Walking the streets of Guadalajara’s Colonia Americana is a romantic experience. Much like the historic core, there is a wealth of architectural heritage. However, the Colonia Americana, Lafayette, and Chapultepec were built during a different era. The neighborhoods, or colonias, were planned while contemplating this new philosophy about garden cities and the quality of life. Plus, this is where you will find the highest concentration of gourmet coffee, innovative kitchens, and hip nightlife options. The Colonia Americana Guadalajara is where young people prefer to spend their time because it espouses an urban cool.
What is the Colonia Americana, Lafayette, and Chapultepec?
Well, it is a neighborhood, but it is also a lifestyle that reflects an urban reality. There are immaculately restored mansions next to abandoned buildings with squatters. Parking spaces are hard to come by, but the bike lanes are plentiful, and fixed geared bicycles are ubiquitous. The area has served as a laboratory for architects during the 20th century and entrepreneurs in the 21st. There are a number of successful brands that refined their concepts in the Colonia Americana before expanding.
Avenida Chapultepec Guadalajara
Chapultepec is a busy six-lane avenue running north to south from Avenida Mexico through Avenida Niños Heroes to Avenida Agustín Yáñez, with a large center median that has been turned into a park. On the south end, there is a monument to the Niños Heroes that has been taken over by protestors and renamed the monument of the disappeared. On the north end, there is another monument and plaza that runs along with Avenida México. There are tall trees, fountains, and open-aired markets for your enjoyment.
Avenida Chapultepec can be considered the bar district so the atmosphere is going to be very different on Friday night and Sunday morning. Many afternoons and evenings there is an open-aired cultural flea market. It is a very comfortable place to hang out, especially on Sundays when the streets are closed to motor vehicle traffic. Sometimes people refer to the area around the street as Chapultepec but I am going to use the word only to refer to that one street.
There is a crazy rotation of bars coming and going along Chapultepec but the ones that have been there for a while are El Grillo (Classic Dive Bar), El Callejon de los Rumberos (Salsa dance club), Bananas (Bar to watch the game), Cevercería Chapultepec (cheap drinks and food), and Orange Bar and Saloon (pool hall).
My favorite places to hang out are not on Avenida Chapultepec itself but on the side streets of Morelos, Lopez Cotilla, Lerdo de Tejada, and Libertad.
Colonia Americana, Lafayette, and Reforma Guadalajara
Historically, the four square blocks to the west of Chapultepec were called the Reforma neighborhood (Colonia Reforma), the six square blocks to the east was the Colonia Americana. The entire area from Avenida Federalismo to the Glorieta Minerva was referred to as the Lafayette or the colonias because these were the first suburbs of Guadalajara.
Today, it is much more common to hear the term Colonia Americana applied to vast swaths of the area from Avenida Federalismo to Avenida Unión, and beyond.
When was the Colonia Americana built?
Much of Downtown Guadalajara’s architectural charm comes from buildings that were constructed when Mexico was still a part of New Spain or a colony of Spain. The Colonia Americana, by contrast, was built after Mexico gained independence and after the Reform War. These are not colonial-era buildings. There are examples of neo-baroque or neo-viceroyalty elements in the big houses but the 17th and 18th-century churches in Downtown Guadalajara are different because they were government buildings or churches and not private residences.
While there was a little bit of construction in the last few years of the 19th century, the Colonia Americana is a better representation of the first half of the 20th century. It is interesting to look at the architecture through the prism of historical trends. The porfiriato (administration of Porfirio Díaz), the Revolution, and the post-WWII boom all had different styles and even construction technology.
The administration (dictatorship) of Porfirio Díaz coincides with the original development of these neighborhoods, much like the Colonia Roma and Condesa in Mexico City. In fact, there are many similarities in the waves of gentrification that have affected each neighborhood.
There is a great book that was written about Mexico City’s Colonia Roma that easily could have taken place in the Colonia Americana. It is called Las Batallas en el Desierto by the poet José Emilio Pacheco. There is also a movie based on the book and a song by Café Tacuba. I find 20th century Mexican history fascinating and the Colonia Americana is like a time capsule to help you experience it.
