I made many bad decisions during my short time in Mexico City, but really, it’s not my fault. It turns out that at more than 7,000 feet about sea level, I had come down with a bad case of the altitudes.

It was definitely the altitude that got me so drunk on my first night there, of that I’m certain. It was the altitude that sweet-talked me into believing that I could handle 6 palomas, and that I would be a natural at the tambourine.  Later that night it became increasingly clear that I was suffering from a very acute case of the altitudes when I salsa danced with a man with a braided rat tail at Mama Rumba, and let’s just say it was definitely far, far from sea level when I gave him my number.

But by far, the worst case of altitudes was on my last night in Mexico City at La Clandestina, a mezcaleria near my hosts’ apartment in La Condesa. For those of you who have never tried mezcal, you are missing out, and for those of you who are about to, find a chaperone immediately.

You’ll know when you’re being served mezcal. Unlike tequila, mezcal has a strong smoky flavor and is served with a side plate of orange slices dusted in sal de gusano (salt, chili and ground up worms) that looks like this:

Now, while I haven’t visited many mezcalerias in Mexico City, I’m confident that La Clandestina is my favorite.  Not only is their mezcal strong and delicious, but the bar is filled with interesting, potent people. The night I was there I met a writer, a book editor, a Mexican film and TV producer, and a Mexican film star (no idea who this guy was, but everyone was in a tizzy).  Despite its big-time patrons, La Clandestina is tiny– you’re lucky if you can grab a small table in the back.

I was overwhelmed by their selection of mezcals–more than 60, all listed by region. Like everyone else in the bar, I just ordered by number (number thirteen was recommended for novices). Here mezcal is “on draft” behind the bar, housed in  huge plastic water bottles and poured through a series of long tubes.  (I took a picture for you, but as you can see by the blur, the altitude was already starting to get to me:)

To be fair, I’m sure under normal circumstances mezcal is harmless, but consumed at high altitudes it’s incredibly dangerous.  See, what I’ve figured out is that people at high altitudes seem to be incredibly  happy, and as we all know, happy people are generous people. My intent was to simply sip on number 13, but soon someone bought me number 23. Then number 42, and a glass of 26….   I stopped counting, and shortly thereafter, I stopped being able to count.

I didn’t make it home until well after 3 am, just in time to throw things in my bag, and head straight to the airport. Fortunately, I’ve arrived in Oaxaca. I looked it up, and according to Wikipedia, it’s only 5,080 feet about sea level. I’m already breathing easier knowing I can look forward to better decision making.

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  • Pedro

    The Clandestina sounds like the best bar! I go to Mexico City pretty often, and my favorite mezcal bars are La Botica, both in Condesa and Roma; and La Nacional, also one located in Condesa and a second one in Roma. La Nacional has the best mezcales I have ever tasted.
    Sounds like you had a hell of a great time there!