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A visit to Frida Kahlo’s La Casa Azul (the Blue House) in villagey Coyoacán in the south of the city is an unmissable step into Kahlo’s world – this is where she was born, grew up, lived for many years, produced art and died. (Kahlo’s friend Leon Trotsky also hid from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin here from 1937 to 1939.) It is now a museum with walls that are indeed electric blue (and a kitchen floor in sunny yellow) and rooms filled with personal items as if Kahlo had just popped out, including notes, letters, photographs, easel, empty perfume bottles-turned-paint pots, a wheelchair, earthenware pots, papier-mâché monsters and thousands of handicraft and folk art items collected from around Mexico. One room is dedicated to paintings by contemporary artists such as Paul Klee.

But there is good reason why most visitors – gay or straight – stick closer to La Zona Rosa. “Zona Rosa treats gays and lesbians especially well,” said Paulette Landeros, a Mexican bartender at the always packed 42nd Bar. “Being gay [here] is something normal and free.”

While that may sound commonplace elsewhere in the world, the air is charged with a different energy at 42nd Bar. People are dressed in smart shirts that err on the side of looking church-ready – a Mexican gay club can be both loud and well behaved, reflecting the modern-traditional mix of Mexico City. On the street, food stands still make tacos much like their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, and the patrons, despite being tipsy, politely address the women who make them as señora (madam).

In this fiercely class-conscious country, people judge you in a heartbeat by the cut of your jeans and the brand of your phone – and often how güero (white) and tall you are. Yet in the Zona Rosa clubs, even the neatly dressed are clutching messy, massive Styrofoam cups that drip red chilli sauce from the rim. These traditional, lime-spiked michelada beers are cheap, strong and addictive. Accompany them with Mexican beer-snack favourite, crunchy lime-and-chilli chapulines (dried grasshoppers).

Open-air terraces are plentiful in balmy Zona Rosa, including Lollipop, a favourite of young karaoke-lovers; and Lipstick, where blazer-and-jeans-wearing cocktail-sippers peer down from the roof gardens over the city. A simple hola (hello) will lead to open, warm chatter in varying levels of English; tourists are few but welcomed with curiosity.

Back on the dance floor, a common question is “why aren’t you dancing” – even if you are. Mexicans seem to be born with rhythm and merengue in their hips – even the shyest clubber can keep a beat. In the centre of town at El Marrakech Salón, or just “Marra” as locals affectionately call the club, the floor rumbles to the drums and trumpets of classic Mexican and Latin tunes, wedged between tracks by Die Antwoord, the Pixies and Madonna.

The party continues at late night eateries in Zona Rosa, such as La Casa de Toño where avocado-topped flautas (long crispy tortilla “flutes” filled with meat or potato) and margaritas keep coming at 5 am, accompanied by a ranchera guitarist in a cowboy hat. You may have things to do tomorrow, but you will get to that mañana.

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