Architecture in the Colonia Americana Guadalajara
In the last years of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th-century regionalist mansions were built. They were inspired by an eclectic mix of European and maybe even a little Moorish influence. Later, in the post-revolutionary era, came art deco, modernist, art nouveau, functionalist, and brutalist.
Visually, the neighborhood is stunning because of the architecture and the consideration that was given to green spaces and public plazas. The guy who developed the area said that it was the first sanitary neighborhood (planned with indoor plumbing) in all of Mexico. One problem is that this beautiful and old architecture needs a lot of specialty maintenance work that is very expensive. Many buildings are in disarray while developers wait in the wings ready to swoop in as soon as the buildings fall down so they can build another tower.
One of the most beautiful parts of the Colonia Americana is that it contains unique properties and independent businesses. There are a lot of very cool people with an artistic vision of the community. The area has redeveloped itself over the years but if you want to see the history of Mexico in the 20th century, come walk the streets of the Colonia Americana. Drink coffee in the morning and wine in the evening after finding another wonderful restaurant hidden on a side street.
Porfirio Díaz and the Porfiriato
President Porfiro Díaz is a controversial figure in Mexican history. He fought with Benito Juarez to expel the French intervention and later became president after Juarez died young. He was president for 35 years during a period of relative stability and economic development for the ruling elite. However, 35 years were a few too many and the Mexican revolution forced him into exile in France where he lived out the last few years of retirement.
Benito Juarez’s liberal constitutional reforms paved the way for the westward expansion of Guadalajara. The reform war took a great deal of land from the church including what is today known as the Ex-Convento del Carmen on Avenida Juarez just before Avenida Federalismo. The old convent had more land than they knew what to do with and had capped the westward expansion of the city.
The reforms in the 1860s took much of the unused land from the church. A prison and a school were built in what used to be the Convento del Carmen’s orchard. Today, there are two important University of Guadalajara properties where the convent orchard once stood.
In the 1930s the prison was torn down to connect Avenida Vallarta with Avenida Juarez creating, at the time, the most important thoroughfare in the city. This was the road that connected Guadalajara with Mexico City and Morelia. The arches next to the Glorieta Minerva commemorate this event.
Some of my favorite buildings in the Colonia Americana
On Sundays, Avenida Vallarta is closed to motor vehicles so that cyclists and pedestrians can enjoy the area. My favorite way to appreciate the waves of architectural heritage is to ride my bike or skateboard from the Glorieta Minerva to Downtown Guadalajara along Avenida Vallarta. There is no better way to spend a Sunday morning in Guadalajara steeped in history and culture.
Another great walk would be to start at Cafe RinTinTin for coffee, then swing by De La O Cantina for a drink, make your way to the University of Guadalajara’s Museum of the Arts, see the Templo Expiatorio, and head back up Calle Libertad to the Casa de Los Abanicos. There is a lot of architecture and some great murals along that route.
The Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento is a wonderful place to start looking at the architecture of the Colonia Americana. While it is just outside of what most people consider the Colonia Americana, the construction of a major new church helped promote the development of the new neighborhood. The Temple was started in 1897 but took 75 years to finish because of the Mexican Revolution, the Cristero War, and a general lack of resources.
Porfirio Díaz brought a famous Italian architect by the name of Adamo Boari to Mexico to build churches, personal monuments, the Correos de Mexico building, and even the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. He loved the gothic temples of Europe and commissioned similar churches in San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, Michoacan, and Mexico City.
The pillars of the temple were carved by hand in a style similar to that which was employed in the Middle Ages. If you are interested in old churches, please read the Ken Follet novel Pillars of the Earth about the masons who built the great cathedrals of 12th century Europe. While I was reading the book, I would come down to the Expiatorio to touch the stone pillars, think about the people who carved them, and what Guadalajara was like in 1897.
The mosaics were made in the Vatican mosaic factory. The stained glass windows were imported from France and the clock with all of its music, lights, and animated apostles was imported from Germany.
