** Originally published at World Now and re-published in the Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Will the last wailing, stumbling drunk person on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi please turn off the lights on the way out?
The government of Mexico City, where drinking until dawn has long been a competitive pastime, has banned the sale and drinking of alcoholic beverages on the esplanade of Plaza Garibaldi. Public drinking was a previously tolerated custom at the meeting point for hundreds of struggling busking mariachi musicians and their glad-to-be-sad customers.
Authorities said alcohol would still be sold at the bars and cantinas that ring Garibaldi, but the practice of chugging beers or downing mixed drinks outdoors in the early-morning hours with mariachis crooning nearby will halt under Operation Zero Tolerance, said Alberto Esteva, subsecretary of public policy at City Hall.
Under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, the city has invested about $26.8 million to revitalize Plaza Garibaldi, mostly on the construction of its Museum of Tequila and Mezcal and the repaving of the square. The outdoor alcohol ban is one more step in that plan, Esteva said in an interview.
"We gave the vendors alternative options, they didn't respond, and the city had to make a decision," the official said. "Garibaldi is about evoking that Mexican-ness, those customs, but permanent drunkenness is not one of them."
Alcohol sales were first barred Wednesday night, and by Thursday afternoon, without a vendor in sight on Garibaldi's wide expanse, mariachis and business owners expressed ambivalence about the new policy.
"There will be fewer people, because that's why they come downtown. To drink, drink here, and go somewhere else," said Soledad Diaz de Dios, whose family owns a recently renovated pulque bar on the square, La Hermosa Hortencia. "But [the drinking on the plaza] is also bad, for the tourism aspect."
Complaints of violence, public vomiting and marijuana smoking have grown. The plaza has also seen large brawls and confrontations with police involving semi-homeless youths, identified as "punks" by some of the musicians. Reportedly, drinks on the plaza are also sometimes spiked with substances meant to alter drinkers' mental states and thus make them vulnerable to assault.
"[The policy] is good, in quotation marks," said trumpet player Jesus Rosas. "Every Thursday through Saturday night, the party starts. And what's the party? Fights, breaking bottles, robberies."
But without the open-air drinking to go along with the mariachis, norteños, and jarochos, will Plaza Garibaldi ever be the same? Mariachis have complained to the city that the museum, for example, blocks access to the plaza, reducing their customer base.
"It hasn't been reformed, it's been completely tronado," huffed old-timer David Figueroa, a guitar player, using a slang term for broken, failed or flopped.
* Photo: Soledad Diaz de Dios, a vendor at the pulquería La Hermosa Hortencia on Plaza Garibaldi, Oct. 27, 2012.