Whatever your nocturnal craving, San José has something to please. The Tico Times and the “Viva” section of La Nación have listings of what’s on in San José. Also pick up a copy of GAM Cultural What’s Going On, a fold-out pamphlet issued free at tourist venues, which includes events and a handy map.
Bars aimed at tourists are concentrated in “Gringo Gulch” (Calles 5/9, Aves. Central/3), but many are salacious, and muggings on the street are frequent. Bars in San Pedro are more bohemian, catering to the university crowd and upscale Ticos. Most of the other class acts are in Escazú, about five kilometers (3 miles) west of town. Avoid the spit-and-sawdust working-class bars, where patrons often fight. Alas, smoking in bars is still permitted.
DowntownHoused in a remodeled colonial building, Bar Morazán (Ave. 3, Calle 9, tel. 506/2221-9527, 11am-2:30am Mon.-Fri., 5pm-3am Sat.) draws an eclectic crowd for its warm ambience within redbrick walls adorned with traffic signs. It has a jukebox and serves meals. The house drink is a guaro melón—sugarcane liquor with fruit juice.
Catercorner, the slightly salacious Key Largo (Calle 7, Aves. 1/3, tel. 506/2221-0277, 11am-3am daily) draws a Latin clientele with dancing to live music (pop on Tues.-Wed. and Fri., tropical music Thurs., 1960s hits Sat.). Local prostitutes have always been an abiding presence.
Local bohemians prefer the laid-back El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte (Ave. 1, Calles 21/23, tel. 506/2221-0327, 11:30am-2pm and 6pm-2am Mon.-Wed. and Fri., 6pm-midnight Thurs., 6pm-2am Sat., men $4, women free), a popular hangout for young Josefinos and the late-night after-theater set. The brick-walled bar is famous for its 152 inventive cocktails, often served to wild ceremony and applause. It has live music on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and doesn’t get in the groove until around 10pm.
Around the corner from El Cuartel, El Observatorio (Calle 23, Aves. Central/1, tel. 506/2223-0725, 6pm- 2am Mon.-Sat.) plays up the movie theme (the Cine Magaly is across the road), with movie posters and occasional screenings. High ceilings lend an airy ambience. It has live music most nights, with something for every taste.
The liveliest spot among gringos is the 24-hour Blue Marlin Bar (Calle 9, Ave. 1, tel. 506/2257-7800), in the Hotel Del Rey. Fishermen gather here to trawl for a good time with the working girls. The Blue Marlin screens U.S. sports, as does the more upscale yet similarly inclined Sportsmens Lodge (Calle 13, Aves. 9/11, tel. 506/2221-2533), which has a great pool room.
West of Downtown
The Shakespeare Bar (Ave. 2, Calle 28, tel. 506/2258-6787, noon-midnight daily) serves an intellectual crowd, drawn to the adjoining Teatro Laurence Olivier and Sala Garbo cinema. It has a piano bar and sometimes hosts live jazz. On Sabana Sur, Mac’s (tel. 506/2231-3145, 9am-2am daily) is a TV bar popular with gringos. There’s a pool table upstairs.
As close as you can get to Miami or New York in Costa Rica, Rapsodia (Paseo Colón, Calle 40, tel. 506/2248-1720, 5pm-2:45am Tues.-Sat.) is one of the chicest lounge bars in the city with its minimalist decor and retro lava-lamp videos. It has multiple levels and spaces, including outdoors, with DJs and dancing.
Sophisticates also head to the Casablanca VIP Lounge (Paseo Colón and Calle 32, tel. 506/8394-5458, noon-5am Mon.-Sat.), looking like a chic transplanted piece of Miami’s South Beach, with its parachute drapes, open-air lounge, and neon lighting. It serves Mediterranean tapas and has nightly themes, including live music on Friday and an electronic DJ on Saturday.
