Modern México: Goodbye to Clichés
Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! Mexican Independence Day is Here!
What you should know about the Cry of Independence, or the Grito of Dolores
- Every September 16th, Mexican Independence Day is commemorated, celebrating the emancipation of Mexico from the Spanish Crown.
- The Mexican priest and insurgent Miguel Hidalgo was key in the Mexican independence process, since on September 16, 1810, he proclaimed the Grito de Dolores.
- Hidalgo, together with the military and revolutionary Ignacio Allende, gathered an army of more than forty thousand soldiers, and launched the armed conflict.
Why is it called the Grito de Dolores: Mexican Independence Day?
Hidalgo called out to the people of the town of Dolores, Guanajuato:
1. Shouting the reasons for emancipation and joining the fight.
2. Ringing the bells of his parish.
We invite you to toast with us for Mexican Independence Day this September 16th. Let’s raise our glasses together with Altos tequila for the Grito de Dolores, in one of the most traditional places in Mexico: a classic cantina.
Quiz: how much do you know about the history of Mexican cantinas?
1. The term cantina appeared in Mexico:
a) In 1847, as a consequence of the war between Mexico and the United States over the Texas territory.
b) In 1848, during the United States invasion of Mexico.
c) a and b.
2. Before they were known by this name, cantinas were:
a) Establishments dedicated to selling alcoholic beverages by the glass. Consumers were primarily soldiers.
b) Taverns where men came together to drink alcohol, eat snacks and have a space to clear their heads.
c) a and b.
3. By the mid 19th century, there were:
a) Eleven official cantinas.
b) Two official and nine clandestine cantinas.
c) No cantinas were official.
4. By 1940s and 50s, cantinas:
a) Penetrated through to the working class culture.
b) Were popular in film culture—at least one scene showed a man drinking in a cantina or playing the role of cantinero.
c) a and b.
5. Today, cantinas are considered:
a) A meeting place for friends, family and dates.
b) A social temple to Mexican history.
c) A national cultural inheritance.
d) Perfect spaces to pleasantly fill a bit of free time with a drink and a chat.
e) A place where our sorrows are cured with tequila and taquitos.
f) All of the above.
a) Have a personal touch and character.
b) Have simple decorations.
c) Do not open on Sundays.
d) Don’t have a dress code.
e) All of the above.
7. Women were allowed to enter cantinas in:
d) None of the above.
8. The most famous dishes served in cantinas are:
e) Albóndigas al chipotle.
f) Queso a la plancha.
g) All of the above.
9. The word cantina comes from:
a) The word canteen, from the Italian word that refers to a wine cellar or bar.
b) The word saloon, which means a hall where you dance or listen to mariachis.
c) The word cantarito, a clay or metal jar with a narrow opening and wide base.
e) The verb “cantar” (to sing).
10. In the US, a cantina is:
a) A tavern inspired by Mexico.
b) A tavern where traditional Mexican drinks are served.
c) A bar room.
d) All of the above.
Are you ready to see the answers?
What you didn’t know about cantinas
It is estimated that the term cantina appeared in Mexico between 1847 and 1848, as a consequence of the war between Mexico and the United States over the Texas territory. In other words, during the invasion of Mexico by the United States.
Surely you are familiar with the fact that cantinas in the United States are a sort of Mexican-inspired tavern or bar room, serving traditional Mexican beverages.
Well, actually the word cantina comes from the word canteen, derived from an Italian word referring to wine cellars or bars.
Before they were known by this name, cantinas were establishments dedicated to selling alcoholic beverages by the glass, and the consumers were primarily soldiers. Men would come together exclusively to drink alcohol, eat snacks, share some time and clear their minds. By the mid 19th century, there were 11 oficial cantinas in Mexico, of which few remain today.
By the mid 20th century, cantinas permeated through to the working class culture and were very popular in film culture: at least one scene showed a man drinking in a cantina or playing the role of cantinero.
Regardless of which you visit, every cantina has its own unique identity and character, with simple decorations and an authentic and original history of the people who have visited and left their mark. Also, they open every day except Sunday, and there is never a dress code. Cantinas are known for their exquisite menu of famous dishes ranging from quesadillas, chistorra and queso a la plancha, to albóndigas al chipotle y pancita.
Mexico City cantinas route: Mexican Independence Day
Cantina Tío Pepe
Av Independencia 26, Colonia Centro, CDMX
- Tío Pepe was founded in 1869, by a family of Spanish migrants.
- Originally Cantina La Habana, it was renamed La Oriental, and in 1912 it changed its name to Tío Pepe. Two years ago, the cantina was reacquired by a relative of the original owner.
- For Carlos Cantú, who is in charge of the business, Tío Pepe is a truly special traditional cantina—and the last of its kind. “There are others just as old, but they have evolved into restaurant bars or snack bars.”
- “The tequila and cantina cultures go hand in hand,” says Carlos. In addition to being Mexico’s national drink, with denomination of origin, tequila is the best-selling spirit nationally. A lot of Margaritas, shots and Mexican flags are served.
- Regarding the history of cantinas, before the invasion of the United States, Mexico was a pulque country. Those pulquerías were turning into cantinas.
- Tío Pepe has been featured in films, such as Complot Mongol and Sex, Shame and Tears 2, as well as some television series, such as Luis Miguel. Even a German team came to film an advertisement," says Carlos.
- The busiest days are Friday afternoons. “It gets brutal here. There is scandal and swearing—creating a great atmosphere,” says Carlos.
Cantina El Gallo de Oro
Venustiano Carranza, 35. Centro Histórico CDMX
- The cantina was founded in 1874 by Spanish migrant Antonio Huerta. At the beginning of the 20th century, Huerta sold the cantina to an Asturian known by Enrique's grandfather, who in turn bought it from him in 1921.
- At that time, Venustiano Carranza Street was known as "Mexican Wall Street." Originally considered a men’s club with the most frequent clients being bankers and businessmen, Enrique's father converted the typical turn-of-the-century cantina—with its sawdust floor—into the cozy space that can be seen today.
- What makes El Gallo de Oro different from other bars is that they offer à la carte dishes. They serve typical Mexican food and the occasional Spanish dish. Don Enrique comments, “Our stew is rich and spicy. It encourages you to drink.”
- Tacos made of suckling pig, goat or pork shank; Mexican stews like pancita; black or poblano mole; espinazo in green sauce; and beef in mulato chili sauce are some of the dishes that you have to try when you visit.
- Cantinas are society’s meeting places—the convivial atmosphere they provide allow you to learn Mexico’s history. "The ideas of the politicians, poets and writers who have always spent time there, are then mingled with the thinking of everyday people, ensuring the miscegenation of America," says Don Enrique.
- The way of making tequila has evolved. Previously, there was no tequila boom. “Forty years ago, my grandfather told me not to pay too much to the tequila drinkers who sat at the bar because they had a reputation for being cheap. Now Mexicans have refined their taste for tequila, and the category competes with cognac and brandy,” says Don Enrique.
- Most of the clients consume tequila in a straight shot, and young people mix it with grapefruit soda.
Bar La Ópera
Filomeno Mata & Avenida 5 de Mayo, Centro Histórico, CDMX
FB: La Opera Bar
- The Opera was founded in 1976. It began as a café-confectionery, and French, like its owners, the two young Boulangueot sisters.
- Its name comes from the fact that it originally opened its doors near the National Theater, where European sopranos and tenors performed. They frequented the Boulangueot sisters' café, looking for pastries and coffee.
- The walnut furniture, beveled windows and oil paintings were brought from France, while the bar, although it was made in France, was taken first to New Orleans and then to Mexico City.
- It was the favorite place of the famous Mexican president Porfirio Díaz, during his term, as well as that of many members of the Mexican aristocracy.
- When the revolutionary Pancho Villa occupied Mexico City in 1914, and learned that the working class could not enter the cantina, he and his army forcefully took control of it. The revolutionaries caused such an uproar that Villa had to appease them by firing a shot into the air, leaving a mark on the ceiling of the cantina that can still be seen to this day.
- “The Opera is a friendly meeting place, a warm social refuge, conducive to rest, chat and good humour.” That was the impression it made on the women who finally had free access to enter cantinas in 1982.
- For starters, you can't miss the Galician-style octopus, the house specialty, along with the chipotle snails and the Galician-style pork shank. On weekends there is paella and baked suckling pig.
- The bartender is the star of the bar. Clients talk to him and he listens to them—giving advice as if he were a psychologist, and suggesting a drink to calm them down, of course.