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Free trade adds a touch of blarney in Mexico City

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March 17, 2004, 8:13AM

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Foreign Service

Free trade adds a touch of blarney in Mexico City

Green beer, tacos on St. Patrick's Day

By IOAN GRILLO

Houston Chronicle article

MEXICO CITY -- Young women sip from pint glasses overflowing with thick Guinness beer as a singer accompanied by violins and Celtic percussion croons The Irish Rover.

It looks, smells and sounds like downtown Dublin. But this Irish pub sits in Mexico City.

In the past few years, young entrepreneurs have opened dozens of European-style drinking venues here to satisfy the international tastes of a generation of Mexicans who have grown up with free trade.

The new wave of pubs and wine bars is redefining Mexico City night life.

"Tequila and mariachis are great. But it's nice to try something different," says Lorena Martinez, a 25-year-old graphics designer as she gulps a Jameson's whiskey in St. Patrick's Pub.

During today's St. Patrick's Day celebration, "something different" will be green beer.

Alfonso Ramirez, the pub's manager, says Mexico's new economic openness has allowed establishments like his to thrive.

In the last two decades, Mexico's economy has changed dramatically, from one that was heavily protected to one of the most open in the world. In addition to the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada, Mexico has signed economic accords with 30 countries. In all, the signatories represent 60 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

"Ten years ago, you wouldn't have been able to sell Guinness here, because the import taxes would have been too high," Ramirez says.

Nowhere does this new face of Mexico show itself as brazenly as in the trendy Condesa neighborhood where St. Patrick's Pub is located.

Built around an old race track about four miles from the capital's central plaza, Condesa has become a booming center of restaurants, nightclubs and fashionable clothing shops.

Several of Condesa's haunts have an Irish touch, sporting decorations of green four-leafed clovers and leprechauns. Others follow the style of Italian wine bars with raised chairs and tall cocktail glasses.

"Five years ago there were only cantinas and restaurants," says Umair Khan, a London native who works as a bar and club promoter in Mexico City. "There was a huge gap in the market."

Condesa's bars contrast markedly with Mexico's traditional drinking venues.

Many of the capital's cantinas are windowless rooms where men knock down tequila or pulque, a creamy Aztec drink, while listening to melancholy ranchero ballads. The new bars feature colorful decor, a young, mixed crowd and foreign sounds, such as U.S. hip-hop and German techno.

The Condesa night spots are usually packed, even though their prices are much higher than those of traditional cantinas. A bottle of Guinness in St. Patrick's, for instance, costs $6. In some of the capital's lower priced bars, a bottle of Mexican beer, such as Sol or Corona, can cost as little as $1.

Though Condesa's night owls enjoy drinking foreign wine and beer, most still favor traditional Mexican food when the pubs close. Virtually all the late-night diners in the trendy neighborhood specialize in one type of food: tacos.

"Forget about pizzas or hot dogs," says Oscar Zarate, a 30-year-old engineer, as he pours hot sauce over a plate of food. "You can't beat the taste of tacos after you've had a few pints of Guinness

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Haha!! Yeah is great the new boom of international restaurants and pubs, i've been on that irish pubs in condesa neighborhood and the ambient is simply amazing! you know cute girls, fashion, music and everything you want on a cosmopolite place.

Though i'm still looking for a Kilkeny beer, still not arrived in Mexico :D

I need to take some pictures of Condesa and share to you ;)

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