Celebrating 30 years of existence, Carlos O’Brian’s (Paseo Díaz Ordaz 796, Malecon, tel. 322/222-1444, www.carlos-obrians.com, 11 a.m.–4 a.m. daily) is a local institution on the Malecón. They used to say if you haven’t been here, you haven’t been to Vallarta. Today, it continues to be a popular place for tourists who want to party with people they don’t know. The age range spans college-age youngsters to middle-aged empty nesters. Tall beers and energetic waiters add to the festive atmosphere, so be prepared to say hello to your neighbors as you share tequila shots.
At the time it was built, Christine (NH Krystal Hotel, Zona Hotelera, tel. 322/224-6990, 10 p.m.–6 a.m. daily; cover varies) was the best modern disco in town, and served tourists and visitors more than the local community. While still chic, Christine is now more democratic, but prices can still be high for locals. The indoor auditorium-style design allows for viewing the dance floor from any angle. With flashing lights and pounding music, this young persons’ paradise is worth dancing the night away.
Hard Rock Cafe (Paseo Díaz Ordaz 652, Malecón, tel. 322/222-2230, www.hardrock.com, 11 a.m.–2 a.m. daily), the Vallarta location of the international chain, offers friendly, efficient service with the same menu you’ve come to know if you’re a fan. The music is loud, even in the daytime, but then that comes with the territory. On weekends there is usually live rock music from local and visiting bands, and a small dance floor will let you warm up since the space always seems to be chilly from strong air-conditioning. College-age tourists take over Hard Rock after midnight, but the atmosphere is more family-oriented during the earlier hours.
When Hilo (Paseo Díaz Ordaz 588, Malecon, tel. 322/223-5361, 4 p.m.–4 a.m. daily) opened across from the Malecón, the two-floor-high sculpture of a woman leaning out to peer toward the sea caused a sensation. The oceanview tables here are great for a drink at sunset. A high second- floor mezzanine might cause vertigo, but climb up to find yourself above the very Mexican sculptures. The dance floor gets crowded with tourists sometime after midnight, and the music pounds into the night at this fun club. The later it gets, the higher the decibels, so don’t plan on talking once the dancing starts.
Pronounced “ho-ta-bei” for the letters JB in Spanish, J&B (Fco. M. Ascencio 2043, Zona Hotelera, tel. 322/224-4616, 10 p.m.–6 a.m. daily, cover $9) offers the best ambience for dancing to Latin music with locals. (The club actually opens at 8 p.m. for dance classes during the week. See www.tangobar-productions.com for information.) The night usually starts with DJ-spun music, but on weekends it alternates with live music. Try out your steps in salsa, rumba, merengue, cha-cha, tango, and more in this true community spot where most people get on the floor and dance. If you’re part of a group, buy an entire bottle of liquor with mixers for a better deal.
Cuba staunchly holds its own in downtown Puerto Vallarta with La Bodeguita del Medio (Paseo Díaz Ordaz 858, Malecón, tel. 322/223-1585, 8 a.m.–1 a.m. daily), which serves up not only the best mojitos in town but also the hottest live Latin music. The tiny dance floor doesn’t deter reveling regulars. Revolutionary Cuba is reflected in the huge one-star flag that covers one wall, while the other walls are scribbled with notes, signatures, and epithets in pre-revolutionary style.
The rhythm of the Caribbean fills the large Big Band–style space of Mambocafé (Plaza Marina, local A-50, Marina Vallarta, tel. 322/221-1940, www.mambocafe.com.mx, 10 p.m.–5 a.m. Wed.–Sat., cover $3–6), part of a national chain that has locations in all the coastal tourist destinations. This place was made for dancing, and that’s exactly what the locals come to do: The floor hosts mambo, samba, cha-cha, and more, with live music to keep it all going. The crowd tends to be older, and the attire is on the classy side, with women in slinky dresses and men in slacks and shirts—and everyone is wearing good dance shoes. Avoid the drinks—they are not cheap and not even very good.
With the slogan “Please don’t act your age,” Señor Frog’s (Venustiano Carranza 218, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/222-5177, www.senorfrogs.com/puertovallarta, 10 p.m.–4 a.m. Tues., Fri., and Sat., 10 p.m.–1 a.m. all other nights) is where to have a casual, raucous evening. Wet T-shirt contests say it all, but they’re equal opportunity: There are wet-shorts nights as well. DJs usually keep the place hopping, but on special occasions there is live music with a cover charge. Drinks are large and run freely. Expect dancing on the bar, although not necessarily by those trained to do so. A limited menu is also available for patrons in need of a few more calories to keep the night going.
When you want to dance and conga line with strangers, the Zoo (Paseo Díaz Ordaz 630, Malecón, tel. 322/222-4945, www.zoobardance.com, 11 a.m.–6 a.m. daily) is the perfect spot to release inhibitions that were in hiding until a couple of tequila shots jolted them loose. A 200-pound costumed gorilla may meet you on the street to invite you in, where a party of tourists will most likely become your new best friends. The decor of mounted animal heads and other zoo-like paraphernalia lives up to this nightspot’s name.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition