“Pulque is pure philosophy, linguistic, hedonism, magic;
at its depth it explains the essence of good love as well as betrayal.”
Pulque, made by fermenting the fresh sap of the maguey cactus, has a thick texture and a yeasty taste. (see http://pulquenuestro.blogspot.com/ if you read Spanish) Unique to Mexico and used in Aztec rituals, pulque has long been considered the drink of the common man, and was so until beer and stronger alcoholic drinks became the preferred libations, sending the outmoded pulque to the endangered species list. It was traditionally served only in bars called pulquerías, which have been slowly disappearing. Fifty years ago there were hundreds in the capital, now only a dozen or so survive. Some, such as La Risa, the city’s oldest and the neo-‘60’s Las Dualistas have made a comeback as fashionable places for young people to meet. Others are so sleazy that only the most adventurous dare enter. But now, open only 4 months, is Mexico’s first post-modern pulquería, really a bar/cantina which also serves this age old elixir.
I chatted with Alan Ureña, one of Los Insurgentes’ personable young partners on a recent muggy afternoon while several tables of 20 somethings and even a couple of foreign over-40 somethings happily imbibed. “It was our dream to open this place, to preserve and promote the wonderful culture of pulque, which is really such a part of being Mexican” he recounted. “It is rapidly disappearing while at the same time there is a revival of interest in it. While obviously we couldn’t re-create a traditional pulquería, we tried to capture some of the ambiance of a “popular” place, while at the same time updating and expanding on it.” Traditional pulquerías only served pulque and curados , neither beer nor tequila, although they sometimes offered botanas or snacks (Los Insurgentes features a full bar and light food.) They closed early and were off limits to women, selling to female patrons through a side window. A few of the older surviving joints still retain this now defunct format as well as a trough along the bar where multiple-liter guzzling patrons could relieve themselves without giving up their spots. Nicer places featured murals: it is said that Orozco and Siqueiros got their start painting murals in pulquerías. Los Insurgentes is set in three floors of this turn-of-the-century mansion that has been stripped of much of its decoration to reveal the bare rafters and flooring – some original moldings and windows survive as does the old layout. The house did indeed serve as a cabaret and then as a sex emporium; so the ambiance of bohemian behavour lingers.
The raw material is brought in several times a week from the state of Tlaxcala, but “cured” on premises in barrels: fruit is left to macerate then pulverized and strained. On a recent visit unusual flavors such as zapote negro and mamey were on offer. “Most people order the fruit curados”, Alan explains, “plain pulque is really for hard core aficionados”.
A small selection of excellent tacos is proffered: the combo shrimp, octopus and marlin I ordered were succulent and needed no salsa to augment them. Prices are more than reasonable.
Ambient music is eclectic and adult: jazz, latin and indie rule, although unfortunately the juke box, when invoked, blares mercilessly.
Los Insurgentes is a friendly, relaxed unpretentious spot. It is fitting, in this year of the bicentennial, to see a tradition reborn. ¡Salud!
Expendio de Pulques Finos Los Insurgentes
Av. Insurgentes Sur 226 (between Colima and Durango)
Metro Insurgentes, Metrobus Durango
Open Monday-Thursday 1PM-12AM
Friday, Saturday 1PM-3AM
* from Revista Generación, año XXI, translated by N.Gilman