One Bunk
Tijuana, Baja California Norte

June 2018

My mother told me: go straight to San Diego, do not stop in Tijuana and do not drink the tap water. So, naturally, I had to go. And despite its bad rap and all the warnings, we really and truly enjoyed Tijuana.

The truth is that if it hadn’t been for One Bunk, we probably wouldn’t have stayed in TJ, because there just aren’t that many interesting accommodation options. The hotel is located on Avenida Revolución, the heart of Tijuana with extreme levels of old-school tackiness: zebra-painted donkeys for paid photo ops, entire blocks selling hardly more than souvenir shot glasses and cheap tequila. Remnants of questionable weekend entertainment before cartel violence all but decimated tourism. But a few modern exceptions have begun to spring up, like the Teorema/Ludica taproom, Cine Tonalá and Malvia Coffee Bar (down Pasaje Gómez), and they do a good job at counter-balancing their surroundings. In fact, scattered all around Tijuana there is a surprising amount of options for craft beer, curated small plates and good coffee, not to mention some of the best tacos we’ve had in Mexico (looking at you, Tacos Los Paisas). 

The hotel itself is quiet - apparently while we were there it had just opened five additional rooms to the original nine, but it felt like we had the place mostly to ourselves. Besides the private rooms, there are two common lounges, a very small leather goods shop, a barber and a café. During our stay, the café was not regularly staffed, but someone could generally be found to make a coffee upon request.

All rooms are very reasonably priced, but we booked an exceptionally affordable street-facing room that claimed to get a lot of outside noise. Our stay fell mid-week, which I’m sure was a factor, but we never experienced a disturbance; and just in case, One Bunk stocks its rooms with white-noise machines and humming air-conditioning. The rainbow-tiled bathrooms are a non sequitur design choice, but the rest of the spaces, both private and communal, are cool and cozy with the right amount of playful punch.

On a more serious note, I am always somewhat self-conscious of how I am perceived in Mexico, being a relatively privileged white American and given the current political tensions; I put a weight on myself to be a kind ambassador and present an alternative to the ugliness that too often comes from the North.

I felt this especially so in Tijuana, being so close to the United States. A physical wall runs along the city as a reminder that Tijuana is at the end of the day, although somewhat arbitrarily, Mexican and not American. On top of that, our visit fell at the height of immigrant family separation in the news, and I was hyper-aware of my situation on the other side of the border. How easy it was for me to be in Mexico, when the U.S. government was(/is) telling Mexicans and other Latin Americans in no uncertain terms that they were(/are) not welcome in our country; it felt a bit like rubbing salt in a wound.
With that said, we never experienced any sort of hostility or bitterness during our time in TJ. Frankly, I’m sometimes shocked by the relentless kindness and generosity I receive from Mexican strangers; and not just because I’m a foreigner, but also because it’s rare to see people in the US  treat even fellow Americans so well. Older generations in Tijuana, at worst, seemed jaded by years of the American “here-for-a-good-time-not-a-long-time” attitude and assumed us to be typical gringos with no real interest in their culture or way of life. Younger kids were always friendly, outgoing and excited to practice their English and share their culinary creativity.

It’s exciting that Tijuana is experiencing something of a renaissance in its food and art scenes; it seems a promising reintroduction of tourism for the city, and maybe a fresh start for us as visitors as well. It’s an opportunity to shed our reputation as ignorant party animals interested only in a cheap night out and some deregulated pharmaceuticals.  That’s not to say Tijuana is no longer a place to have fun - the food, beer and cocktails are probably as good as ever - but here’s hoping we do so in the most respectful and caring ways, as neighbors and as friends.  ⁍

One Bunk | website



Barrio Chino, Ciudad de México

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