“I drink to make other people more interesting.”
Papa Hemingway and I share more than the just our love of the written words, we enjoy our drinking. Drinks that are best served cold, with copious amounts of alcohol, and of course, as frequently as possible.
Papa and I do not discriminate among our alcohols; we love them all, but rum holds a dear spot in our hearts. And, so it was by a turn of good fortune that I managed to pull an assignment in one of the greatest rum drinking cities in the Western Hemisphere, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is ground zero for rum. The vast majority of the worlds delicious molasses based drink is distilled here (think Bacardi Distillery), but not bottled here due to the antiquated Jones Act, an archaic law which continues to stifle Puerto Rico’s economic growth. But, let us not digress into politics. Let us drink.
Ashford Ave., is the main tourist zone of Condado, a neighborhood within San Juan. If you are coming to San Juan, most likely you will stay in this area. Almost all of the major hotel players are represented here within this beachside community.
The east end of Ashford Ave. is anchored by the AC Marriott Hotel. The west end is anchored by the Paseo Caribe complex; a Hilton hotel, condominium, dining, and entertainment venue.
In between these two behemoth anchors are dozens of hotels, bars and restaurants. I walked this beat daily, getting to know it extensively. The weather here is tropical, the trade winds are blowing, and the people warm and welcoming. If you are going to do a some drinking in San Juan, you have come to the right place.
This is Average Joe’s accounting of his tropical drinking adventures…
Located in the Mercado, a eating and drinking marketplace within the massive Paseo Caribe, which is located on the far west end of the Ashford Ave, just across the bridge. This is a lovely walk from the majority of the hotels, and the walk across the bridge provides a beautiful view of Condado Lagoon.
Coctel is just a cool drink kiosk surrounded by a dozen food vendors serving an amazing collection of foods. Many of which are focused on the island life style; think whole roasted pig and fried snapper. Before you settle into your heaping serving of roasted pig though, have a cold drink here and admire the tower of alcohol before you.
Bar Tender Favorite– is the classic Old Fashion served with Ron Del Barrilito rum. A sweet drink that is distinctly different than its whiskey cousin. Almost, a bit too sweet for my palate.
Food– The Coctel does not do food, but encourages you to order from one of the neighborhood eateries and sit with them while they happily refresh your drinks.
Foco de Chow –
Part of the massive Paseo Caribe complex this chain restaurant is worth mentioning for its Happy Hour. From 4PM to 6:30 PM Monday thru Friday, Fogo de Chow slashes it’s drink and small plates prices, making for a very enticing stop on our Condado bar hopping tour:
- $4.00 small plates and beer.
- $6.00 wines.
- $8.00 cocktails.
While the small plates are the bomb, check out the expanded bar menu if you do not want to go full beef for dinner. There are plenty of eating options here without the self induced meat coma.
Bar Tendere Favorite – The classic Caipirinha, so tasty!
Food – The Beef Sliders.
La Concha –
A Marriott hotel that is setting the bar high on the party scene. This hotel caters towards the young, the beautiful and the lively among us. It seemed every week some social event was occurring, and if none, the hotel invented them.
The hotel lobby bar, is literally the central axis of the hotel. Live bands are common here; loud, live bands. If you want to talk business, this may not be the spot for you. This spot is for carousing, dancing, meeting the opposite sex, and partying.
Which, is not a bad thing by any means.
Bar Tender Favorite – Anything!
Food– The lobby bar has small plates available and sushi.
Hilton Condado –
This Hotel was hard hit by Hurricane María and was not fully operational during my stay. As such, in fairness, I have not reviewed it. But, rest assured the staff and crew are working hard to restore the facility and as of this writing, much has been reopened.
Condado Vanderbilt –
The Vanderbilt is a classically designed hotel from the early 20th century. The hotel was actually built in 1919 and is celebrating its 100th anniversary as of this writing, and has worked to stay true to that era.
I am personally enamored with this time period and found the Vanderbilt a beautiful hotel; one that just oozes sophistication, suaveness and charm and I often stopped here.
If Earnest Hemingway was alive, he would be hanging at this hotel lobby bar regaling us with his stories of love, fighting and fishing. In honor of my writing idol, here, I would order the Hemingway Daiquiri. A drink invented by and for the man himself; a delicious combination of dark rum and grapefruit juice. Oh, so tasty. You have to give it a try.
Live music, ocean views, exceptional restaurants and amazing bartenders have made this lobby bar my favorite of all that I visited.
If you wander in see and see a big guy sitting at the bar, wearing the ubiquitous Average Joe cap, walk up and say “hi.” I bet he just might buy you a Hemingway Daiquiri.
Bar Tender Favorite – Anything rum. This hotel serves Ron Del Barrilito rum. A rum distilled on the island in much smaller batches than the other family, not all that far from the hotel. Ron Del Barrilito is their house rum exclusively and they are seriously proud of it.
