Something New In Old San Juan

The Ritz-Carlton spices up Puerto Rico

By: Jill Fergus

This is the first Image
The Ritz-Carlton fronts a
prime stretch of beach.
San Juan, with its rich history and sizzling salsa clubs, is swinging once again. This cosmopolitan Caribbean city is easy to reach, English is widely spoken and U.S. dollars are accepted, so if you haven’t been in awhile, it’s time to give San Juan another look.

In Old San Juan, an emerging culinary scene is spicing up Fortaleza Street and fashion houses like Gucci and Dior have opened boutiques in the Condado neighborhood. Of course, San Juan is also known for its glitzy beachfront resorts and one of the most upscale is the Ritz-Carlton, which fronts a prime stretch of beach in Isla Verde and is just minutes from the airport. Its services and amenities (pool, spa, casino) are first-rate and now, with the addition of two restaurants, it has become even more of a place to see and be seen.

One of the island’s most anticipated openings was that of BLT Steak, the third branch of French-born chef Laurent Tourondel’s super-successful modern steakhouse the others are in New York and D.C. The sexy space, with plush chocolate-brown banquettes, polished wooden floors and black-and-white photos of Old San Juan, is warm and inviting. Feast on braised short ribs, Kobe strip steak, porterhouse and other mouth-watering cuts of beef with a choice of nine dipping sauces and sinfully rich sides (potato gratin, gnocchi, creamy spinach, etc.). And so you don’t forget you’re in the tropics, there’s a pina colada sundae on the dessert menu.

This is the second Image
Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Steak
Another recently opened restaurant in the hotel is Il Mulino, a branch of the popular Italian restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. And the lobby bar has been redone with a more contemporary look and is now a hub of activity for both tourists and locals; on weekends, bands play anything from jazz to pop to salsa music.

The 416 guestrooms are elegantly designed in a soothing palette of russets, yellows and greens and feature tropical-style artwork, mahogany furnishings, king-sized beds with duvets and wrought-iron lamps (many overlook the beach from the large picture windows). Other perks that are sure to please discerning guests are the flat-screen TVs, numerous full-length mirrors and the Bulgari amenities in the marble baths. The garden suites come with their own pool-level patios but are enclosed by shrubbery to offer maximum privacy it’s a great spot to enjoy breakfast or pre-dinner cocktails. The presidential suite, which has been used by such luminaries as Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, has a dining room, kitchen and whirlpool bathtub. It is located on the ninth floor, Club Level, where guests have access to a private lounge with complimentary snacks and cocktails served throughout the day.

The pool area, surrounded by beautifully landscaped tropical gardens, features a large marble fountain and six coralstone water-spouting lions (the Ritz-Carlton’s symbol), which makes for a dramatic setting, yet it’s not stuffy at all (as evidenced by the many families). There’s also an outdoor hot tub, just steps from the beach, where hammocks and a slew of watersports await.

This is the second Image
The Lobby Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton
San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino
The 12,000-square-foot spa offers treatments like Cafe con Leche, a detoxifying coffee and coconut milk scrub, a rainforest stone massage and a papaya-and-mango facial. Browse in the gift shop stocked with scented candles and glamorous resort wear like beaded sandals and glittery camisoles.

Be sure to spend some time in Old San Juan (a 20-minute taxi ride), enclosed by several old forts, including the 16th-century El Morro built by the Spanish. Check out the souvenir shops selling painted wooden santos, Puerto Rican cigars and Bacardi rum, and late night, follow the crowds to Barrachina on Fortaleza, where the pina colada was supposedly invented.

If, upon your return, you’re still not ready to call it a night, the hotel’s casino, which always seems to be buzzing with sunburned merry-makers sipping local Medalla beers and playing craps, blackjack and roulette, is open 24 hours.


The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino

Commission: 10 percent