How HANDSHAKE Bar Became The Best Speakeasy In Mexico City (CDMX)

The spirit behind the HANDSHAKE SPEAKEASY’S signature bienvenido is crystal clear: expect the unexpected.

Pulsing in the titillating heart of Zona Rosa – Mexico City’s electrifying LGBTQIA+ district – there’s a darkened façade of glass windows. No logos, no banners. Open its enigmatic door simply marked with the number 13, glide through velvet curtains, there lies another world.

The entire staff shouts: bienvenido! Not only does it mean “welcome” in Spanish, it’s also the bar’s lingo to ensure every guest feels seen.

“Outside, there’s a Zona Rosa universe,” General Manager, Dario Zeilmaker, said.

“Inside, we’ve created our own world. It’s between you and me – a host and a guest. So when you come in, we want to welcome you as loudly as we can. ‘Bienvenido’ is not just ‘how are you doing?’ We want you have the best connection from the start.” 

Back in 2018, HANDSHAKE SPEAKEASY originally planted its roots in Polanco – the most luxurious district in La Ciudad de México (CDMX.) After several management shifts and a devastating pandemic, however, the bar migrated to NH Hotel on Calle Amberes – one of the most important streets for the LGBTQIA+ community in Mexico City. As it turned out, the location of a former shoe store transcended into the perfect setting for a hidden bar.

HANDSHAKE SPEAKEASY
Photo by: @thebarchemist_

In the last decade, major capitals around the world have been riding on the speakeasy wave. We’ve all whispered a code through an obscure intercom (San Francisco,) pushed through a bookshelf (Seoul,) or tried to find an entrance in some average-looking apartment complex (Tallinn.) At this point, travelers are fully aware that speakeasies derive from the 1920s Prohibition era, when the U.S. government banned alcohol sales which paved the way for the rise of speakeasies throughout the country. Now, the world.

As opposed to a predictable recipe for success: mysterious entrances, dimmed lights, bartenders strutting in stylish uniforms, meticulously crafted cocktails, eclectic menu that are oftentimes adorned with slick illustrations; there’s an energy that bursts within the walls of HANDSHAKE. Between its Art Deco design, 80s music blasts in the background while every staff carries a charismatic spirit. No pun intended.

Art Deco interior
Art Deco interior. FACEBOOK Handshake Speakeasy Bar

The intimate bar’s popularity exacerbated to the point where an expansion later came to life on the underground floor of the hotel. Wander down the rustic stairs, pass through a graffiti barrier that depicts symbols emblematic to the core of the owners’ nationalities. Through another set of velvet curtains and a much larger and glamorous space hails with live bands and boisterous charm.

“With the drinks, we wanted to play with the senses.” Zeilmaker explained. “The idea is to surprise our guests.”

Don’t expect a Piña Colada to arrive in a creamy, tropical glass. HANDSHAKE’S spin on a traditional cocktail is, in fact, translucent. Minimal and utterly tasty. To the naked eye, it appears like a Gin & Tonic. It’s clear, HANDSHAKE does things unexpectedly.

HANDSHAKE SPEAKEASY MEXICO CITY
Piña Colada. PHOTO @zeilmaker.d

If Jean-Michel Frank – a noted 20th century Minimalist interior designer – transformed his furniture into crafted cocktails, they would look like the ones served at HANDSHAKE. The “Matcha Yuzu,” for instance, is a luminous cup of toki, matcha, yuzu, vanilla and whey. Zero residue, zero density. Pure light. The “Coco Bongo” is a transparent gem with Roku gin, coconut, lemongrass, pandan, mango and acids. Sheer, lightweight yet full of flavor.

HANDSHAKE SPEAKEASY MEXICO CITY
Matcha Yuzu. PHOTO @thebarchemist_
HANDSHAKE SPEAKEASY MEXICO CITY
Coco Bongo. PHOTO @thebarchemist_

Consistent motifs that resonates in the bar’s wide-range of cocktails are: clarification, holistic simplicity, clean aesthetics while emanating an explosion of tastes. “It’s about unpredictability. We have drinks that should be green, red or whichever color. But we’ll make them clear.” Zeilmaker continues,

“For something that appears so simple, almost like a glass of water, you can still taste all the flavors.”  

Another significant theme which zenfully exudes throughout the drink menu is an ode to Japanese culture. Before any cocktail is served, a rolled towel is placed on the table. A custom that the owners have respectfully adopted – an oshibori in any typical Japanese restaurant is meant to wipe the guest’s hands before the meal. When it comes to flavors; matcha, yuzu, and jasmin are powerful core bases that whimsically translate to Asian-infused elegance.

Jasmin
Jasmin. PHOTO @zeilmaker.d

One can’t stop by the bar and not try “Once Upon in Oaxaca,” a smokey alchemy of Doba Yej, mint, lemon, absinthe and whey. When it’s lit on fire, the silvery pageantry juxtaposes the crystalline cocktail at the end of a sparkly burn. Sans any speck of ash, the taste, though, carries a delightful hint of smoke which travels the taste bud all the way to Oaxaca. Just as the cocktail is intended to do.

HANDSHAKE SPEAKEASY MEXICO CITY
Once Upon in Oaxaca. PHOTO @thebarchemist_

Behind the concoction, there’s immense research breaking down the science. If there’s a hidden jewel behind a hidden speakeasy, then the lab situated behind the bar must be HANDSHAKE’S secret weapon. Like stepping inside a mad scientist’s laboratory; massive freezer containing legions of ice cubes, high-tech machines and distillates, long tubes hooked onto tilted glass bowls is where the magic happens. The team invests in premium appliances that can decipher and engineer locally-sourced and homemade ingredients that continue to surprise palates as well as aesthetics. It’s no wonder that HANDSHAKE is part of The World’s 50 Best Bars.

It’s hard not to notice the number of female bartenders behind the bar, the owners make a point to train and hire female mixologists. “Unfortunately, it’s still not very common in Mexico City,” co-owner Rodrigo Urraca said.

“Our team is made up of an almost 50/50 ratio. Since there’s still gender inequality in our society, we want to be a part of the change.”

Team work
Team work. PHOTO @zeilmaker.d

Character also matters. The owners look for trainees that are passionate about growing with the brand, they seek to teach those who are willing to learn. Regardless of gender.

With the combination of a progressive company culture, unwavering research and inventive creations; HANDSHAKE is paving the way for the current and next generations of cocktail bars in a city thriving in its spotlighted moment. The spirit behind the speakeasy’s signature bienvenido is crystal clear: expect the unexpected.

Wendy Hung

CEO, FOUNDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

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