"I moved here for love,” said the artist Eduardo Sarabia. We were seated across from each other at Hueso, a striking restaurant where the walls are lined with animal bones, in Guadalajara’s Colonia Lafayette district. Sarabia lived in Los Angeles until matters of the heart intervened. (He met his wife, Cristy, here; she now works for a local art incubator called PAOS that Sarabia cofounded with fellow artists.) And who could blame him for the move? Outside, the night was balmy. A group of Sarabia’s friends were drinking margaritas at the bar. A plate of fresh mussels cooked in a white-wine broth sat before us. Nearby, chef Alfonso Cadena—who, with his beard and long hair, looked like he could be a character in Game of Thrones—was preparing the rest of our meal in the open kitchen. It was the last day of the Guadalajara International Book Expo, one of the largest in Latin America, and hundreds of thousands of writers, editors, and other literary types had descended on the city. There was to be a party later, in a hidden bar behind a burger joint called Gaspar, where more writers and artists would no doubt gather to dance the night away—all contributing to the growing sense of this city’s cultural ascendance.
For a long time, if you wanted to party or see art or eat good food in Mexico, you’d head straight to the capital. You’d stay in Condesa, maybe in Roma. You’d drink the tequila, eat the tuna tostadas at Contramar. Go dancing all night in Zona Rosa. Of course, you can still do all those things, but eventually even the most vibrant experiences become slightly faded over time. What was once new starts to feel programmatic. Which explains why those who are searching for something fresh are heading to Guadalajara.
With a population of more than 4 million, Guadalajara is Mexico’s second-largest metropolis. Northwest of the capital, it is named after its sister city in Spain, and the name Guadalajara—meaning “valley of stones”—comes from Andalusian Arabic. Largely industrial, its fortunes have been tied to the blue agave of tequila, made principally in the city’s state of Jalisco, and lately to tech manufacturing (it’s sometimes referred to as the Silicon Valley of Mexico). The historic city center, which dates back to the 16th century, is today dwarfed by a tangle of highways and clusters of tall buildings—a reminder of how much the city has expanded in the last century.
In Colonia Lafayette and its adjoining neighborhood Colonia Americana, you’re largely insulated from the modern sprawl. Here, bougainvillea sweeps the sides of the ornate French-colonial houses and jacaranda trees dot the sky with purple blossoms. Guadalajarans are quick to mention that the famous Mexican architect Luis Barragán was born here in 1902, and before he left to make a name for himself in Mexico City, he built more than a dozen houses in his hometown. Now city residents are restoring several of these Modernist gems—a reflection of the area’s own evolution from a sleepy neighborhood into a youthful, artistic destination.
It used to be that artists and architects would leave as soon as they could for Mexico City,” explained entrepreneur José Noé Suro the next day. He had picked me up at my hotel, the elegant Casa Fayette, which opened last year, and we were now driving to his ceramics studio, Cerámica Suro. “This is the first time that a group of artists with international careers have decided to stay,” he said. “You can make incredible things here. And the food is really good.”
His father opened the studio in the 1950s, producing tiles and soap dishes for the luxury hotel boom in Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta. Suro began working there in 1995, eventually taking it over. And then something interesting happened. Suro, who collects art, began inviting his creative friends to visit. Some were curious about ceramics. “They asked me if I could make them things,” he said.
Today, the studio continues to manufacture various wares for hotels and restaurants (a recent visit to Pujol, one of Mexico City’s top restaurants, revealed that, yes, those were Suro’s plates), but it also serves the wildest imaginations of contemporary artists. Suro has worked many times with Sarabia—“Eduardo didn’t move here for love,” he scoffed. “He moved because of me.” As we entered his office, passing workers painting plates a pretty ocher hue, he showed me works in progress for Marcel Dzama (sculptures from his chess series) and for the subversive Austrian art group Gelitin (distorted vases in neon colors).
