As the sun set on the summer, I set off on a solo trip to Riviera Maya — a fast and easy trek from my home in Houston — for a few days of fun in the sun before the excitement of the holiday season revved up. I traveled to Mayakoba, an eco-friendly enclave located north of Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Caribbean coastline, flanked by mangrove jungles and dreamy white sand beaches. Of the four luxury resorts located within the 600-acre gated community, I stayed at Rosewood Mayakoba, lauded for its serene environs, oversized lagoon-front suites, and more recently, its destination bar, Zapote, named on North America’s 50 Best Bars list two years running.
I am always intrigued when a restaurant or bar appears on such a list, but in this case, I was even more interested in visiting Zapote for its Tuesday night pop-up series featuring guest bartenders from Mexico and the U.S., coined Martes de Locales, meaning Local Tuesday. Alba Huerta, a fellow Houstonian and James Beard Award recipient for Outstanding Beverage Program for her cocktail bar Julep, was slated to appear. Naturally, I was a fan.
After a lazy couple of days exploring the Mayakoba grounds by bicycle, stopping for sustenance often at Rosewood’s beachfront restaurant, Aqui Me Quedo, I geared up for Tuesday night at Zapote. From casual conversations with the resort staff, I got the impression that the bar was the crown jewel of the entire Mayakoba compound — and for good reason. Tuesdays are historically the slowest night of the week at most resorts, and Martes de Locales was created to reel in visitors. Zapote is one of the only nightlife destinations in the area that hosts such an experience, and with reservations available to all on OpenTable, it entices guests of nearby hotels.
I have traveled to many Mexican resort towns and experienced tequila-fueled day parties at hotel beach clubs and high-energy nights at Coco Bongo in Downtown Cancun, but this felt different — like an exclusive gathering reserved for those in the know.
At dusk, wild flames from torches and lanterns illuminated Rosewood’s winding walking paths. The moody atmosphere offered just enough light to guide my way to Zapote, tucked in a corner beyond the hotel’s open-air lobby, and I felt the soft pulse of music before I approached the bar’s entrance. The design for Zapote is inspired by Riviera Maya’s natural beauty, and the bar is divided into indoor and outdoor seating areas touting private and communal tables, with a long bar as the area’s main focus. I was surprised to see patrons perched on either side of the bar counter, while focused bartenders navigated their way around guests to reach bottles, glassware, and ingredients. An open kitchen was visible behind the bar, and the intoxicating aroma of grilled meats being cooked over a live fire was hard to ignore. A DJ was set up nearby, supplementing the vibey ambiance with constant beats. The homey, communal seating arrangement is a nod to Mexican hacienda culture, in which community and togetherness are highly regarded.
By the time I arrived at 7 p.m., the dimly-lit space was buzzing with activity, as guests huddled over cocktails like the Royal Guayaba Fizz, made with prickly pear gin, jasmine tea, and aquafaba. Huerta had taken center stage, so to speak. Each week, the honorary bartender is given a space at the head of a communal table to craft cocktails in full view of the patrons. The interactive format allows for conversation and an up-close look at the bartenders in action. Zapote’s beverage director, Joshua Monaghan, was a constant presence, sashaying his way through the space and greeting guests with kind words and contagious laughter.
A quick scan of the room proved Zapote is as much a draw for its food as its cocktails: The majority of guests dined as they drank. To showcase the diversity of the Yucatan Peninsula, the menu leans into Middle Eastern flavors with dishes like spiced beef and lamb kebab with tomatillo salsa, and hummus with chickpeas barbacoa.
The night progressed, and I could feel the energy changing, as a pair of live musicians joined the DJ at his post. By 9 p.m. as I was finishing the last of my lamb chops and roasted smoked cauliflower, steady percussion combined with the penetrating rumble of a trombone flooded the room. Guests, bartenders, and even Huerta, let the rhythm take control, as they swayed to the happy, upbeat music. When the trombone player paraded atop of the bar to belt out a powerful finale, the crowd erupted in applause.
The same energy would encapsulate Zapote the following Tuesday… and the one after that, and so on. A sensational lineup of guest bartenders are slated to appear at Martes de Locales in the coming months, including Mapo Milano from Cafe de Nadie in Mexico City on December 19, Harrison Ginsberg from Overstory in New York City on January 9, and Luke Mallery from the Broken Shaker in Los Angeles on January 16.
Now that I’m back home, steeped in my regular routine, I can recall few Tuesday nights in my life that were as enthralling. I may have been traveling solo, but at Zapote, I was in great company among vacationers from around the world and the bar’s spirited staff — all adding to the one-of-a-kind experience that is Martes de Locales.
Megha McSwain is a freelance writer and Eater Houston contributor.