Plaza Garibaldi (Metros Bellas Artes and Garibaldi) is the traditional final call on a long night around the capital’s bars, and as the night wears on and the drinking continues, it can get pretty rowdy. The plaza is on Lázaro Cárdenas, five blocks north of Bellas Artes in a thoroughly sleazy area of cheap bars, grimy hotels and several brightly lit theatres offering burlesque and strip shows. Despite a high-profile police presence, pickpockets are always a threat and it’s best to avoid coming laden down with expensive camera equipment or an obviously bulging wallet.
Hundreds of competing mariachi bands gather here in the evenings, all in their tight, silver-spangled charro finery and vast sombreros, to play for anyone who’ll pay them. A typical group consists of two or four violins, a brass section of three trumpeters standing some way back so as not to drown out the others, three or four men on guitars of varying sizes and a vocalist, though a truly macho man will rent the band and do the serenading himself. Mariachis take their name, supposedly, from the French mariage, it being traditional during the nineteenth-century French intervention to rent a group to play at weddings. You may also come across norteño bands from the border areas with their Tex-Mex brand of country music, or the softer sounds of marimba musicians from the south. Simply wander round the square and you’ll get your fill – should you want to be individually serenaded, pick out a group and negotiate your price.
At the back of the square is a huge market hall in which a whole series of stalls serve simple food and vie furiously for customers. Alternatively, there is at least one prominent pulquería on the square, and a number of fairly pricey restaurant/bars, which try to drown out the mariachi bands with their own canned music, and tempt customers with their no-cover entry. The last Metro leaves at midnight.