Pulquerias in Mexico City
Pulque is a mildly alcoholic beverage made from agave sap, which is then fermented until it acquires a certain level of viscosity. The tradition of making pulque is a millennia-old cultural phenomenon in Mexico. Initially, it was a religious drink in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations, but its consumption is now an attraction for tourists as well as a healthy, high-protein alternative to beer. Pulquerias in Mexico function just like normal bars, but tend to only serve pulque (and occasionally other agave-based beverages like tequila and mezcal) in a wide variety of flavors. In the early twentieth century, Mexico City alone was home to over a thousand pulquerias. Since then, pulque has decreased in popularity significantly due to competition from beer manufacturers, who would advertise smear campaigns against the drink claiming that one of the ingredients for the beverage was cow excrement. Only a dozen or so notable pulquerias exist in Mexico City currently, but the continuation of the pulque tradition is making a comeback among the Mexican youth.
La Nuclear Pulqueria is one pulqueria in Mexico City that has urbanized while still staying true to its roots. Murals depicting a cultural history of pulque can be found on most of the interior walls. Artist renditions of the Aztec deity of agave, Mayahuel, show the "pulque goddess" inside of an agave plant naked. Another mural depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe alongside drinking monks. Although not explicitly religious, La Nuclear Pulqueria illustrates many spiritual themes that are noticeably a part of Mexican culture. Pulque itself is no exception to the culture illustrated inside; another mural depicts the age-old practice of sucking the sap from the blue agave plant, the first step to making pulque after harvesting the agave plant.
Although pulque itself spawns from a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican tradition, pulquerias did not exist until after the Spanish conquest. What is today Mexico City was the biggest project for the Spaniards in terms of development and infrastructure. Many aspects of life were permanently changed for the indigenous, and urbanization was quick to follow the fall of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan. By the sixteenth century, there were around thirty different stands or taverns dedicated to selling pulque. As opposed to the Aztec tradition of drinking pulque for religious reasons (which was only granted to the elites and to priests), the introduction of the pulqueria saw an increase in everyday consumption from all social classes. However, the Roman Catholic Church and the elite ruling class of Spaniards saw the presence of pulquerias as degeneracy and a threat to the social order of the country. This was mainly because pulquerias were considered to be hotspots for sexually promiscuous behavior and drunkenness, which were antithetical to societal progress as seen by the church.
Following Mexico's independence from Spain in the early 19th century, the popularity of pulquerias skyrocketed, primarily in Mexico City and other urban areas. By the early 20th century, Mexico City was host to over a thousand pulquerias. The aesthetic qualities of pulquerias now were derived from this era. Although the Roman Catholic Church historically expressed dismay towards pulquerias, the embracement of Mexican culture brought about symbolic imagery relating not only to Catholicism (like the Virgin of Guadalupe, which can be found in most pulquerias today), but to Aztec religions as well. This is best illustrated by the aforementioned La Nuclear Pulqueria, which can still be visited today in Mexico City.