If city planners had known the Jardín Unión would be so popular, they might have made it larger. This tiny plaza, shaded by Indian laurel trees, is the heart of the city and the best hangout. No other spot in town rivals its benches and sidewalk restaurants.

You can catch some worthwhile free theater in Plazuela de San Roque at 8pm on Sunday when the university is in session. Students perform short theatrical pieces known as entremeses (interludes). These are usually costumed period pieces that rely more on action than dialogue, so you don't need to understand too much Spanish to get the point. The costumes are great and look curiously appropriate in this plazuela.

If you're looking for a place just to have a drink, try La Clave Azul (tel. 473/732-1561), at Cantaritos 31. It's a small bar tucked away off Plaza San Fernando, and it's very much a product of its environment. A couple of small, irregularly shaped rooms with rock walls and rustic furniture are connected to each other by narrow stairways. It's a popular spot with the city's bohemians, especially Thursdays and Fridays. Hours are daily 1 to 9 or 10pm (open later on weekends).


More conventional nightspots -- such as dance clubs -- aren't difficult to find; ask at your hotel. La Dama de las Camelias, Sopeña 32 (no phone), is an unpretentious second-floor bar that doesn't get going until late in the evening. The music is all classic recordings of danzón, mambo, son cubano, and salsa. It opens at 8pm, starts getting busy around midnight, and closes at 4am. Bar Ocho (no phone), another salsa bar, is behind the San Diego church at the foot of the hill where El Pípila stands.

The Redolent Mexican Cantina

If you're curious about Mexican cantinas, swinging saloon doors and all, Guanajuato is a good place to do your fieldwork. You should know, however, that most of these are men-only drinking dives.


The town's favorite son is José Alfredo Jiménez, the undisputed master of ranchera music. This is the quintessential drinking music (long laments punctuated by classic Mexican yelps) that drives most non-Mexicans screaming from the building. But after downing a few copitas, you may warm up to it, and after asking about Jiménez, you'll probably get a few more drinks on the house. Around the Jardín Unión, a couple of cantinas aren't bad; I always enjoy a few shots at one called El Incendio (the Fire), Cantarranas 15. Unlike most cantinas, this place welcomes women. It opens at 10am and closes at 4am. You may be surprised to see an open urinal at the end of the bar. While this is a standard feature in cantinas and part of the, er, authentic flavor, you still may wish to opt for a seat at the opposite end.

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