Salsa dancing is a popular nightlife activity. // © 2015 Puerto Rico Tourism Company
Feature image (above): El Barril features a 28-foot bar and international DJs. // © 2015 Puerto Rico Tourism Company
There are only a few destinations in the Caribbean capable of combining a beach vacation with a city getaway featuring great nightlife. San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the clear champion in this category, offering everything from sleek clubs, discos and casinos to tiny venues where salsa reigns supreme.
There are also a variety of neighborhoods with rich contrasts. For example, in Condado, the nightlife has a hip and sophisticated edge, and in Old San Juan, visitors find tradition and local color.
One of my go-to venues in San Juan is Mist, the rooftop bar and lounge at San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel in Isla Verde. Guests catch the breeze as the sun sinks into the sea in a South Beach-style environment, complete with a DJ supplying international beats. Mist is famous for its “Socializers” — small plates that encourage people to share. San Juan nightlife tends to begin late, so spending a few hours at Mist is a fine way to rev the engines.
A longtime favorite for early evening fun is Red Coral Lounge, the lobby bar in the beachfront San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. Lots of locals come in for live music and dancing, and it’s a great place to brush up on Latin dance moves, especially salsa and Merengue. The bar also serves a killer signature cocktail, the “Dragon Berry Mojito.”
Into the Night
Two popular spots in Condado are Oceano, where guests can enjoy dinner, a dance floor and free salsa lessons on Tuesday evenings, and El Barril, a restaurant that mixes beats from international DJs and drinks at its 28-foot bar.
Travelers can make it a complete night out at Hilton’s El San Juan Resort & Casino, A Hilton Hotel in Isla Verde. The hotel, which features a range of restaurants and a casino, is also the site of Club Brava & Ultra Lounge. Club Brava is a sophisticated, high-energy two-level nightclub located off the lobby of the hotel, offering dancing on the lower floor or chill times upstairs in the club’s upscale lounge. Expect a lot of pretty party people who are dressed to be noticed. Often, Latin celebs will drop into Club Brava, including superstars Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria.
Salsa is the music and dance that powers the nightlife of San Juan. It’s not the simplest dance to learn, but visitors will find willing teachers throughout the city.
A prime locale is Nuyorican Cafe, right in the heart of Old San Juan. One of the city’s cultural and bohemian landmarks, it becomes steamy and crowded when things get going. Celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Elton John make a point of dropping in when they breeze through town. Free salsa lessons are available on Wednesday evenings at 9 p.m.
If bar hopping is in order, Old San Juan is the place, with many watering holes within walking distance of one another along the quarter’s cobblestone streets. Some of the most popular spots are the bars lining Calle San Sebastian, including Candela, known for its artsy crowd; El Patio de Sam, pouring drinks since the 1950s; and Nono’s, right off Plaza San Jose and famous for its mojitos.
For something a little different, visitors should climb onboard La Rumba Party Cruise, a floating nightclub that takes full advantage of San Juan’s unique coastal location. La Rumba sails Friday, Saturdays and Sundays, offering two-hour cruises with music, drinking and dancing, plus Old San Juan as the picturesque backdrop. Guests can board La Rumba at Pier 1 in Old San Juan.
The nightlife scene in San Juan is a constantly shifting one, with various venues on the rise and others going dark all the time. But, one thing is constant: San Juan will always offer dedicated night owls more options than they could possibly explore in just one visit.