Raising the BAR

“Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
– Walt Disney

By Darien Rivers
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That defining quote from the legendary animation and theme park pioneer applies perfectly to Puerto Rico’s theme bars. While each is set apart by their unique focus and flavor, they share a common philosophy that rests on knowing what they want to do and making sure they do it at a top-shelf level.

From upscale lounges to luxurious oases to hotspot hangouts, these theme bars sprinkled around a relatively small radius within San Juan’s tourism hub can surely compete drink-for-drink with their counterparts in any other travel destination. Looking for a little tasty something to accompany those lovingly crafted libations? These theme bars have that covered with enticing food menus that pair perfectly with whatever glass of goodness you choose.


A must-visit place on the capital city’s theme bar circuit where whisky aficionados would do well to chart a course for is Polo Norte, a polished gem tucked along the quiet Tetuan Street in Old San Juan. Fashioned from a one-time soda factory, the iconic façade gives way to classic cool inside this well-appointed watering hole.

Sink into a club chair or saddle up the bar as the sophisticated sounds of the biggest names of Latin jazz in Puerto Rico help set the mood for a night to remember by infusing the place with tropical rhythm. Cut-crystal chandeliers and other tasteful design touches complete the modern update of what feels like a timeless classic.

Amber is gold at Polo Norte and the stunning array of scotch, bourbon, and other whiskies are the stars of the show. The line-up is truly impressive and each is accompanied by a piquant description of its defining qualities, and includes some of the highest-caliber blended and single-malt scotches to ever grace a rocks glass. Top carats all around.

Some sophisticated whiskies sold at Polo Norte include Johnny Walker and the special-edition triple malt John Walker & Sons Odyssey, and the blended whisky King George V, and Japan’s Yamasaki premium single malt. There is also renowned brand The Macallan as well as products from Canada, Ireland, and the United States.

Part of the experience at Polo Norte is to educate its customers about Scotch whisky in general, which is known for its pungent, peaty aroma and long, lingering finish. 

The selection of champagne is also stellar, insuring even more gleam at one of the brightest hotspots in Puerto Rico’s burgeoning lounge scene. You can find the best French bubbly such as Moet Chandon and Viuda de Clicquot as well as some Spanish sparkling wines.

Besides selling premium drinks, Polo Norte also offers a special drink menu prepared with Puerto Rico’s Kola Champagne soda, a sweet carbonated beverage made mainly in the tropics with a flavor highly reminiscent of pink bubble gum that was conceived at this former soda factory in the 19th century.

Ask your server, well-versed in the intricacies of the premium spirits and sparkling wines on offer, to help you match your beverage choice with picks from the well-edited menu of Puerto Rican tapas and entrees. They know their stuff and it shows. Make sure to call and reserve a spot beforehand, especially if there is a special event happening.

Boasting the biggest beer selection in Puerto Rico, La Taberna Lupulo stands out from the crowd along San Sebastian Street, the epicenter of Old San Juan’s always happening bar-hopping hub. This lively spot is a Shangri La for suds lovers, keeping a rotating roster of dozens of draft beers on tap and somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 brands of bottled brews on deck in bottles and cans. The printed beer lists read like a world atlas, taking customers on a tour around the globe as the idiosyncrasies of the Old City unfold just outside this breezy and casual spot.

La Taberna Lupulo is one of those can’t miss stops for beer connoisseurs and is more than up to the challenge of offering up some surprises even to those in the know. Neophytes to the magic that is spun out of hops and barley need not be intimated – the friendly and knowledge bartenders and servers are ready, willing and able to serve up recommendations that are sure to quench that thirst.

Cold beer and tasty bar bites make La Taberna Lupulo a sure bet by day and by night. A boozy Sunday brunch seals the deal.

After a memorable night or more in one of San Juan’s sensational theme bars, it makes sense to start thinking of taking some of that spirit back home to stoke your own memories or share the good vibes with friends and family.

Look no further than Casa Melaza Rum Boutique, a unique gift shop in the heart of Old San Juan that stocks the best of Puerto Rico’s world-class rums at prices that wouldn’t make even locals flinch. The boutique is located in the Casa de Cabildo, a Spanish-colonial structure that served as city hall from the 1600s to the early 1800s.

That step back in time seems only fitting for a shop that stocks the most sumptuous aged and regular rums produced in the small, but potent sugarcane spirits powerhouse that is Puerto Rico. The expert proprietor is on hand to help you select the perfect rum and make you become an instant Puerto Rican Rum Ambassador.

You can buy premium aged rum at Casa Melaza Rum Boutique like Bacardi Limited Reserve, Barrilito Three Stars, Don Q Gran Reserve, Trigo, and Caliche as well as regular rum aged six years or less such as Bacardi Select, Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum, Barrilito Two Stars, Blackbeard, Ron Caray Artisanal & Platinum, Don Q Cristal, Don Q Gold, Don Q Flavors, and Palo Viejo.

If unsure which are your favorite, visitors can also have a blast sampling the variety of rums and moonshine, along with locally-made sangria Ververena and Sabrina.

Ask to taste the sangria; a typical summer beverage that consists of wine, chopped fruit, a sweetener, a small amount of brandy, and of course rum. Or opt to drink a simple Rum and Coke Cuba Libre style.

Also, craft beers, island-grown coffee, rum cake, and other unique gifts or souvenirs such as rum brand T-shirts are available.

The story spills out of the shop into the streets through guided tours that highlight the rich history of one of the hemisphere’s oldest cities and shed light on Puerto Rico’s deep rum and coffee heritage.