I recommend visiting the temple early in the day or late in the afternoon, while the sun is low in the sky, so you can see the stained glass in all its glory. The church is spectacular and so different from the colonial era churches in the historic downtown.
La Casa de los Abanicos
Avenida Libertad is one of the most enjoyable streets to walk in Guadalajara because of the mature trees, wide sidewalks, and breathtaking architecture. The crown jewel of casona (mansion) architectural glory in the Colonia Americana is the Casa de los Abanicos.
The mansion dates back to 1903 and was built in a French regionalist style that was popular with Porfirio Díaz and thus his circle of cronies. The home was purchased by Manuel Cuesta Gallardo, a large hacienda owner and the last Porfirian governor of the State of Jalisco.
Manuel Cuesta Gallardo is said to have used the house for romantic escapades far away from prying eyes of the hacienda. Our tour guide said that there used to be tunnels connecting the Casa de los Abanicos to a nearby property where Cuesta Gallardo kept his lovers. It is hard to understate the social implications of adultery in a highly traditional and conservative society.
Governor Cuesta Gallardo would not be governor for long. The unrest of the Mexican Revolution would run him out of town less than a year after being elected (appointed) to the position.
The name, Casa de los Abanicos, comes from the exterior fencing that is shaped like a folding hand fan. This detail was not in the original design but added some years later.
The building has changed hands many times and at one point was left abandoned. A consortium of conservation-minded businessmen bought the house towards the end of the 20th century. The group renovated and restored the property to be used as an event space and to house the university club. Today, it is a popular wedding venue.
Avenida Vallarta has a number of beautiful mansions, many of which have been immaculately maintained and used for commercial purposes. If you have seen the Netflix series Narcos Mexico then you are already familiar with the former owner of this building. The property that is located at Avenida Vallarta #1339 was decommissioned in 1997, abandoned for many years, and later renovated as a boutique retail establishment and event hall.
Casa José Guadalupe Zuno
Another crazy story that we can watch on Netflix involves the children of José Guadalupe Zuno. José Guadalupe Zuno himself was mayor of Guadalajara and later the governor of Jalisco. He was a founding member of the re-inaugurated University of Guadalajara. He established the first crew of firefighters and even the first zoo.
Watch Narcos Mexico on Nexflix to see how the son of a former governor wound up in a US prison.
The Casa José Guadalupe Zuno is located on the corner of Avenida Unión and Calle José Guadalupe Zuno, and it is unmissable. The house was inspired by conversations with famous artists such as José Clemente Orozco and Gerardo Murillo (AKA Dr. Atl). The baroque accents are reminiscent of the Santa Monica Temple in Downtown Guadalajara while the exterior covering of red tezontle (volcanic igneous rock) was a locally sourced building material. This is the best example of neo-viceroyalty in the Colonia Americana.
Where to Stay in the Colonia Americana
The coolest place to stay in the Colonia Americana is the Casa Habita on Calle Miguel Lerdo de Tejada. One of the best Mexican hotel groups renovated an old mansion, put a tower next to it, and recreated a golden era. The place is located within walking distance of everything and they even have bikes for their guests to use.
Another great option if you love design is Hotel Demetria. One of their architects literally wrote the book on the Lafayette neighborhood. Their bookstore is a real treasure with tons of information on the architectural history of Mexico.
Casa Bruselas is a beautiful, budget option. The owner worked for Jose Cuervo for a long time and knows what makes the neighborhood special. They have a tiny coffee shop across the street with some of the best espresso and gelato in town.
Best Restaurants in the Colonia Americana
This is going to be tough and really subjective. I love the neighborhood but I don’t have room to write about every great restaurant in the area.
I have spent a lot of time talking about food and architecture with my friend Bernie of RinTinTin Cafe. There are few people who understand the Colonia Americana better than he does. Plus, he is a true epicurean and operates one of the best bakeries in the city.
Restaurante Allium is one of the best restaurants in Guadalajara for farm-to-table and ingredient-focused cuisine. Chef Adolfo Galnares is from Mexico State/City and went to school in New York at the Culinary Institute of America. He keeps a kitchen garden on the roof of the restaurant and has access to some of the best artisanal products in Mexico. He is a nice guy and a great chef.
