Tres Abejas for a Nectar Named Happiness: The new Café in Mexico’s Colonia Roma
Just like his brother Rafael Tovar y de Teresa, the former and first ever Mexican minister of Culture who wanted his country to shine through ideas, music, dance and visual arts, the late Guillermo Tovar de Teresa was a man of letters and knowledge.
Until his death in 2013, Guillermo spent his life in various homes of la Colonia Roma in Mexico City, chronicling from his wooden office the life of a city he was enamored with. His latest address of more than two decades was on 52 Valladolid, steps away from Parque Mexico. The writer’s two bedrooms—one for the winter; another one for the summer—have remained as they were at the end of his life, and tucked behind his office, a courtyard still hides a marbled angel. The 119-year old house, filled with Tovar’s collection of more than 10,000 books, paintings and furniture from the 19th century, porcelains from France and a Victorian lush garden, is now part of the Soumaya Museum.
Somewhere inside 52 Valladolid, there are tiny purple-pale blue flowers with a yellow pistil alongside a green ivy. They could be hidden on a painting or an object.
Try to find them or venture pass the tall, heavy door, next to the villa’s entrance on Valladolid. Separating the home in two, a long narrow-path has morphed into a contemporary European-style bar: a place for people to reflect, think, exchange ideas, and perhaps even love.
Its name is Tres Abejas (three bees).
There, on a yellow wall filled with phrases and proverbs, the minuscule flowers bloom again.
This art is the work of Tres Abejas’ owner Leonora Tovar—the niece of Guillermo and daughter of Rafael. Along with her mother Gigi, the director of Sor Juana University, she spent months inventing an imaginary wall-garden.
“I wanted to open Tres Abejas because I had decided to be happy,” explains Tovar, a former lawyer. ‘Nona Tovar,’ as her friends call her, was about to launch a criminal law firm a few months ago when the Soumaya Museum called her and suggested she could be the one spearheading the challenge of turning part of her uncle’s old home into a café.
Cooking became the path toward Tovar’s newfound ambition
“I did not have to think about it twice,” Tovar explained. “I was very content with the law firm project, but somehow cooking and making people happy fulfills myself even more.” Tovar had stopped practicing law when she became a mother. She then taught herself how to bake and soon felt the need to be again professionally active, yet with the clear intent to create purpose and be in search of happiness. A law practice with a lot of pro bono work was the obvious choice. But cooking became the path toward Tovar’s newfound ambition.
“Food is completely intertwined with memory,” she says. “I have always thought that you could divide your life into smells and flavors. Every time I taste a product or a dish, it reminds me of a happy or sad moment; or it reminds me of my childhood,” she adds. “The senses have all memory,” she muses; “The smells, the tastes, and the ear.”
What further spurred her passion for food was a more personal experience with a close relative who lost his appetite. She saw him withering away, losing weight and energy at an alarming pace.
With a resolute optimism and will to help, Tovar decided to cook for him, and not any kind of dish. “I asked him what would be reminiscent of the happiest time in his life, and he mentioned a dessert his grandmother used to prepare for him: a croquette of rice pudding.” Tovar had never heard of such a recipe, which originated in Zacatecas. Undeterred, she went to her kitchen until she succeeded in recreating it. “He loved it; and it did indeed remind him of his mom and childhood. We got him to eat again.”
‘You always go back to the places where you loved life’
“Every time I cook, I want to personalize the choice of dish to the person I cook for. It is encasing time and encasing love or even what I feel for that person,” Tovar explains. This is what she intends to do every day at Tres Abejas.
On the long-yellow-wall, on which a nice breeze seems to blow the painted green leaves into a permanent movement, Tovar has written dozens of sentences, all borrowed from her siblings and friends, from the people she admires and respects. One of them outlines the spirit of Tres Abejas: ‘You always go back to the places where you loved life.’ “Food takes you back to an imaginary place where you did love life,” Tovar adds. The menu itself is a modified rendering of her family recipes: an invitation to her own universe.
Tovar wants the inviting and narrow place to be a café where people feel like they are home. There is Wi-Fi and a USB connection at each seat. Still, she would prefer it if her guests would disconnect for a moment from their digital world and from counting their latest Instagram’s likes. “We should be more conscious of life being so short and fragile.” She would not even mind if her guests wanted to stay a bit longer than the time it takes to eat a salad, or piece of cake or drink a glass of wine.
“As my father used to tell me more than anything else, ‘life works itself out.’”
Tovar does not see Tres Abejas as a business, but more as a lifestyle for her and the passersby alike, whether from the neighborhood or coming from another city or even country.
As for the name, she admits she is superstitious. Her necklace has a lady bug; around her wrist the bracelet that her brother once gave her features a hummingbird, and a jewelry composed of three bees ornate her right ear. The three bees actually represent the three children she’s always wanted. “I have two, and the third bee is not a kid, but a very special person.” She does not know who but is certain that “this ‘someone’ is here to be protect her, to give her luck and keep her healthy.”
Tovar knows bees are on the dangerous path to extinction. She finds reassurance every time she discovers a beehive and one day hopes to have one on the rooftop of 52 Valladolid.
“I am an optimistic,” Tovar says. “As my father used to tell me more than anything else, ‘life works itself out.’” Reflecting on the mantra, she adds, “somehow despite the pain and sadness, life is working itself out.” She might have left her criminal lawyer career aside for the moment, but in continuing her father and uncle’s legacies, she says that “being happy is being successful.” Two words painted on the wall of her new venture seem to perfectly sum up this new chapter for herself: ‘whatever works.’
(This post was also published via First Class Life in Mexico)