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The fiesta is by nature sacred, literally or figuratively, and above all it is the advent of the unusual.

-- Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude

Mexico City is the sort of megalopolis where you can show up at a house party at 11pm on a Monday and find the place already bustling with people. Not only are Chilangos master revelers who wouldn't scoff at a midweek party, but they don't put down their beer for a minor inconvenience such as sunrise. On any given night, you can find art gallery openings, new moon ceremonies, crowded dance floors, and independent movie screenings. If you're a night owl, you'll find plenty of fellow tecolotes.

Crime at Night -- Leave valuables -- especially watches and jewelry -- at your hotel, and bring only the cash you will need. While I list Metro stops, these should probably be used only for orientation; take only authorized sitio taxis. Your hotel can help with these arrangements. If you're really short on cash and are going to head to your destination before 9pm, take the Metro there and hire a taxi for the ride back.

A Note of Caution for Garibaldi Square -- Plaza de Garibaldi, especially at night, was previously known for thieves looking to separate tourists from their valuables. Although the plaza has recently been renovated and the police presence increased, we still recommend a visit by private taxi. If you go, don't take credit cards or excess money with you. Go with a crowd of friends rather than alone, or take a tour that includes Garibaldi. Until the new plaza settles into its rhythm, it remains to be seen how much public safety will be improved.

The Entertainment Scene

Mexico City boasts a world-class nightlife scene, with hot venues for downing tequila and dancing to music ranging from salsa to house. The Centro Histórico downtown has earned a reputation for having a number of hip and edgy bars and clubs concentrated within walking distance. The posh Polanco neighborhood is known for its perennially see-and-be-seen dining and bar scene, and in recent years many of the trendiest nightspots have opened in the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods. Some of the city's most exclusive nightclubs lie in the Lomas area. In the south of the city, San Angel remains highly popular, although it's a bit of a drive if you're not already staying in that area. Most bars don't even begin to get going until around 10 or 11pm and usually stay open until at least 3am; nightclubs get started after midnight and continue into the wee hours. Many clubs operate only Thursday through Saturday.

For lower-key nightlife and people-watching, outdoor cafes remain a popular option. Those in the neighborhoods of Polanco and Condesa are among the liveliest. Another tradition is Garibaldi Square, where mariachis tune up and wait to be hired, but be especially careful -- it's now known as much for chronic street crime as for music. The plaza was recently renovated, which will hopefully improve the safety of the neighborhood.

Hotel lobby bars tend to have live entertainment of the low-key type in the late afternoon and into the evening.

Some of the most exciting parties in the city are those sponsored by big-name labels like Nike and Absolut Vodka. These events often have themes, feature performances by well-known DJs, and are perfect if you want to check out the latest outrageous fashions. Check out websites such as www.trafficodf.com, www.diariodefiestas.blogspot.com, and www.thecitylovesyou.com for information about upcoming events.

The Performing Arts

Mexico City's performing arts scene is among the finest and most comprehensive in the world. It includes opera, theater, ballet, and dance, along with concerts of symphonic, rock, and popular music.

For current information on cultural offerings, Donde Ir, Tiempo Libre, and Concierge, free magazines found in hotels, are good sources for locating the newest places, though they don't have complete listings of changing entertainment or current exhibits. Ticketmaster (tel. 55/5325-9000) usually handles ticket sales for major performances.

Note: The majority of the theatrical performances at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and in other theaters around the city are presented in Spanish.

The Club & Music Scene

This warning can't be reiterated enough: Take an authorized sitio taxi or hire a car for transportation to all nightspots. Metro stops are given merely as a point of reference.

The double-decker Turibus (tel. 55/5133-2488; www.turibus.com.mx) now offers nighttime service on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that runs a circuit through the necessary Mexico City party spots. Hop on and off from 9pm to 1am for 145 pesos.

Mariachis -- Mariachis often get a bad rap. In movies they're usually portrayed as bumbling nuisances who are masters of ruining romantic moments. So while you're in Mexico, take the opportunity to give them a second listen. Known for their distinctive dress, strolling presentation, and mix of brass and guitars, they epitomize the romance and tradition of the country. They look a little like Mexican cowboys dressed up for a special occasion -- tight trousers studded with silver buttons down the outside of the legs, elaborate cropped jackets, embroidered shirts with big bow ties, and grandiose sombrero hats. The dress dates from the French occupation of Mexico in the mid-19th century, as does the name. Mariachi is believed to be an adaptation of the French word for marriage; this was the type of music commonly played at weddings in the 15th and 16th centuries. The music is a derivative of fandango, which was the most popular dance music of the elite classes in 16th-century Spain. In Mexico, fandango became the peasant's song and dance. Among the most famous mariachi songs are "Mexico Lindo," "El Rey," "Guadalajara," "Cielito Lindo," and "La Cucaracha."

Pulque por Favor -- In a world of global convenience and instant everything, it's rare to find a food or beverage that can truly only be consumed in its native region. Most Mexican beers are imported in some form across the U.S., and heck, salsa is more popular than ketchup. This makes drinking pulque, or octli, a truly "Mexican" experience. The libation is made from the fermented heart of the native maguey plant and loses its unique milky foam after being transported long distances or being left out in the open.

Although public drunkenness was punishable by death in some instances during Aztec reign, pulque was popular with priests and older people, and during religious ceremonies. It was said that if you drank too much you would experience the "dance of 400 rabbits" in your head. Over time it became a drink enjoyed by the masses, until the late 1800s when Eastern Europeans popularized beer. Nowadays pulque is making a comeback, and pulquerias offer daily flavor varieties such as mango, peanut, celery, and honey. Las Dualistas, Aranda 28, Centro (tel. 55/1394-0958), is a classic pulqueria that has been around for more than 90 years. The giant Aztec-inspired murals look down upon a crowd of youngsters, artists, and businessmen on break from lunch in el Centro. When I was there, the men's room had no door, which only added extra charm. Pulqueria Los Insurgentes, Insurgentes 226 (tel. 55/4751-9326; www.lapulqueria.org), in front of Metrobus Durango in the heart of Roma, is a bit more hip. It occupies a Porfirio Diáz-era building. There's a jukebox and a mural of skeletons dancing that takes up an entire wall. They also offer a variety of dishes from around Mexico and host live music events.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.