In the heart of Paseo de la Princesa in Old San Juan within an illuminated garden enclosed by huge trees is Princesa Gastrobar, a small restaurant that offers an experience like no other to a true foodie palate with special dishes made from recipes found in a 19th century Puerto Rican cookbook. It is also one of the few spots where visitors can savor the exquisite Hacienda Tres Angeles of Adjuntas Puerto Rican coffee or quench your thirst at the only Rums of Puerto Rico certified bar on the island.

At Princesa Gastrobar’s rum bar, customers can learn about the rich history of Puerto Rican rum and find out why Puerto Rico is known as the Rum Capital of the World.

Ask the bartender to prepare “The Players” drink, evidently made with rum, but it exudes a wood aroma to reminisce the wooden bats of the eight Puerto Rican baseball players who participated in the 1997 MLB All-Star Game or try “Ovation” a special rum concoction made in honor of the three Puerto Ricans who won Oscars: Jose Ferrer, Rita Moreno and Benicio del Toro.

Located in the luxurious Condado Vanderbilt hotel, Veritas provides true sensory pleasure. Vintage wine, champagne, cognac, and signature cocktails are the order of the day in this bar area within the Vanderbilt Court, an elegant epicenter of San Juan’s discerning nightlife that strikes a seamless and simultaneous balance between grand and intimate.

Soak up stunning and seemingly endless ocean views by day and stargaze by night in a plush, pleasing, and unparalleled atmosphere of elegance and style. Romance is in the air as warm breezes beckon from the oceanfront terrace, which offers a captivating setting for relaxing and socializing at any time.

Veritas is the beating heart of the stately Condado Vanderbilt, a Spanish Revival masterpiece that marked the arrival of upscale tourism in Puerto Rico when it first opened in 1919. Order the fabulous St. Hillaire, which does a flute justice with Prosecco, lemon peel, and the elderberry-flavored liqueur called St. Germaine. Looking to cool off from the Caribbean heat than ask for a Vanderbilt Mojito, chilled with local Barrilito Three Star rum, lime, brown sugar and a sprig of mint or opt for a classic with the masterful dirty martini and its three-olive skewer.

A new addition to the splendidly timeless Condado Vanderbilt is Tacos and Tequila Patron, a casual, kicked-back space that takes its food and drinks seriously.

Executive Chef Juan Jose Cuevas takes the traditional Mexican tacos to a higher level, putting a creative spin on fresh, top quality ingredients. The food menu mixes perfectly with an unmatched collection of cocktails built around a wide array of Patron tequilas that showcase the subtle differences shaped by the variety of production methods, barrel types and aging process that go into the crafting of these stunning spirits.

Try the Passionate Margarita, which mixes Patron Silver, Tatron Citronge, fresh passion fruit, citrus essence and Thai red chili peppers.

Tacos and Tequila ups the ante with the Patron Roca line of tequilas that are distinctly different in character from the traditional Patron tequila. Roca, which is Spanish for “rock,” refers to the stone wheel (or tahona) which was traditionally used to crush cooked agave in the production of tequila. Be sure to savor a shot of the Condado Vanderbilt’s signature Añejo tequila.

If you want to turn it up and cut loose on the dance floor or are you more in the mood to kick back and chill out, no worries, Club Brava and Ultra Lounge has both ends of the spectrum covered as the fun stretches long after dark and reaches the morning light.

Located in the El San Hotel’s celebrated lobby, Club Brava is a landmark of nightlife in Puerto Rico, drawing a mix of tourist and locals seeking sexy sophistication in an exceptionally safe and secure setting. Live DJs keep the party pumping in the main room as the spin a high-octane blend of house, hip-hop and top 40 favorites. The lounge, meanwhile, offers a long, languid escape from the ordinary.

Premium VIP, table and bottle service is available. The storied venue hosts special guest DJs and artistic performances and can be reserved for exclusive private events.

The goose is loose and flying high with the launch of Brava Grey Goose Bar, where the award-winning French vodka soars to new heights from a menu of specialty cocktails and bottle service. Among the exclusive cocktails created by master mixologist Carlos Garcia is the Fizzy Melon made with Grey Goose LeMelon, a Brava original. Other crystal clear winners include the Grey Goose classic dry martini and the French martini, both built on Grey Goose Original. Mix it up with a French Breeze swirled with Grey Goose LaPoire or a Cherry Collins, a sweet treat made with Grey Goose Cherry Noir.

Club Brava and Ultra Lounge is the perfect spot to see and be seen. Jump in and embrace what the night delivers.

A bar to sure draw rave reviews when it opens is Blue Martini, which will fill a prominent spot within Paseo Caribe, a new waterfront development that features shopping, fine dining and entertainment overlooking the pulsing Atlantic Ocean and the entrance to the tranquil Condado Lagoon.

Inside this gleaming Puerto Rico location, expect to find the high-energy, high-end scene as that found at this chains location in Florida to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Dallas and beyond – but with a sexy San Juan twist.

The chic and contemporary lounge will be the perfect place to catch a cocktail with old friends or make some new ones. It’s most popular drink is its namesake classic martini – a bracing blend of Van Gogh Blue vodka, Cointreau, Blue Curacao, sour mix, and orange juice served in an oversized snifter over ice with a glow stick. Or pamper that hard-earned beach body with a tempting treat from the “lighter side” roster of cooling concoctions weighing in at less than 250 calories.

With dozens of signature martinis, specialty cocktails, fine wines, spirits, and light bites, there will be always something new at the Blue!

It’s easy to mingle with the locals in Puerto Rico and just have a fun night out while enjoying specialty drinks at the different theme bars like a true islander.

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