The Best Bars Clubs Including San Sebastian and Calle Forteleza
If your impression of the nightlife scene in Puerto Rico is of lots of lively music mixed with mojitos and beautiful and friendly people, then t’s an accurate impression.
San Juan is like that, at least in Old Town, which is where the locals go out on the weekend.
Yes there are the freshy-made mojitos and rum punches. There is also music everywhere, some of it live by local bands. And there is the “party parade,” a mass of people weaving in and out of the many bars continuing deep into the morning when the they – and not necessarily the establishment – decides it’s time to end.
The scene is one to stand back and admire for a moment.
Beautiful girls in short skirts and stilettos click their way down the cobblestone streets. Doors to the vaious bars open and close as if they are revolving. Here, pubclubbing means being on the move, finding the right place to be at the right time.
Fortunately, the choices are plentiful and adjacent to one another, making for an ideal energetic environment. Two streets – San Sebastian and Calle Forteleza – are the prime party places for a good night (or two, or more) in Old San Juan. As such, there is no “despration samba” (you Parrotheads get the analogy).
San Juan is a weekend town, with Fridays and Saturdays coming alive by 11 and lasting until, well, sometimes 6 a.m. Closing time is when the people decide to leave or move onto someplace else.
The Bars And Clubs On Calle Forteleza
While cheaper drinks and a more casual crowd can be found along San Sebastian Sreet, it is along Calle Forteleza – mid-town in Old Town – where the serious pubclubbing takes place in San Juan.
For it is here that the ladies look as if they stepped right out of a high-fashion catalog. Or just off a runway. This means guys must dress accordingly – or the best they can manage. Jeans or slacks and stylish shirts are all but required.
The nightlife choices are as intoxicating as the rum drinks – a cool restro with a jazz band, a lively lounge with the even livelier Hugo making mojitos, the dance club, or the super-late night spot, a funky/retro 70’s hippie-looking lounge.
Heck, even go the bar at the highly popular restaurant Dragon Fly and start up a conversation with someone having a pre-dinner drink. Who knows, you may wind up joining them at a table.
What’s PubClub’s favorite place? Hugo’s spot, of course. It just seems to have the best vibe. The place is called Basiliko and let’s just say the regular locals know a good thing when they find it.
Then again we also like Sonne and Blend.
Sonne is a restaurant with a cool vibe and excellent mojiotos made by the smiling bartender Miguel. A jazz band provides outstanding background music – just subtle enough to please but not loud enough to kill a conversation.
It’s easy to blend in at Blend, a bar that’s bigger and better than it first appears. The crowded front area gives way to a large back room and, eventually, to a patio. It plays cool, cool music.
Back across the street next to Basiliko is Fratelli, which looks in style with its yellow bar backdrop. It’s fairly typical of the lounges here – medium-sized restaurants that become hip bar/lounges by midnight.
Clubbers pack the entrance to Milk, Old Town’s lone dance club. It’s upstairs from street level and has a high-energy dance floor and fairly roomy bar/lounge area. It’s nice, but don’t expect a Vegas-style club. Capacity is a couple of hundred, not mega-club standards of the Strip.
After it’s all over, it’s hardly over, as the insomniacs head to the retro Pink Skirt, where it’s farily common to stay out until 6 a.m.
Cheap Bars And Bands On San Sebastian Street
Drinking in San Juan is not cheap. The lounges of Calle Forteleza charge $10 for a mojito or martini. So it can be expensive to tour this old town.
The scene is a bit different – and more economical – up on San Sebastian Street. Close to the del Morrow fort, it’s a row of pubs, bars and live music venues that appeal to the more casual pubclubber. There are often drink specials, with beers sometimes going for as cheap as a buck-fifty.
A good place to start is Rumba. The rum punch may only be served in a plastic 10-ounce cup but it packs a punch. The live local bands on weekends encourages salsa dancing and the place sets the mood for a night out in Old San Juan.
El Cafe Seda is a best described as a beer bar (and home to some of those cheap beer specials). It’s a small place with a “decor” that looks like it’s a mid-60s place in the Midwest U.S. Yet there’s a band and a super-casual mood.
The Nuyorican Cafe (which is actually on San Francisco Street) is also known for its live music.
This of course, is just the beginning. San Sebastian’s bars go for three-plus blocks on either side of the street, pretty much starting with Rumba and ending with Nono’s, a sports bar with a cool (but often quite) upstairs area with pool tables. This is at the end of San Sebastian at Calle de Cristo and is an excellent thirst-quenching location after a day at the fort or walking around Old Town.
A great time to be here is the third week of January for the San Sebastian Street Festival.
The Original Pina Colada Bar
Barrachina, at the far end of Calle Forteleza, is the Original Pina Colada bar. Back in 1963, a bartender decided he needed an original drink and created this long-lasting island masterpiece.
Today, the bar has live music and while it’s more for the sit-down reserved older crowd, the younger generation will find it’s just fine as a “starter bar.”
And it’s not the only place in the area. Down a couple of streets on Calle Tetuan by the taxi stand are two places full of locals’ action.
It’s all centered around a small courtyard that instantly reminds Greek Islands veterans of the Town Square in Santorini, Greece. It’s lively and active, although unlike Santorini, there is no grabbing a beer or cheap gyro and enjoying it outside.
What is there, instead, is The Brick House, a sports/dive bar that around midnight turns into kind of a poor man’s nightclub. It’s a down-and-dirty place with a super-casual crowd and crankin’ rock music, the level of which is often controlled by the patrons themselves. It’s a favorite hangout of the cruise ship workers. The Brick House also has a reasonable kitchen that stays open late.
It’s next to The Colmbado Bar, a cranking nightspot that’s disguised as a liquor and convenience store. The music is pumping, the people are energetic and it has that “why were we anywhere else” appeal.
The peak weekend times here are 1-3 a.m.
Since Puerto Rico is an island and San Juan is on the coast, it only stands to reason there is nightlife by the beach.
Isle Verde, just a mile from the airport, is home to San Juan’s resort-style hotels. Most of the party places are on the main road. Monigan’s Irish Bar and the Oyster Bar are two cool bars that draw big crowds. And there’s club-style dancing at the Old San Juan Hotel.
Like Old Town, Isle Verde is primed for Friday and Saturday nights. Sundays are quite slow by comparison, but after a day on the sand the Blue Dolphin gets going about 4 p.m. It’s next to the lovely La Playita, which has a bar shaped like a boat and a deck looking out to sea. “Sunset wars” could break out between these two places. Monoco Beach, a small club/lounge bar, is popular among locals in the daytime.
Old Town Sports Bars
Puerto Rico has produced many outstanding athletes in its history. In fact, there’s a Wall of Fame in Isle Verde dedicated to the island’s sports heroes.
But when it comes to sports bars, it’s difficult for a gringo to find a place to show that favorite college football team. Most of the bars just have cable and show what happens to be on at the time. However, a few places do have a satellite so it’s possible to have a little taste of Americana in Old San Juan.
The aforementioned Brick House is one spot. It has a big screen and two smaller TVs. Naturally, if others are watching another game before your arrival, then it’s time to move elsewhere. Also, the Brick House does not open until 5 p.m., so forget it for morning or afternoon affairs.
Senior Frogs, because it caters to the cruise shippers, has multiple TVs, drinks served in large plastic “party cups.” surprisingly tasty and filling food and an accommodating staff willing to search the skies for any game on the air. In other words, it’s perfect. Except for the parade of cruise shippers who trample into the place with their souvenirs seeking not sports, but tourist-style gastronomic pleasures. But hey, like we said, Senior Frogs has drinks in large “party cups.”
A much more locals’ hangout, and just an ideal place for getting off the feet on a warm afternoon, is Nono’s on San Sebastian. Two TVs – including a big screen – and a bar lined with regulars make this a true taste of Old San Juan.
Can You Drink in the Streets?
Drinking in the streets of Old San Juan is illegal. Then again, locals do it. So what exactly is the protocol? Well, don’t do it just to be on the safe side.
If caught – and unlikely but not impossible situation – play dumb. Say you didn’t know, it’s your first time in town, you won’t do it again, etc. And apologize.
However, if temptation gets the best of you, put the drinks in plastic cups. And if you emerge from Senior Frogs with the blatantly-obvious, large neon container that shouts CRUISE LINE TOURIST. DO NOT TOUCH!!!, well then, you should be okay.
The Truth Being All Those ‘Pina Colada’ Stands
Don’t be fooled by those tempting-looking pina colada carts all over Old Town. They are selling flavored ice cream, not the popular cocktail.