The hangover became a part of the day
as well allowed for as the Spanish siesta.
~ My Lost City, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896-1940
Thinking nightlife? Think dancing. Ticos and Ticas love to bailar,
dance, and they are so good it’s intimidating. Many clubs and bars
have dance floors that become crowded with dancers of all ages, but it is by
no means the only nightlife that San José has to offer.
The Teatro Nacional (. 506/221-1329), the Teatro Melico Salazar (. 506/221-
5341) and the Auditorio Nacional (. 506/223-7003) in the Children’s
Museum lay claim to the country’s high culture. The symphony season
runs from March through November (check with the box offices for scheduled
performances). Modern dance troupes and small theatrical groups
find audiences at several of the smaller theater stages around town.
The crown jewel of the art scene is the National Festival of Arts (www.
festivalcostarica.org), featuring Tico talent in odd-numbered years and
international performers and artists in even-numbered años. The festival
runs every March, all month long, and boasts multiple venues around
But if it’s not March and you’re still looking for a good time, pick up the
Tico Times and La Nacion (one of several Spanish-language daily newspapers)
for listings of movies, music and mischief.
El Pueblo (Barrio Tournón, just north of the downtown, go by
taxi) was built as an imitation Spanish colonial-era village. The
buildings contain gift shops, art studios, funky little bars and intimate
restaurants. As the big draw, El Pueblo features El Infinito, a
popular dance/disco spot that offers varied musical styles on its three
dance floors. No cover.We always merengue here because we can’t salsa.
Another good but small dance club in the complex is Cocolocos. But El
Pueblo offers much more than disco for an evening’s entertainment.
Sadly, La Esmeralda (on Av 2 between Calles 5&7, near the Teatro) has
closed. It once was a bar/restaurant where you could get a beer, boca, and
be serenaded by the numerous mariachi groups.
Our sentimental favorite, Tango Bar, is hidden among the nooks and
crannies of El Pueblo’s warren of shops and bars. Like a step back in
time, you enter the evening-only, hole-in-the-wall tango bar through an
old orange curtain. Inside, the walls are lined with black-and-white photos
of ancient singers and musicians from Argentina’s golden age of
tango. Tables crowd the tiny space. The bar maid is geriatric and so is the
accordion player/singer, who performs tango standards and teary South
American ballads. They take requests. If we only knew the words as well
as the inebriated expatriate Argentine regulars at the bar, we’d sing
along too. It’s a wonderful place to sit and listen, nurse a beer or mixed
drink, and play a part in a life drama you won’t find anywhere else – even
“The Tango sums up the feelings of a people – the pain, the happiness,
the irony and the roughness of life,” Maria Julia Berdé, a
Tango dance producer, told A. M. Costa Rica News. “There is a
tango for each situation in life and its followers exalt it above any
other existing rhythm.”
If you’d like to dance, or see the tango danced, (the bar in El Pueblo is too
small) find Sabor y Sueños Restaurant in Barrio Escalante. Located 25
meters/82 feet west of the Rotanda del Farolito (a traffic circle with a
street lamp) and two blocks northeast of St. Teresita’s Church. They also
feature professional dance shows.
When you’ve had enough Argentine nostalgia in El Pueblo, slip out and
wander among the little bars and artsy shops, have a late-night snack at
one of the many little eateries that pop up around every corner. Or dine at
La Cocina de Leña ($$-$$$), which specializes in typical Costa Rican
food. Try the three-meat soup, Olla de Carne Típica.
Across the street from El Pueblo is another happening dance/disco hall.
La Plaza has a very large dance floor and lots of young people. Very popular.
Be sure to have your feet check it out.
El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte (Av 1, Calle 21 & 23) is the east end’s
hottest singles bar and the place to be seen. Live music on Monday,
Wednesday and Friday night means wall-to-wall people. It still attracts
some of the artsy crowd that made its name, as well as hard bodies who
work as tour and rafting guides. Very interesting mix.
Risas (Calle 1 between Av Central and Av 1) is a downtown storefront
dance bar and restaurant occupying three floors of a beautiful old brick
building. The restaurant has a pleasing ambiance and reasonably priced
food. The dance floor throbs with heavy techno, Top 40 rock, and Latin
beats. It attracts mostly a young crowd and has a second-floor peanut gallery
for those who want to watch. Aslide runs from the second story down
to the exit.We went out for a night here with some British Embassy staff
members and had a real blast (after all, they have three bars). US $2
cover buys a beer.
Salsa 54 (Calle 3, Av 1 & 3). Since we can’t salsa very well and Ticos can,
we like to watch them whirl on the raised stage at Salsa 54. If you’re in
town for a while and want to improve your steps, ask about lessons in
Latin dance here. This dance floor is crowded with locals, couples and
singles. One adjoining hall offers slow, close-dancing romantic bolero music,
while another hall blasts techno rock. Some of the best dancers head
here or to El Tobogan.
El Tobogan (250 meters/822 feet north, 175/576 west of the La
República offices; take a cab) offers a huge dance floor that fills with gyrating
bodies moving to the beat of live music. It’s worth a trip here to
hear live bands, who vary in quality and all know how to keep the beat.
The Shakespeare Bar won’t make you smarter. But it’s smart to have a
drink or eat at this quiet but popular place under the Laurence Olivier
Theater. (It’s next to the Sala Garbo complex, Av 2 at Calle 28.) Perfect for
a before- or after-play hangout. Jazz is the music of choice.
El Tunel del Tiempo (Av Central, Calle 11&13).We hear the “Tunnel of
Time” is the spot to go after hours – 2 am until 10 am the next morning.
Well past our bedtime.
You may choose to people-watch, drink and eat at some famous
all-night eateries. Two places vie for top position on the list of
all-nighters. La Parisian is a very good outdoor/veranda restaurant
in front of the Gran Hotel. Everyone passes by here sooner or
later. Chelles (Av Central walkway at Calle 9) is a low-rent favored spot
of local Ticos, but equally appealing to tourists. Despite the traffic on the
corner, Chelles dining area is clean and neat with red chairs, a white tile
floor and hardwood walls. The food is cheap and generous – try their Cuban
sandwich. Great for people-watching.
Other 24-hour eating-places include Manolo’s (Av Central), Pollo Frito
Pío Pío (Av 2, Calle 2), Restaurant don Amado (Av 2, Calle 6) and the
open-all-weekend Soda Tapia, on the southeast side of Sabana Park.
Lastly, if you are desperate for late-night bland American food, there’s a
new Denny’s at the Best Western Irazú. And La Esmeralda serves until
very late or very early, depending on your perspective.
Gay & Lesbian Nights
La Avispa (Av 1, between 7 & 8) is lesbian-owned bar that features
three dance floors, big screen TV and pool tables. It’s a
“rolled-up-shirt-sleeves” kind of place with good music. La
Avispa draws gay men, especially Tuesday nights, and local lesbian
women to dance. Closed Mondays.
A lively place for people of all sexual persuasions to go clubbing is Deja
Vu (Calle 2, Av 14 & 16). With loud techno, salsa and dance music, Deja
Vu is a magnet for gay men and straight party people – especially on the
weekends when a well-dressed crowd fills the two dance floors. Café and
souvenir shop. Drag shows.
One neighborhood gay-friendly, restaurant/bar is Kasbah (Calle Central,
Av7&9), which features a faux Moorish décor and an Internet café.
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