobus Durango Open Monday-Thursday 1 p.m. - midnight Friday, Saturday 1 p.m.-3 a.m. Sunday 2 p.m.- 1 a.m.
*from Revista Generación, año XXI, translated by N.Gilman
David August 19, 2010 Thanks for the tip, however I dont agree with your count of a dozen or so pulquerias, Ive got a directory of active pulquerias just in DF and we have 56 on the list, it was compiled by a group so there might be more than those listed in there, there are only 12 in Centro and Surrounding neighborhoods though, still very few compared the the good old days.
Lesley August 23, 2010 Nice write-up! I included this place on one of Eat Mexico's recent pulque/mescal tours. One of the owners told me it was the first pulquería to open in the neighborhood in 20 years. Loved the guayaba.
Nicholas Gilman August 24, 2010 The above writer, Lesley Téllez, offers culinary tours in Mexico City. See: http://www.eatmexico.com/
Deborah August 24, 2010 My husband and I just moved to Mexico City three weeks ago and were thrilled to discover your blog. We have Friday evening set aside to visit this pulqueria. Thanks for the great information on places we might never discover on our own.
First published August 18, 2010