That evening, I joined Suro and friends at Magno Brasserie, a new Italian-French restaurant. The artist Jose Dávila sat across from me, having just returned from Art Basel Miami Beach. “A lot of us who worked abroad came back with fresh ideas and started to execute them,” he explained as a plate of fresh pappardelle de pato arrived. This echoed what Sarabia had told me: the city was mature enough to be open to this kind of change. The art world started making the extra trip from Mexico City to see what was happening. Davila nodded at a curator of the gallery Travesía Cuatro. It’s a respected Madrid-based outfit whose owners recently opened a second location here. Fashion-designer siblings Julia and Renata Franco were supposedly popping by. A delicate Meyer lemon tart arrived. Everyone mysteriously switched to gin and tonics as a digestif. Dávila’s girlfriend wore a necklace I admired—it was designed by her friend, whose jewelry label is called Espíritu Nativo. Simple. In Guadalajara, you get the feeling that art and creativity mix easily into the everyday.
The next morning, weighted with recommendations, I walked and Ubered my way around the city. I visited the coffee shop everyone told me not to miss, Palreal. It serves a heady list of Mexican coffees brewed any way you choose (Chemex, V60, AeroPress, etc.) and the most delicious pork lonche, a kind of torta. I lunched alfresco at Noma-trained Francisco Ruano’s Alcalde restaurant. Flowers were sprinkled across a plate (Suro, of course) on which lay chayote root. I wandered through Páramo, a nearby gallery with a pretty courtyard, and finally made my way to the historic district, where gaudy dresses hung on the window mannequins. I met with Pedro Jiménez, who runs Mezonte, a nonprofit that promotes traditionally distilled agave. He also owns the mezcal bar Pare de Sufrir, where you could imagine a blurry night ending.
But it was too early for mezcal, so I paid a visit to Ivan Cordero, the owner of Demetria Hotel. Its interiors were gothic and beautiful, filled with vitrines of antiques. Cordero went to architecture school with Dávila and is a connoisseur of Guadalajara’s historic buildings. We were in a library lined with rare books, in a house he owns, attached to the hotel, that was designed by Barragán’s contemporary Pedro Castellanos. I asked Cordero, who was born here but is widely traveled, why he chose to settle in Colonia Lafayette. “I like restoring dignity to buildings,” he began. He thought more. “Before,” he continued, “I was always planning. I wanted to live in Buenos Aires, but eventually you wonder, when? There’s not time. You’re not young anymore. That might be the answer—I found a way to feel fine.”
The Details: What to Do in Guadalajara, Mexico
Casa Fayette This 37-room high-design hotel set a new standard for the city when it opened last year. Doubles from $195.
Demetria Hotel The adjacent gallery and the bookshop-café on the mezzanine make this sleek glass-and-steel hotel a destination for culture and design. Doubles from $155.
Restaurants & Bars
Alcalde Chef Paco Ruano’s excellent Mexican cooking is served in a casual setting with an open terrace. Entrées $16–$18.
Hueso One of the coolest spots in town, with a communal table and an all-white interior covered in animal bones. Entrées $19–$46.
Magno Brasserie The place for French and Italian dishes like beef tartare, fresh pasta, and 36-hour porchetta. Entrées $8–$19.
Palreal This cheerful café with honeycomb tiles is packed with locals who come for the menu’s exhaustive list of Mexican coffees. The food—from the pork lonche to the octopus tacos—is just as delicious. 113 Lope de Vega; 52-33-1983-7254.
Pare de Sufrir A bar with a relaxed vibe and mezcals served in dried gourds. 66 Calle Argentina; 52-33-3826-1041.
Galleries & Shops
Julia y Renata Asymmetrical silk dresses and shirts in bright colors embody the city’s vibrant attitude. 2347 Avda. de la Paz; 52-33-3630-4265.
Páramo Founded in 2012, this contemporary-art gallery promotes local artists and hosts events, screenings, and talks.
Travesía Cuatro An intimate showcase for some of the city’s best artists, including Jose Dávila.