Garbo drank here, sort of

When it opened its doors in 1936, Ciro’s, the nightclub on the top floor of the luxurious Hotel Reforma, became the most fashionable spot in Mexico City. Diego Rivera painted the murals on its walls. According to a book by Armando Jiménez, one night in 1944, management received a telephone call, putatively from the Swedish Embassy, that Greta Garbo was on her way, landing in Mexico City from an Acapulco holiday, and wished to remain incognito. “Garbo” — in fact, a French model — arrived with an entourage, rented the hotel’s Presidential Suite, consumed various bottles of champagne and cognac, signed for them and disappeared without paying.

Tragedy as well as comedy occurred at the Reforma. Three years earlier, in 1941, W.J. Cash, a U.S. writer in Mexico City on a Guggenheim Fellowship, was found hanging from his necktie in the bathroom of his hotel suite. Although deemed a suicide, there is some controversy over whether or not his death was actually a murder. Cash was an active anti-Nazi — he’d written dozens of newspaper editorials against them — and at the time Mexico City was alleged to be a hotbed of Nazi spies.

The greatest tragedy is perhaps the demise of the hotel itself. Having been eclipsed by other luxury hotels along the Paseo de la Reforma, it has remained empty for decades.

12 thoughts on “Garbo drank here, sort of

  1. Howard - June 13, 2011

    The hotel shut after the 85 earthquake left the building greatly damaged. Jim Dubin the then manager and owner of the hotel sold it in late eighties. The inside steel frame and floors have been redone.I visited the hotel in 2009 and they were working up a storm on the inside. I presume it will re-open as a condominium. I stayed in the hotel often from 1950 to 1983. I was in the hotel in the early 8o’s when a small tremor knocked out the elevator. I have fond memories of Mario and Arturo Pani, Jim Dubin and the many guests I met there. Jim Dubin and Mario Pani were responsible for building the tourist trade in Mexico City at that time. Dubin had la Reforma in Mexico City and other hotels in Cuernavaca, Tasco and Alcapulco. He advertized heavily in USA and Europe. By the mid 80’s the hotel badly needed renovation and the increased noise on la Reforma was incredible. By the 80’s it was a destination for USA high school groups etc who didn’t mind the noise.


  2. John - June 13, 2011

    Attention Carlos Slim:

    Please purchase this hotel and make it glamorous once again.
    A plaque on the front should state that ‘Greta Garbo once slept here…and still owes for the room.’

  3. Gary Denness - June 13, 2011

    Tis a shame that such a fine old building has been wasting away for all these years. Do you know of any plans to bring it back to life? Or did it get damaged beyond economic viability in an earthquake? It looks fine from the outside.

    I don’t know if you saw the Travel Talks video that was doing the rounds last year – it has a section on the hotel with a clip of it at the height of its glory.

  4. Bob Broughton - June 13, 2011

    When I was studying Political Science at Virginia Tech many, many years ago, W.J. Cash’s key work _The Mind of the South_ was often quoted from by professors. This is the first time I’ve heard of his controversial demise.

  5. Enrique Querejeta - June 14, 2011

    Very interesting link… I dont know about WJ Cash

  6. Michael Parker-Stainback - June 14, 2011

    Thanks for revisiting the ghost of the old Hotel Reforma, whose hulking shell fascinated me from my first days in Mexico City. You’ve surely noticed the building is no longer entirely abandoned, with an Argentine parrilla now installed on the ground floor. As well, unless I’m mistaken, new windows have been put in throughout the structure. I’ve wondered if the Reforma’s new next-door neighboor, the Mexican Senate, might be looking at it as an office annex or something… If that’s the case, hmmm… Too bad an ambitious real estate type hasn’t seen fit to re-purpose the place for something more glamorous than a Xerox-copy-choked, plastic-furniture-appointed government office.

    Meanwhile, I’ve never seen a single photo of the building’s lobby or other interiors. I’m dying to get a glimpse. My consolation is a gaily-colored postcard from the Farmacia Reforma soda fountain, another street-level shop from the hostelry’s heyday, that I picked up for much more than it’s “worth” at the Lagunilla flea market.

