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GITANO | James Gardner Welcomes You Home

Tendrils of NY nightlife laced in the Carribean Coastline

Written by

Soaree Cohen

Photographed by

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There is a stillness in Tulum, one of beauty and spirit. Maybe it’s because of the inherent reverence of the seaside that makes everything after the edges of the sand disappear. Or maybe the stillness you feel is intrinsic and purposeful because last night you were drunk, too drunk. Or at least I was after enjoying the fruits of what Tulum has to offer and chainsmoking reds like I am still a teenager. Whether it be the beauty or last night’s festivities that has you frozen in space, Tulum is something of a time machine or a safe haven–a place where you can truly just be and forget everything else. 

See James Gardner, nightlife darling and founder of GITANO who has invited Flaunt to explore his Tulum offerings Gitano Meze, Gitano Jungle, and of course Gitano Beach, when he laces the tendrils of a night in NY to the Carribean coastline. “We are free-spirits, diverse, eclectic, curious, conscious, and creative.” Gardner shares, “This mindset has attracted a vibrant community to Tulum over the years. Then add a layer of our fun fashion years living in New York City, and you have the GITANO juxtaposition of glamour and disco!” 

In our long weekend together, we found ourselves immersed with enjoying old connections and new. I danced, I ate ceviche, sipped (gulped) mezcal, and skinny-dipped with a soul connection as we watched the moon align with the disco ball on the beach. But it is not just the glitz and the glam that will always call me back, nor the bites of lobster or the freedom of my body on the rocks while something 140 bpm plays in the distance. It’ll be the feeling of being daring. To talk to people you’ve never met, to move like no one is watching or like everyone is watching. 

On Gitano Beach–the private locale where I spent more of my nights in Tulum–I found myself questioning if there was anything more important than the feeling of true kismet, knowing where you are supposed to be in a moment of time.

Feet in salt water and hands playing with its shadow on the sand, you’ll find yourself surrendering in Tulum. It’s hard not to when you feel so at home. 

Bree Castillo: Can you describe the Gitano ethos? How does Tulum expand on this?

James Gardner: “Live a Little, Be a Gypsy, Get Around,” a line from a Paul & Linda McCartney 1971 song, perfectly captures our ethos: have fun in the present moment, live life to its fullest, travel and explore, don't limit yourself. GITANO has a fresh hospitality perspective, viewing it through a mindful, bohemian fashion lens.

We started coming to Tulum over 20 years ago when it was a very different place, a spot for hippies, nomads, and a select few insiders in the fashion industry. We fell in love with its natural beauty, rich heritage, and a direct flight from NYC. Every time we were in St Barts, Mykonos or even Miami, we often said that we wished Tulum had somewhere to get dressed up and go out for dinner and dancing! So, we created GITANO! It is hard to believe that was almost ten years ago.

GITANO was born in the Tulum Jungle, and the first few years were wild in every sense of the word, from challenges we faced to the fun we had. We are inspired not only by the lush tropical jungle, crystal blue Caribbean Ocean and white sand beaches of Tulum but also Spanish Colonial towns of the Yucatan and by Mexico in general.

Bree: Being in Tulum, there is this energy of connection between the people you meet there. How is this inherent sense of community cultivated through Gitano?  

James: Tulum has a very powerful energy, dark and light, dating back to the ancient Mayans, and has attracted a community of like-minded people. We felt that GITANO had the opportunity to create a platform to bring people together in a beautifully designed, physical space at one with nature, a place where people can put on looks, drink mezcal, share a delicious meal, vibe to fun music and dance. GITANO is the place to see, be seen, and to connect.

Bree: I saw that all your restaurants use local ingredients. Besides the obvious benefits, is that connecting of culture something important for you to infuse with the experience?

James: Absolutely, we believe that the kitchen and our food is the heart and soul of our restaurants and the entire experience.  Sourcing high quality, local, organic ingredients in the first years was a big challenge and, yes is a very important part of the experience. We have, over the years-built important relationships with local providers and farmers. 

The GITANO food and beverage concepts are both inspired by Mexico and the local Yucatan culture.  We were the first Mezcal bar back in 2013 and Mezcal cocktails are our signature, we have established relationships directly with Polanco’s in Oaxaca for example.  Our GITANO food menu is Modern Mexican and we have been able to develop authentic Mexican dishes with our Executive Chef Antonio Maldonado from Puebla in Mexico.

Our Lobster Tostada with big chunks of fresh local lobster, chipotle mayo and cilantro is our take on a lobster roll served in all GITANO locations and is a big hit. The branzino in banana leaf with spinach and tomatillo is also at all locations and a star.  I am very excited by the new dinner menu that Chef Antonio has created in Tulum with a grilled avocado and hiramassa tostada, and an incredible short rib birria.  We will have an exciting new menu this season at GITANO ISLAND in NYC also, to be announced very soon.

Bree: What do you hope visitors take home with them when visiting all the properties? Not only in Tulum but the whole Grupo Gitano portfolio?

James: At all of our properties, we transport guests to another place and even another time. We designed our Jungle Room in Tulum to look like it was built 100 years ago and discovered hidden in the Jungle, taking guests back to the glamour of pre-revolution Cuba, perhaps. MEZE Tulum, our sister Greek Taverna restaurant, transports guest to the Aegean Islands in our whitewashed hacienda with Yaya’s home-cooked Greek Food. And then of course there is GITANO Island in NYC, reopening in May 2023, which transports guests, well, to Tulum Beach without taking a flight! 

So, we hope our guests leave every experience at GITANO with an unexpected sense of freedom and joy, of love and happiness, new connections, new dance partners, in a way that they almost don’t know what just happened, and they spread the word and come back for more!

We also hope they will take some physical reminder back with them and buy something fabulous from SOUK GITANO, a marketplace of exquisite goods and essentials for the modern Nomad that we design and curate, and including some chic, branded GITANO products from t-shirts and hats to gold signet rights with our G logo.

Bree: What can we look forward to from you and Gitano?

James: GITANO ISLAND will be reopening with a big splash in May 2023 and we are so excited to unveil the new season, with a new menu, exciting events, and a full summer of fun programming! It will certainly be the place to be in NYC this summer!

We absolutely love Mexico and in particular Mexico City. We had a very successful pop-up during Zona Maco 2022 and are now working to transform the property in Juarez into our permanent home GITANO MEXICO CITY later this year.

People have told us for some time that they wish to stay with us; they love the design, the vibe, the culture, and community of GITANO.  So we are actively working on the launch of CASA GITANO Hotels & Residences, but it’s too early to share more than that.  We gave a little taste in Tulum with a CASA GITANO pop-up and will announce more news.

We are grateful to have many people approaching us to take GITANO to other locations, but we are very focused on ensuring that any new location is unique and perfect in every way. We see the next GITANO locations in Los Angeles of course, Europe and Dubai.

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Gitano, James Gardner, Tulum, GITANO BEACH, GITANO MEZE, GITANO JUNGLE
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