The streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, come alive at night. Shortly after the steamy days turn into cool evenings, the rhythm of cocktail shakers can be heard along cobblestoned streets. Dim bar lights shine past crowds and spill onto the sidewalk. You can find whatever you’re looking for in Old San Juan — especially if you’re looking for an inspired cocktail. The city’s best bars have extensive lists that resemble (and surpass) Manhattan cocktail dens, pouring island-inspired takes on classics as well as inventive new creations.
Being a port of call for cruise ships, however, means much of Old San Juan can seem overrun with tourists. If you get a chance to leave the land of cruise ship day- trippers, the nightlife of La Placita de Santurce (and the JungleBird, an upscale tiki bar) delivers more authenticity. If you’re sticking to Old San Juan, though, it’s possible to have a true Puerto Rican night away from the majority of cruise- shippers.
Here’s your tried and tested guide to the best bars in Old San Juan.
Barrachina for a Piña Colada
Welcome to the (disputed) home of the Piña Colada. Legend has it that bartender Ramon Portas Mingot created the frozen mix of pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and rum at Barrachina, then perfected the recipe at the Caribe Hilton. Nevertheless, Barrachina has a marble plaque declaring it’s “the house where in 1963 the Piña Colada was created,” and tourists line up to take a picture in front before flocking inside.
Touristy or not, it’s worth a visit. Skip the table and choose a seat at the bar. The wait for a table can stretch hours, but the bar has ample seating and is first come, first serve. The Piña Coladas are served in a big ice cream glass with dark rum on the bottom, and a pre-mixed slushie on top. They’re garnished with a predictable paper umbrella, bright red maraschino cherry, and pineapple chunk. The bartender tells you to mix the drink with your straw yourself as he pushes the drink forward.
Don’t fall into the line of thinking that you’re too good for this, no matter how averse you are to tourist traps. The drinks are cheap, delicious, and there’s something calming and satisfying about sipping a sugary drink at an outdoor bar under the Puerto Rican sun.
La Factoría for speakeasy-style cocktails and dancing
Not far from Barrachina is Old San Juan’s best cocktail bar, La Factoría. The entrance is signless, yet the inside is filled. The paint on the wall is peeling just enough to look chic, and string lights hanging from the ceiling give the bar an intimate feel. You can get lost for hours sipping Spiced Old Fashioneds made with the finest Puerto Rican rum and speaking with the skilled bartenders. It would take days to taste through the speciality cocktail menu, with mouthwatering cocktails like the Lavender Mule made with homemade lavender simple syrup, and the Peligroso, a rum and Campari cocktail served in a coupe glass.
For a different vibe, bypass the bar and walk through the wooden side door. A wine-focused bar will be on your right, a speakeasy-style bar called El Final further on, and finally a fourth bar next to a dance floor with a live band called Shing-a-Ling. If you recognize the spot, it’s likely from the Despacito music video. In real life on salsa nights, locals fill the floor and dance salsa to the music. Grab another drink and watch for a couple numbers, or join in if you’re already a skilled enough dancer.
La Taberna Lúpulo for craft beer and beer cocktails
Puerto Rico is a rum island. Other than the cheap and light Magna and Medellin beers, the drinks revolve around rum and cocktails — except at La Taberna Lúpulo. The large bar has 50 taps and around 150 bottles of beer from all over the world. Whether you’re into European beer, American craft beer, whatever, Taberna Lúpulo has what you’re looking for.
If you don’t want to leave the land of cocktails, the bar has a list of beer cocktails and Boilermaker suggestions. It’s unlike anything else on the island, and offers a Puerto Rican twist on the best of what American craft beer bars have to offer.
El Batey for dive bar cocktails
El Batey is an unapologetic dive bar. Graffiti and messages from locals and passersby are markered onto the walls. An old CD player pumps out music from the 1970s and ’80s, and plants are tucked into the corners. The drinks are far from grubby, though, and the bartenders can mix up any classic drink you prefer, as well as come up with something original based on how you feel.
La Cubanita for craft cocktails and a local vibe
It wasn’t long ago that you’d see locals buying goods from the bodega that was La Cubanita. Today, the bar has transformed into a cocktail bar with homemade bitters and fresh juices, all while maintaining its local atmosphere. Top bartenders mix innovative cocktails amidst the aging decor. Come early, pull up a bar stool next to a local, and chat into the night.
Club Spritz for day drinking and endless spritzes in San Juan’s endless summer
There’s something about tropical breezes, hot weather, and sand that gives people the urge to day drink. For that, there’s nothing better than a classic Aperol Spritz (the Summer of Spritz, after all, is never-ending in Puerto Rico). Club Spritz, located along the tight pedestrian road of Calle Tetuan, delivers Aperol Spritz and more.
Stop by and sit for a bit under the bright orange and red umbrellas on the sidewalk. Drink Mojitos or Spritzes and snack on cheese and charcuterie. The best way to beat the head is to embrace it, Spritz in hand.
Rums of Puerto Rico at the Princesa Gastrobar
Puerto Rico has a rich rum tradition, one of the best being Ron del Barrilito. It’s the island’s oldest rum and drinks smooth whether neat or on the rocks (but don’t count it out as a cocktail rum). That said, you haven’t experienced Puerto Rican rum until you’ve had them all (or close to them all). The tiny Rums of Puerto Rico shack attached to the side of the Princesa Gastrobar offers a tropical environment to sample the best of Puerto Rican rum on its own or in inventive cocktails. Sip a Don Q Gran Añejo while the coqui frogs sing into the night, or have the bartender mix up something cool and refreshing while you order Puerto Rican food from next door.
The seating next to the bar has a rainforest feel to it. The best advice is to talk to the person behind the bar about what you like in a rum and what you don’t like — but keep an open mind and be willing to give things a second shot. You never know when you might find your next favorite cocktail.