East of Downtown
Nova Río (Calle 41, tel. 506/2283-1548, 8pm-3am Mon-Sat.), on Avenida Central in Los Yoses, has been reborn as a chill-out lounge with TVs showing music videos. A hip young crowd gathers for schmoozing to a background of eclectic sounds, from electronic to current hits. Nearby, Sands Rock Bar (tel. 506/2281-0307, 5pm-5am nightly), opposite Mall San Pedro, is rock-and-roll central, with live concerts and some heavy metal thrown in for good measure.
Calles Central, 3 (also known as Calle de Amargura), and 5, north of Avenida Central in San Pedro, are lined with student bars that serve the university crowd.
Fancy a pint of Guinness? Then head to Stan’s Irish Pub (tel. 506/2253-4360, 4pm-2am Mon.-Fri., 4pm-3am Sat., 11am-11pm Sun.), 125 meters (410 feet) west of the Casa Presidencial, in the southeasterly district of Zapote. Owner Stanley Salas sells more than 60 types of beer from around the world. Look for daily specials, live music on Tuesday, open mike on Saturday, plus comedy nights.
San José now has a pair of Hooters (tel. 506/2225-1303, 11am-1am daily). The original is in Escazú, and the second one is in Barrio Dent south of the Rotonda de la Bandera. Good beer, good cheer, and a classy contemporary ambience. What’s not to like? It’s a hoot! And it gets packed. Warm up here, then head to ChiChi’s (tel. 506/2225-4320, 4pm-2:30am Mon.-Thurs., 11am-2:30am Fri.-Sun.), one block north in Plaza Antares, a sophisticated sports bar with glass walls and a super-chic decor.
The no-frills Bahamas Bar (Calle 25, Aves. 8/10, tel. 506/4030-1328, 5pm-2am Tues.-Sat.), in Barrio California, plays on a beach theme and draws locals en masse for live music and cheap cocktails. You can also shoot pool.
In San Pedro, Jürgen’s (tel. 506/2283-2239, noon-2:30pm and 6pm-10pm Mon.-Fri., 6pm-11pm Sat.) has a tasteful cigar lounge with leather seats.
Downtown at the risqué Hotel Little Havana is The Cigar Bar (Ave. 9, Calle 5 bis, tel. 506/2257-8624, 24 hours daily), which aims for an upscale male clientele with its classy humidor, games room, sumptuous suites, and female “accompaniment.”
Discos and Clubs
El Pueblo (9pm-2am daily), in Barrio Tournón, boasts a fistful of discos plus a dozen shoulder-to-shoulder bars tucked into a warren of alleyways and featuring everything from salsa to Bolivian folk music. The most sophisticated disco is Ebony 56 (tel. 506/2223-2195, 8pm-4am Thurs.-Sun.), which revs things up with two dance floors and live bands on weekdays. Next door is Twister (tel. 506/2222-5749, 7pm-4am Tues.-Sat.), with a choice of three dance floors playing salsa, rock, and Latin sounds. Bongo’s (tel. 506/2222-5746, 6pm-4am daily) has Latin dancers on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mojitos Dance Club (tel. 506/2233-5516, 8pm-2am Thurs.-Sun.), outside El Pueblo, is larger and most stylish than any of the above venues. It specializes in Latin sounds and offers free dance lessons 6pm-9pm Friday.
Also drawing newbies with free salsa lessons, Salsa 54 (Calle 3, Aves. 1/3, tel. 506/2223-3814, 7pm-4am Mon.-Sat., 2pm-9pm Sun., $3) also draws dance aficionados for salsa. DJs also spin yesteryear hits, reggae, and more.
For electronica, techno, and rave-style partying, hit the recently restyled and reenergized Vértigo (tel. 506/2257-8424, 8pm-4am Mon.-Sat.), in Edificio Colón on Paseo Colón. It has high ceilings and a classy VIP section, and it hosts some of the world’s top DJs.
Hidden away in Barrio Amón, Antik Restaurant & Bar (Ave. 11 and Calle 3B, tel. 506/2288-4949, 4pm-2:30am daily) is a compact and cool spot with a great lineup of DJs, plus live music on Saturday nights. It has a dance floor and a club on the upper level, and a lounge bar downstairs. Theme nights include Ladies Night (Tues.) and House (Thurs.).
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.