A comfortable street-side neighborhood bar, Apaches (Olas Altas 439, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/222-5235, apaches2000 [at] yahoo [dot] com, 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Mon.–Sat.) isn’t trying to amaze or astound you, so expect to be able to relax, whether with old or new friends. A longtime favorite of locals and repeat visitors to Vallarta, this lesbian-owned establishment always treats you like you matter. While it sometimes might be a bit dusty around the edges, it’s always a great place to spend the afternoon or evening.
Los Amigos (Venustiano Carranza 239, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/222-7802, 6 p.m.–4 a.m. daily) brings in those who are not necessarily on the prowl or trying to be chic. The friendly service convinces patrons to stick around this laid-back neighborhood hangout, despite the draw of two popular gay hangouts next door. Daily specials offered 6–8 p.m. include 20-peso cocktails and 10-peso beers.
In a well-located space that previously housed the popular Palms, Bench and Bar (Olas Altas 508, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/223-4818, www.bench-and-bar.com/pv/, 9 p.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Thurs., 9 p.m.–4 a.m. Fri.–Sat.) produces hot Latin nights with men, music, and drink specials. Wi-Fi is free for patrons and a full events calendar keeps the regulars entertained. The stage features Ida Slapter’s popular drag show, and happy hour is 5–9 p.m. daily. Stop in early or stay late. Entertainment nights usually have a cover charge.
Primarily serving the guests of the Blue Chairs Resort, Blue Sunset Roof Bar (Hotel Blue Chairs Resort, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/222-5040, www.hotelbluechairs.com, 7 p.m.–11 p.m. daily) is nevertheless accessible by elevator to the passing public. Ask about the entertainment—frequently a visiting chanteuse or reigning drag queen will put on a show on the weekends during the busy season. The friendly wait staff will keep that drink refreshed, and the casual atmosphere opens up the possibility of meeting new friends.
The Cheeky Monkey (Corona at the Malecón, www.cheekymonkeypv.com, noon–4 a.m. daily) is the only gay-owned club located on the popular Malecón in downtown Vallarta. Climb to the third floor after locating the side-door on Corona, just in from the corner of Paseo Díaz Ordaz. Good drinks and snacks are served with panache and a friendly flair. Don’t take the raunchy website too seriously—this place is quite tame and friendly. It’s no problem to bring your straight friends, either.
For years, Paco Paco (Ignacio L. Vallarta 278, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/222-1899, www.club-pacopaco.com, 1 p.m.–6 a.m. daily) was the key dance club for all of Vallarta, gay or straight, offering the latest dance music, two drag shows nightly, and a strip show next door at The Ranch. Starting late like all clubs, this one features a rooftop bar for drinks at sunset for early arrivals. During the busy season, there is live music on special nights on the roof with its many terraces. Since the arrival of so many other intriguing clubs, Paco Paco is still trying to win back its previous popularity, but it’s still a local favorite for many.
A heavy calendar of activities has built up a following at Dewayne’s Oasis (Pilitas 156, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/223-5273, 4 p.m.–2 a.m. daily), a friendly bar with a neighborhood Mexican atmosphere. There are regular drink specials, and the “famous” Papi Chulo dancers offer two shows Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, with Sunday being Absolut Madness. The terrace and balcony offer only a view of the buildings that front the bay, but at least you can get some fresh air.
With lipstick-red interiors adorned with black-and-white Hollywood glossies from earlier days, neighborhood-y Diva’s (Fco. Madero 388, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/222-7774, www.divaspv.com, 6 p.m.–2 a.m. daily) is a great place to go alone or with friends early in the evening before strapping on your dance shoes. The drinks are good, and the service is at your elbow without being in your face. And you don’t have to worry about offending anyone if you don’t feel like chatting up the regulars—the crowd will respect your privacy. You may have to search for the bar, however, as it’s nearly hidden on a side street at the exit of the popular Cine Bahía.
Frida (Lázaro Cárdenas 361, Zona Romántica, no phone, 1 p.m.–2 a.m. daily) would have been called a dive in other days but is actually a quite-friendly neighborhood bar—a good place to go with old friends. The pool table takes your mind off the drink in your hands, but the jukebox can sometimes make it difficult to talk. Beer is the beverage of choice and rugged jeans are the preferred attire among the crowd here, primarily older locals and their young friends.
There are few places like Garbo (Púlpito 142, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/229-7309, 6 p.m.–2 a.m. daily), where you can sit and chat with friends in comfort or flirt with your neighbor with ease in the same breath. A regular spot for many local professionals, usually during happy hour, Garbo gives you space and respect but you’re always welcome to join the party. Sit at the high bar or find a quiet four-top with chairs or banquets. Weekends may bring the added benefit of live music, usually on piano, but it’s not overwhelming.
Folks crowd in at Rojan bar and nightclub, where personable owner Robert Gonzales wants his patrons to enjoy a “truly Mexican experience.” The name of his club, Rojan, comes from a legendary Olmec shaman that Robert brought back from 3,000 years of history and whom he illustrates by a mural in the downstairs bar. Upstairs, in the nightclub concert and dance hall, programs of live salsa, reggae, and rock entertain patrons from around 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday low season and Tuesday–Sunday high.
Although primarily known as a restaurant, Kitkat (Púlpito 120, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/223-0093, 6 p.m.–2 a.m. daily) broke into the night scene with weekend drag shows that romped right past the diners, gay and straight alike. Outdoor street-side tables allow for a romantic evening under starlit trees, while the interior is heavily air-conditioned with its own dramatic ambience. Drink specials include martinis.
A drink in a romantic corner is the specialty of La Noche (Lázaro Cárdenas 257, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/222-3364, www.lanochepv.com, 6 p.m.–3 a.m. daily, opens later off-season), where the dimly lit air-conditioned interior removes you from the busy world and the lively music varies from Broadway to Latin. A hangout for a slightly older crowd, this neighborhood bar has cubicle-like seating that provides a private space for that budding romance or friendship, and the huge old-fashioned chandelier is a nice overhead touch.
When Mañana (Venustiano Carranza 290, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/222-7772, www.manana.com.mx, 10 p.m.–6 a.m. daily) opened, even local politicians showed up. It’s the first club of this category that has been able to break into the local scene, changing it forever, probably. The charming hacienda has a private garden with patios; a swimming pool; air-conditioned disco; great shows featuring singers, drag queens, and strippers; VIP lounge; drink specials; and more. The normal $10 cover charge gives you unlimited Coronas or one free national drink. Besides all that, their prime location in the Zona Romántica allows easy access by local transportation.
When you’re wandering around and just want to sit down and put up those feet, trip up to Sama (Olas Altas 510, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/223-3182, 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Tues–Sun.), a sidewalk cocktail bar with shaded tables and nibbles to eat in case you’re hungry. Service is quick and friendly, and the drinks are good and strong. While not a destination in itself, Sama nevertheless attracts a healthy clientele who decides to stick around for further drinks while enjoying the good people-watching.
Overstuffed couches, large bronze sculptures of goddesses, and a breezy interior cooled by huge fans give the Uncommon Grounds Buddha Lounge (Lázaro Cárdenas 625, Zona Romántica, tel. 322/223-3834, www.uncommon-grounds.com, 4 p.m.–close Tues.–Sun.) a comfortable feel. Stop in for a drink and chat with the owners, a vivacious lesbian couple from New Jersey who fell in love with Vallarta—these friendly women give this popular spot its character. Daily drink specials include such toothsome drinks as raspberry mojitos and mango margaritas. This is a good place to go either to meet friends for a drink early in the evening or to get to know someone new.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition