It’s hard to believe that the fashionably tourist town of Tulum, a sun-stained paradise stretched along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, had gone so long without a proper cocktail bar. That changed last September with the opening of Xaman, the second installment of the popular Mexico City lounge known for its nod to indigenous cultures and their spiritual practices.
“I was shocked by the lack of awareness many Mexicans had for their pre-Hispanic roots” says Anthony Zamora, a Frenchman and bar vet who relocated from Paris to Mexico City to complete his Ph.D. nearly a decade ago. Prior to coming to Mexico City, Zamora had been tasked with running the once-white-hot chain of celebrity-approved Le Baron nightclubs around the world, most of which are now defunct.
After leaving Europe, he teamed up with local hitmakers Grupo Sicario––responsible for Mexico City’s best bars, including Licorería Limantour, rated No. 14 on The World’s 50 Best Bars list––to create a contemporary pre-Hispanic cocktail bar and an homage to ancient Mayan healers.
The first Xaman opened in Mexico City in July of 2015, claiming a 2,700-square-foot basement in the city’s Juárez neighborhood. Blanketed in a haze of palo santo smoke, the bar welcomed imbibers, who sucked down medicinal cocktails flavored with such ingredients as epazote (an aromatic herb that’s common in Mexican cooking and sometimes used to counter indigestion) and ruta (lauded for its ability to alleviate muscle spasms).
Xaman incorporates an endemic Mexican ingredient, traditional liquor or contemporary presentation of an old shamanic ritual in every drink. One will even find cocktails infused with copal smoke, a resin used during shamanistic rituals to purify the air.
The space itself, adorned with succulents and contemporary wooden furniture, has an almost outdoor feel and has earned design awards for the venue’s smartly conceived spiritual feel.
While Zamora says he chose to first open Xaman in Mexico City because of the region’s “relationship between the Aztec tradition and contemporary Mexico,” Tulum was a natural second fit thanks to the town’s connection to both the Mayan culture and its glossy international visitors.
Anyone who has visited Tulum knows that most of the area’s entertainment takes place around the hotel zone or in Puebla, the nearby town about a 10-minute drive away. While Puebla has housed cocktail bars in the past, most blending agave spirits with local fruit, Xaman is the area’s first true venture that puts cocktails first
Xaman Tulum is entirely outdoors, in the middle of the jungle, commanding about four times as much wiggle room as Mexico City’s bar. It’s spread between 14 bar seats and 12 tables made from native salam wood. And while one will find a fusion bill of fare with dishes like almond hummus and beef tiradito, cocktails are the main attraction.
Zamora and his wife, bartender Grecia Araceli Salome Nandi, designed Xaman’s beverage list, which changes twice a year and is influenced by local market ingredients.
Drinks lean heavily on laborious infusions and macerations. One cocktail, the Locochoneria, blends rum, pox (a ceremonial Mayan liquor distilled from corn and sugar cane), fermented coconut liqueur, agave and house-made plantain milk with cacao and almonds; while the What Else? combines Havana Club seven-year-old rum, Amaro di Angostura, Yellow Chartreuse liqueur, bitter orange syrup, cold-brew coffee, tonic water and cardamom.