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Tijuana Neighborhood Reborn As Youth Hot Spot

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Tijuana Neighborhood Reborn As Youth Hot Spot

Latin America

Tijuana Neighborhood Reborn As Youth Hot Spot

Tijuana Neighborhood Reborn As Youth Hot Spot

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The drug war has altered the border city of Tijuana, complicating life for people on both sides. But one neighborhood, Calle Sexta, or Sixth Street, is being reborn as a trendy new destination for Tijuana's young, known for its music, bars, art galleries and hair salons.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A Mexican city that's become famous for violence in recent years is trying to recapture some of its tourist business. Tijuana sits right on the border with California. It attracted many American visitors in years past. Then came a drug war and an increase in killing in many parts of Mexico. Now, one part of Tijuana is being revived as a trendy new destination for young people.

Here's NPR's Jason Beaubien.

JASON BEAUBIEN: On Calle Sexta in Tijuana right now, the city's past and present literally intersect. Calle Sexta, or 6th Street, crosses Avenida Revolucion. On 6th Street, new bars and restaurants are opening. On Revolucion, decrepit nightclubs sit shuttered behind metal gates.

Revolucion used to be Tijuana's tourist strip. Californians would come to party, have their picture taken with a zebra and maybe visit some of the brothels. But the gruesome drug violence that peaked in Tijuana in 2008 scared most visitors away.

Sixth street, on the other hand, caters to locals. Twenty-eight-year-old Gustavo Morales is standing in a storefront that he and three friends are converting into a bar. He says when La Chupiteria opens later this month it will be bright and clean with hip, indie music.

Mr. GUSTAVO MORALES (Owner, La Chupiteria): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We want to make sure women have a good time, Morales says, adding that women make or break a party. We're trying to give the people something extra. Yeah, there was a lot of crime and violence. But now we're committed to making things better here.

This space used to be a pharmacy. Now a modern bar is being built in the center of the room. The back wall is textured with protruding angular white slabs. It looks like a cubist rendition of an arctic ice field. Morales says the drug violence robbed Tijuana of its dignity. Everyone was afraid to go out.

Mr. MORALES: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: But now we are rebuilding, he says. It's like a tornado of violence destroyed a lot of things. But enough of that. Now we are trying to start again.

Tijuana is one place where President Calderon's drug war has taken down the top leaders of a local cartel. Some people say this weakening of the brutal Arellano Felix crime group has led to fewer beheadings and public shootouts. Morales says things feel safer now, and this has allowed creativity to flourish.

Just a few doors down from La Chupiteria a stark, minimalist hair salon recently opened. On the corner with Revolucion, there's now the Pop Diner -think Andy Warhol does a makeover of a '50's burger joint. Along 6th Street, each new establishment tends to stick primarily to a theme. One bar serves only mescal. A dance club features a musical style called Nor-Tech - a mix of accordion-heavy Norteno music and European techno. At La Catrina, they specialize in pulque - a milky, viscous alcoholic drink that's popular in seedy bars, particularly in Southern Mexico.

Mr. GERARDO VALENZUELA RETEZ: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Gerardo Valenzuela Retez opened this pulqueria on 6th Street just less than a year ago. The drink he serves dates back to the Aztecs, but his decor is all about modern Mexican wrestling. Valenzuela says Tijuana is improving every day. Security - at least here in the center of the city - is better than it was two or three years ago. On weekends, 6th Street is jammed with bar hoppers. But Valenzuela says people from the U.S. still haven't come back.

Mr. VALENZUELA: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We don't support ourselves from tourism, Valenzuela says. It's the local people. You've got young kids who are just waiting until they turn 18 so they can get into the bars on 6th Street. We are building a local culture here.

He loves Tijuana, but he says the city needs a makeover. Buildings need to be remodeled. Things need to be cleaned up. But that's what they're trying to do right now on 6th Street.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

INSKEEP: You hear Jason's coverage right here on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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