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For any book lover, exploring the literary heritage of Mexico City is an absolute must. While it doesn’t have the literary reputation of, say, New York or Paris, it really should, given that it’s produced some of the best Mexican authors, including controversial writers like Valeria Luiselli, Octavio Paz and Jorge Ibargüengoitia, as well as nurtured the talents of many more – Elena Poniatowska, Jack Kerouac and Roberto Bolaño, to name but a few. As the capital of Mexico, it’s littered with beautiful bookstores, impressive libraries and lots of quirky, underrated and under-visited literary interest sights. And, because I’m a ruthless list maker and renowned philanthropist, I’m going to give you the most detailed rundown you’ve ever read into the literary world of Mexico City, starting with a literary tour of Roma and Condesa (plus a bit of the Zona Rosa, because I’m just that generous). Essential reading for book lover’s in Mexico City, this is your comprehensive walking tour round the literary highlights of these popular Mexico City neighbourhoods.
A LITERARY TOUR OF ROMA AND CONDESA, MEXICO CITY
Now, I’m not going to beat around the bush, researching this piece took me far longer than I ever expected, given that I’m 1) prone to getting lost even with a regimented route planned out on my iPhone notes, and 2) there is so much to see. Literally, I did not anticipate the amount of stop off points I would have to hit in the two-hour window I had between my Catalan class and having to go to work in the afternoon. But, I’ve worked myself to the bone to plan the perfect route through the literary highlights of Roma-Condesa (and a bit of Juárez) so you don’t have to.
The best place to start your literary tour of Mexico City neighbourhoods Roma and Condesa is at the Cuauhtémoc station of the metro (which is on the conveniently central pink line). From there you can make your way to the first destination on my guide – Aeromoto (Venecia 23, Juárez).
I’ll be totally honest, it wasn’t my cup of tea in a lot of ways, but in other ways this quirky, tucked away little lending library on the fringes of the Zona Rosa was exactly to my taste. I mean, for one, it’s stuffed with books which is an instant win in my eyes and it’s also suitably decked out in hipster fashion – bare walls, rag-tag postcards and posters everywhere, masking tape labels marking what you’ll find on that particular shelf. Plus, it’s the kind of place where you find two-year old New Zealand fanzines entitled Incredibly Hot Sex With Hideous People.
If you’re an art lover or just a fan of anything quirky, then the niche appeal that this artsy hideaway, suitably off-the-beaten track destination has may be right up your street.
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Once you’ve rifled through Aeromoto’s shelves, make your way to Avenida Chapultepec and head to the intersection of Calles Puebla and Córdoba, where you’ll find stop number two, Casa Bosques (Córdoba 25, Roma Norte). This bookstore is actually hidden away in the hipster haven of Córdoba 25 (which is also home to some of the neighbourhood’s best fashion boutiques). Anyway, you just ring the bell and someone will buzz you in. Again, it’s mostly filled with lesser-spotted artsy books which are a touch overpriced for my liking, but it’s definitely aesthetically pleasing and the ideal place to browse and/or take photos.
Wiser Books & Coffee
Walk towards Plaza Rio de Janeiro and turn left on Durango until you hit Morelia. Turn right and keep going til you find Wiser Books & Coffee (Morelia 76, Roma Norte). Although this place was closed when I went a-researching, I still recommend it because 1) books and 2) coffee. I mean, you can’t really go wrong.
After you leave Wiser Books & Coffee, continue your literary tour of Roma and Condesa by turning left until reaching Colima and making sure you give yourself five minutes to soak up the fragrant flower shops that line this street. If you’re into music, pop into Revancha Record Store (Colima 110, Roma Norte) too.
Casa del Poeta
The next stop is also the first literary attraction/ mini lending library, which even I stumbled across by accident as I was walking down Álvaro Obregón. The Casa del Poeta (Álvaro Obregón 73, Roma Norte), which is the former residence of Mexican poet Ramón López Velarde, is super quiet and a welcome relief from the bustling street it’s situated on, with a courtyard just to the right of the main door where you could happily sit and read or enjoy a coffee. It’s also this courtyard that you need to enter to get into the building.
Simply follow the stairs until you hit the top floor (you’ll know you’re there when you see the super unsettling black glove sculpture) and that’s where you’ll find the tiny lending library. It’s not one of the best libraries in Mexico City, don’t get my wrong, but the staff were super friendly and it’s definitely a charming destination.
Cafebreria El Péndulo Roma
Once you’ve tired of the Casa Del Poeta, turn right when you leave and walk down Obregón (I recommend walking in the tree-lined central reservation) until you spot the legendary Cafebrería El Péndulo Roma (Álvaro Obregón 86, Roma Norte). Of all the El Péndulo bookstore branches in the city, this was the first I ever visited and I’m still convinced it’s actually the best one, and easily one of the best bookshops in Mexico City. Polanco’s version is pretty but this one has my heart after I enjoyed my first agua fresca and chat of a lifetime on the balcony, with a gal who would later become one of my best mates.
Plaza Luis Cabrera
After El Péndulo, keep going to Calle Orizaba, at which point you need to turn left towards Plaza Luis Cabrera, one of the best places to read in Mexico City.
This is another literary highlight that I accidentally found and it was perhaps one of my favourite discoveries. Aside from being quite a quaint little park with some photography exhibitions and fountains, at the bottom end there’s also a bench designed to look like the iconic elephant-swallowed-by-snake imagery of The Little Prince. I don’t know if it’s a temporary installation, but I couldn’t not mention it.
Once you leave the Plaza behind, or have finished exploring the drinking and dining options that run the length of Calle Orizaba, you want to turn left onto San Luis Potosí where you’ll find Librería URBE almost immediately.
I’ll be honest, I’d heard so much about Librería URBE (San Luis Potosí 105, Roma Norte) and the fact it was one of the best bookshops in Roma that I was kind of expecting more from it when I visited. Instead, it looks like quite a dingy store from outside (and had boxes full of cut price used books on sale). However, inside the range of titles was pretty good and it strikes me as the perfect browsing book store, you know what I mean?
This is one of my favourite places in Roma because, while it verges towards the pretentious, the coffee is great and the place is tiny, so it’s awesome to go and read a book. Fruta Editorial (San Luis Potosí 180, Roma Norte) also sell fresh fruit juices and even though Google says it’s permanently closed, that is not the case.
Plus, they sell tea with suitably quirky slogans printed on the packaging, and anyone that knows me knows I can’t resist a good slogan.
Under The Volcano
Now it’s time to move into Condesa and pay a visit to what many consider the best English language bookshop in Mexico City and perhaps the best bookstore in Condesa – Under The Volcano books (Celaya 25, Hipódromo). Located in the American Legion building, the beautifully tiled arch doorway leads you into a gloomy passageway. Go upstairs and you’ll find a tucked away room that this small used bookstore calls home.
Finishing up research for an upcoming piece at Under the Volcano books today. This English language bookstore in Mexico City is named for the famed novel by British Malcolm Lowry of the same name. Check the link in my bio for more about mexican based literature ??#northernlauren #mexico #mexicocity #cdmx #condesa #underthevolcano #underthevolcanobooks #bookstores #librerias #doorsofinstagram
While I’m not really in the market for English language books myself, if you are then this is undoubtedly the place to go. There was a squishy looking sofa, mood lighting and shelf upon shelf of top quality titles that really did cover all genres and tastes.
Once you’ve made your purchase, go read it in the nearby Plaza Popocatépetl.
Librería Rosario Castellanos
The final stop on the Roma-Condesa literary book tour is the slightly more out of the way Librería Rosario Castellanos (Tamaulipas 202, Hipódromo), which is down near Metro Patriotismo. To get there though, you can enjoy a very pleasant walk through the charming Parque México (which incidentally has a small book and magazine, street-side lending library in the centre).
This is admittedly the only spot I haven’t been to on this guide, so I can’t give you my first-hand experience. However, the status of Rosario Castellanos and her literary work makes this entry one that can’t just be forgotten, and the fact that this is allegedly Latin America’s largest bookstore makes it must-visit material.
Librería Rosario Castellanos is now a well-oiled machine that has both Spanish and English language titles, and is regularly classed as one of the best bookstores in Mexico City. Plus, the building itself is a Charles Lee designed Art Deco masterpiece of the Condesa neighbourhood.
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If this gargantuan literary tour of Roma and Condesa just wasn’t quite enough for you, then here are some bonus points of literary interest in Mexico City that might be right up your street. I didn’t include them in the main guide simply because they’re of far more niche interest and, there’s nothing tangible there to explore.
For example, Orizaba 210 is the spot where Jack Kerouac allegedly wrote to of his greatest pieces based in the Mexican capital, Mexico City Blues and Tristessa, whereas Monterrey 122 was the place William Burroughs accidentally shot dead his wife Joan Vollmer. You really can’t make this shit up. While there’s nothing to see, it would still make for pretty good anecdote material to say you stopped by both of these addresses.
Where To Eat
As you can see on the map below, I’ve added in a few points of interest for when you inevitably get hungry on this epic walking tour of Roma and Condesa’s literary heritage.
If you’d rather check out one of the city’s many gourmet markets, then Mercado Roma (Querétaro 225, Roma Norte) is in spitting distance from most of these literary sights. You can find everything from obscure spices, Butcher and Son burgers and Turkish coffee here, so it’s ideal if you have no idea what you’re in the mood for.
For ice cream, there’s nowhere better in Roma than Helado Obscuro (Orizaba 203, Roma Norte), which makes some intriguingly named alcoholic flavours. My personal favourite is the Dark Vader (vodka, chocolate and more chocolate), which honestly made me a bit tipsy. I think it was a psychological thing though.
Before you start the tour, you have to get tamales from the stand on the corner of Marsella and Dinamarca in Juárez though. They are hands down the best tamales in Mexico City.
Where To Drink
If you’d rather just have a beer, craft beer favourite Graciela is located on Orizaba, just down from Plaza Luis Cabrera (Orizaba 163, Roma Norte) and there’s also La Chicha bar on that same street (Orizaba 171, Roma Norte), which I recommend simply on the basis of the glimpse I got of the artwork on the interior walls.
If you’d rather have a coffee, I go all the time to Café DO12 Cerezas in Juárez (Marsella 52, Juárez), and considering that it’s right near the first stop on the guide, you could easily grab a latte pick me up there before starting the tour. Alternatively, plenty of the bookstores listed have built in cafes, so you’ll never be short on caffeine laden options for the duration of this mammoth tour.