  7. Jürgen - June 14, 2011

    I read “Gabo drank here”. I liked the article all the same — but *how about* a list of a few hang-outs of Gabriel García Márquez?

  8. Jorge Pedro - June 14, 2011

    by the way, mario pani was the architect. nice post! saludos 🙂

  9. Barry Carr - June 16, 2011

    Great Travel Talk film on Mexico City. FitzPatrick did a lot of them about various parts of Mexico during WWII once war blocked access by Americans to most of Europe. In fact, Fitzpatrick, along with Walt Disney and Louis B, Meyer, received the Aguila Azteca award from the Avila Camacho government for their role in publicizing Mexico (and promoting tourism). If anyone knows of other FitzPatrick shorts on Mexico during this period that are available on the web I’d love to have the details.

  10. Barry Carr - June 18, 2011

    More on Ciro’s nightclub in the Hotel Reforma. It was actually opened in 1943 or 1943, many years after the hotel itself was opened in 1936. The man most responsible for Ciro’s was Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal, known to friends as ‘Blumy’. Blumy fled to Mexico city in 1941 faced with tax and other problems in the US, and developed a close relationship with figures in the Avila Camacho government. He also opened up a smaller version of Ciro’s in an Acapulco Hotel.

  11. Barry Carr - June 18, 2011

    Yes- I now this is a bit of overkill but the history of nightclubs, bars and hotels is a pretty neglected topic. here is a note i posted on a web site dealing with Walt Disney a few years ago:
    More on Walt, Dolores, and Diego The photo I refer to is still on that site.

    “From Barry Carr in Melbourne, Australia:

    I just came across your May 29, 2008, post about a photo of Walt Disney with Dolores del Rio and Diego Rivera at the opening of a night club in Mexico City. In your comments on the photo you mention that the night club was owned and launched by A. C. Blumenthal. I can fill in a bit of detail on Blumenthal.

    Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal was indeed a wealthy man. He had been a successful movie investor and entertainment industry figure in the 1920s and 1930s and was married to the Ziegfield “showgirl” Peggy Fears. Sometime in 1939 or 1940 he got into trouble over a tax issue in the U.S., and this appears to have been the cause of his departure in late 1940 or early 1941 for Mexico City, where he lived for most of the 1940s. A. C. Blumenthal—”Blumey,”‘ as he was known in Mexico—seems to have had close links with President Manuel Avila Camacho (1940-1946), as did several other U.S. and European figures who had had “troubles” with their respective national governments.

    (Bruno Paglia was another; he was an Italian-born industrialist who managed the fabulous new race-course in Mexico City called the Hipodromo de las Americas, which opened in the early 1940s with the strong support of President Camacho, a horse-racing fanatic. Paglia was married to the actress Merle Oberon in the 1950s.)

    Blumenthal’s warm reception in Mexico was almost certainly tied to his commitments to invest in the country. He invested in the hospitality and tourism industry. The December 1942 photo was taken at Ciro’s, a restaurant and nightclub that was part of the Hotel Reforma, one of the few luxury hotels then functioning in Mexico City; it had opened in 1936. Ciro’s was the center of glamorous night life in the wartime and postwar years in Mexico City, and it attracted wealthy Mexicans as well as foreign tourists and visiting personalities in the entertainment industry. Blumenthal later opened another Ciro’s nightclub in a new hotel in Acapulco—the Casablanca (I think). So, my guess would be that Walt Disney knew and possibly met A. C. Blumenthal in Hollywood or New York during the 1930s.

    Diego Rivera was not a member of the Communist Party in Mexico (PCM) at the time this photo was taken. He had been expelled from the PCM in the summer of 1929, and during the mid and late 1930s had moved in Trotskyist circles. He continued, of course, to be a Marxist. But in December 1942 Mexico was already an ally of Britain, the U.S., and the Soviet Union, and Mexican leftists of all persuasions were warmly in support of what had now become The Great Patriotic War. In addition, Rivera did some murals for the nightclub! So Rivera’s presence at Ciro’s is not so surprising after all.

  12. Si @ thedepartureboard - June 19, 2011

    The hotel has a very Art Deco exterior, such a shame the building is not in use today. I love stories of famous guests and wonder how they always get away without paying!

    Great blog post as always.



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