El Sacromonte is one of Guadalajara’s favorite restaurants. This location launched one of the most successful restaurant groups in the city and they even cooked for Pope Juan Paul II when he came to visit in 1979. The menu is traditional and historic. This is where I like to take my mother-in-law for her birthday. She is one of the best traditional cooks that I know and she always finds something classic to tell me stories about.
If you are interested in seafood you should have a look at the Panga del Impostor. The menu was done by Antonio DeLivier of the fantastically popular TV Azteca cooking show, Cocineros Mexicanos. The aguachile de camaron seco is out of this world and there are great ice creams.
A newcomer to the neighborhood is Habanero Negro. The theme is Yucatan style food with an emphasis on creative cocktails.
If you are into sushi and retro Benihana style Japanese food, then have a look at Suehiro. The owner is from Japan but has been in Guadalajara for decades. The place is enormous and is a longtime local favorite. SSAM is excellent Korean food and Siam is decent Thai.
Pig’s Pearls is just outside of the Americana, but they have the best burgers in the city with an excellent selection of craft beers.
Lastly, Tikuun Comedor Local is one of my favorite places to eat in all of Mexico. Chef Carlos Espinosa is a specialist in regional Mexican cuisine. You can expect to see a lot of unique moles, exotic meats, and high-end wine on the menu.
Tacos Don José are some of the best tacos in the city. They are known for having a huge mound of panela cheese that they put on their tacos. The birria tacos are pretty good too.
Where to Get a Drink in the Americana
I feel like cantinas dominate the Americana. There are some good cocktail bars but the cantinas mesh well with the historic architecture.
De La O Cantina is a modern interpretation of a classic cantina. They have pulque, aguamiel, tepache (traditional fermented drinks), and some of the most artisanal spirits that are made. Plus, the tiki-themed Sundays are fun.
Saloon del Bosque is a classic cantina with waiters in long-sleeve white shirts with bowties. The old school Mexican bar food is popular too. The cantina is housed in a historic old manor that feels like a step back in time. If you are going to tour the Casa José Guadalupe Zuno, make sure to stop by before to get a drink.
If you have an interest in agave spirits, you have to schedule a tasting at Mezonte. Pedro Jiménez is one of the world’s foremost experts on agave spirits and you will thoroughly enjoy his talks. Mezonte is more of a classroom with Mezcal that is only open a few hours a day if at all. It is best to make reservations. If you want to hang out at a Mezcal bar, head over to Pare de Sufrir.
If you want to get a beer, Patan Alehouse is the first place to hit. Peter Brown is one block further down and Casa Trapiche (Cerveceria Colima) is three more. That is a pretty good Guadalajara pub crawl.
Romea is Guadalajara’s favorite wine bar.
There is no shortage of great coffee to be found in the Colonia Americana Guadalajara. RinTinTin Cafe has amazing coffee and some of the best baked goods you can find. I got an espresso at El Terrible Juan that completely changed how I taste espresso and sent me on the hunt for coffee with floral notes. Neretta Café is a micro-roaster and also has great gelato. Laboratorio Singular has a great selection of international origins and the owner is buddies with my favorite coffee in San Diego, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. I really enjoy the patio at El Vago Imperial. Gabinete is by one of the partners of palReal and serves Cafe Estelar. palReal has a little location, palRealito, with just coffee at Vía Libertad (what used to be called Mercado Mexico).
And then there is Fitzroy Espresso Bar. They bring in baristas and coffee from the best coffee shops in Mexico to throw parties and stage events. Their breakfast menu is awesome, the property is a classic, and they have a secret tequila bar upstairs. El Gallo Altanero is a speakeasy-like patio with one of the best selections of fine tequilas you can find. They stress quality over quantity and love to highlight small, local brands that make tequila as it was made in the old days. The tequila cocktails are pretty spectacular as well.
There are more buildings, restaurants, and coffee shops than I could ever mention in just one article. These are some of my favorites. Let me know in the comments what your favorites are.