San Juan, Puerto Rico is home to a buzzing social scene covering all points on the spectrum: great food, casual local hangs, serious cocktail bars, late-night salsa spots, and so much more.
Miguel Martinez, bartender at AC Hotel San Juan’s BAr.C.Lona Rooftop, and recent winner of the Ballester Hermanos Perfect Serve competition, has called the city home for the past two years, and has had a front seat to San Juan’s evolving bar scene. Here, Martinez takes us on a virtual tour of his favorite haunts around the city.
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Bar La Unidad
“This is a speakeasy bar with a great cocktail menu from masterminds Edrick Colón and Stephen Alonso, both of whom are great friends and mentors. If you’re looking for a quiet spot to have a cocktail or a good cigar, it will definitely be the right place. Pair a good cigar with their take on an Old Fashioned, called ‘Cortadito’ (Woodford Reserve, espresso, chocolate bitters, white chocolate shavings). I guarantee you will not be disappointed.” Location.
“I also like a place in La Placita de Santurce called Cantina 213, a great cocktail bar recently opened by another good friend and mentor, Jorge Buch. Here, you’ll find an elevated cocktail experience in an area mostly known for clubbing and partying. My two personal items from their cocktail list are ‘Como Agua Pa Chocolate’ (aged rum, Amaro Averna, Fernet Branca, chocolate, grated nutmeg) and ‘Wonderlust’ (mezcal, Campari, passionfruit foam).” Location.
“If you get to visit Old San Juan you can’t miss La Factoría, ranked among the world’s 50 best bars and one of the venues featured in the ‘Despacito’ video. It is a great place for cocktails [such] as their ‘Peligroso’ and ‘Hijos de Borinquen,’ and to develop your salsa dancing skills.” Location.
“My favorite has to be my home turf: BAr.C.Lona Rooftop at the AC Hotel. On Thursdays you can experience Gin & Thursdays, a fun and creative way to enjoy gin and tonics. … On Fridays, ‘Bohemian Nights’ [provides] a relaxed ambiance where you can enjoy live music along with tapas and wine pairings.” Location.
El Mercado de Paseo Caribe
“If you are a bit unsure about a specific food style, my best recommendation would be to visit El Mercado de Paseo Caribe. It has a great variety of food from the Mediterranean, [plus] our local flavors. It also has a bar called Coctel from which you can order anything … or have their bartenders craft something uniquely for you.” Location.
“Raíces in Old San Juan is a great place to experience some culture and Puerto Rican heritage,” Martinez says, praising the traditional cuisine and clothing. “You’ll definitely need to taste mofongo (mashed and fried green plantains), stuffed with either chicken or steak.” Location.
La Bodeguita de Manolo Condado
“Right in the heart of Condado at the AC Hotel by Marriott is a place worth visiting called La Bodeguita de Manolo. It’s a cozy, elegant place with an excellent menu and wine selection. Some of my favorite dishes there are the churrasco steak with mamposteao rice, and their Angus burger.” Location.
“O:LV Hotel has a great rooftop deck with a pool and bar. Located in front of the Condado Lagoon, it is a place worth visiting to enjoy cocktails while you enjoy a perfect sunset.” Location.
“Nearby there is another great hotel, La Concha. This place has different bars, including a fun one at the lobby, which becomes the perfect spot to meet on Fridays and Saturdays with DJs and a very nice crowd.” Location.
La Placita de Santurce
“This is the place to be on weekend nights (be aware that they are open from Wednesday to Sunday). It is that spot that I always recommend to visit because it basically allows you to choose your own scene. … This is a perfect place for tourists that want to mingle with the locals.” Location.
“During the day, another great neighborhood is Miramar. … There are many hotels, restaurants, and food trucks in the area, and it’s close to the Condado Lagoon, where you can hop on a kayak or get into a paddle board session.” Location.