Love Letter

Is This Shaman Den the Coolest Place to Drink in Mexico City?

by Daniel Schwartz
All photos courtesy of Xaman Bar.

Creative cocktails are mixed with Mesoamerican magic at Xaman bar. Indulging in alcohol feels practically healthy when incorporated with roots, spices, and the smell of incense.

MEXICO CITY – Down a dark stairwell of a nondescript building just beyond the city’s main drag lies a cocktail bar so cool, earthy, and elemental, it could only be found in Mexico’s capital. This place is called Xaman. And like the name implies (it's Spanish for shaman), drinking here is something of a transcendental experience.

Designed by Estudio Atemporal, the dimly-lit lounge conjures up references to pre-Hispanic shamanism from the moment you walk in. Separating the interior from the outside world is an illuminated display cabinet adorned with plants and preserved roots and ritualistic totems. The air, as if to punctuate your entrance to the shaman’s den, is perfumed with Mesoamerican incense, which is routinely burned to purify the space.

Inside, behind a long, marble bar, mixologists are busy with all sorts of alchemy, combining indigenous ingredients with small-batch spirits and tinctures taken from small jars lining the wall behind the bar. What they produce are excellent craft cocktails, showcasing bold flavor combinations like coffee, chocolate, chai, and pulverized tonka beans (Tonka Yuan); sherry, falernum, and beet juice (Le Lena); and mezcal, mamey, and Yoli, a lime soda popular in only certain parts of Mexico (El Ajolote).

On a recent weeknight, the bohemian crowd was upbeat and the vibe was chill, despite extra foot traffic from Cocktail Week celebrations. Patrons in varying states of consciousness mingled at tables in the main space, in nooks in the beautiful back room, and in groups by the DJ booth. As seen-and-be-seen as the place appeared, everyone was wrapped up in conversation. It’s that kind of spot.

Despite the hypnotic lineup of home-grown DJs who fill the underground alcove with mellow Mesoamerican-inspired beats, there is no dance floor. But that didn't stop anyone from rising up into the smoke and dancing to the groove.

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