When I wandered into Mercado369 looking for a strong happy hour drink, I was greeted by a statue of Mexican singer Juan Gabriel. His hands were outstretched in a dramatic flourish. Behind him were 7,000 square feet of colorful paintings, sculptures, and handcrafts.
Bella, the smiling young woman at the front desk, told me the statue was popular for selfies. Then she explained that Mercado369 is a free gallery that showcases the work of artists from all over Latin America. The space also hosts lectures, workshops, and other events. In what was not my most sophisticated moment, I asked about the bar. She pointed to the back of the gallery and encouraged me to get a margarita and walk around.
Hatuey Cafe & Bar—named for a 16th-century Taíno chief who fought to repel Spanish invaders—featured lots of natural light, heavy wooden furniture, and plenty of decorative cactuses. Colorful masks hung overhead, and a group seated at the bar sipped from tall glasses. I glanced at the menu, which listed cocktails, coffee, quesadillas, and a few other snacks. The bartender asked if I’d ever had mezcal.
I nodded. “It’s smoky.”
“It’s strong,” he corrected—possibly as a warning—and suggested the Alebrije cocktail.
Once my drink was in hand, I perused the gallery. Each little “room,” partitioned with industrial-chic metal grates, showcased a different assortment of beautiful art. One wall had a dragonfly sculpture, made in Oaxaca with carbon steel and automotive paint. I saw jewelry, painted pottery, and handmade shoes and purses. One of my favorite pieces was a huge, intricately painted bull.
He was a little out of my price range, but Bella explained that Mercado369 is about more than selling art. By making Latin American culture accessible, it bolsters the community and provides learning opportunities.
Serving delicious drinks doesn’t hurt, either. Maybe after another, I’d be ready for my selfie with Juan Gabriel.