Food – The bar has small dishes and decadent desserts at the ready.
Across the street from the Condado Vanderbilt is the micro-bar Atabey. The bar is not much bigger than my bedroom, but proving that you should never judge a bar by its size, it’s going toe to toe with its much bigger opponents in service, food and ambiance.
The bar offers a nice range of very moderately priced foods, a fully stocked bar, and live entertainment on the weekends. I have watched this little bar that could, pack in the crowds. Crowds of people who want to escape the high prices of the surrounding hotels, yet, still enjoy themselves here in the tropics, sitting on their patio.
You won’t go wrong stopping in here.
Bar Tender Favorite – Scotch on the rocks. Nothing wrong with a whisky!
Food – Carne Frita! Fried pork, oh, how I love thee.
Semilla Kitchen and Bar –
Just off Ashford Ave, across from the La Concha Hotel, is the very hidden, but not to be missed, Semilla Kitchen and Bar.
The Semilla Kitchen and Bar is hidden little oasis that you will have to look carefully for; the Semilla Kitchen and Bar is tucked into a residential side street and is located at 57 Avenida Delcasse, which is about 100 feet off of Ashford Ave. the signage is not visible from Ashford Ave.
With an ambiance of woods, contemporary art, and dark colors, the restaurant is classy and refined. The waitstaff are exceptional. And, the food and drinks wonderful.
My choice of eats here were the fish tacos. My waiter Jun said the fish tacos were the best on the island and he is a man who does not exaggerate. The tacos were wonderful. Two flour tortillas overflowing with piping hot fried grouper, lettuce, tomato and a drizzled with a tangy dressing. The tacos are on the small plates menu, but easily serve as a whole meal.
This is a spot I will definitely return to!
Favorite Food – Fish tacos of course!
Favorite Drink – Rum, Forest, Rum, the best play on names for a drink ever!
Marriott Stellaris and Casino
Dominating Ashford Ave in overall size is the Marriott Stellaris and Casino. This Marriott property is situated towards the East end of our bar crawl. Here, you have three watering holes to choose from:
Deck Bar – looking out over the blue-green Caribbean Ocean, while the trade winds blow across your face, and the sun warms your body, you will think twice about going home to your winter weather that you are escaping.
This is a beautiful setting, and if you just sit, drink your complimentary rum cocktail (a Member perk), and stare at the ocean, your soul will thank you profusely.
Pool Bar – The Hotel has one large pool, with two levels. The lower level is for the adults and big kids. Here, is a swim up bar. Yes, enjoy the water, enjoy the sun, and when thirsty, just swim one lap and quench your thirst. Everyone knows chlorine is not a thirst quencher!
The pool bar is a happening scene; television, games, loud music, people congregating and having fun. Good times here with a minimum amount of clothing.
Lobby Bar – The main lobby has a beautifully decorated gathering area that serves several purposes. Of course libations are served, and, there is a also a sushi bar and for something hot, small appetizer plates can be ordered. Behind the bar is a recessed secondary lounge with live music of an island vibe.
This bar is a very popular gathering spot for the hotel guests and extremely lively at night.
Road Side Vendors
Endemic to the Puerto Rico culture are roadside food stands, food trucks, and street vendors. Many of these vendors sell just a few specialties and as such, make sure what they sell is exceptional.
The ladies here run a food and beverage stand at Condado Lagoon adjacent to the Condado Hilton and I walked by her stand daily. And I assure you, they are crushing it on weekends. And, any Average Joe that is working as hard as they are, deserve a shoutout!
When the sun is shining bright, and the beach is packed, beach goers line up for there drinks and BBQ, two and three people deep. And, I assure you, these ladies are the hardest working chicas on the island.
Beware, the loud music here which has resulted in much spontaneous dancing.
Favorite Drink – Fresh squeezed lemonade.
Food – Chicken sticks, freshly grilled.
Ashford Ave. in Condado Puerto Rico is a delightful, happening scene, with a people who are truly excited to see you and share with you the unique flavors, sounds and sights of this amazing island. A bar crawl is a great way to sample all that this island has to offer.
Don’t let the mainstream media scare you away with reports of street gangs, violence, and other negativity. Hurricane Maria dealt the island are hard blow, and you will still see evidence of such here.
It is a long road recovering from such an event. But, Condado is open for business, the police keep a close eye on the tourist walking about, and you can safely walk the streets.
I lived here in Condado for a year and loved every moment of it!
Looking For More Rum Adventures?
You are in the land of rum, so why not go to the birth place of one of rums iconic brands:
Casa Bacardi Distillery is only about a 20 minute Uber ride from Condado. Three distinct tours will give you the history of this iconic brand, while sampling the house wares. I have done all three tours and loved them. You can read my blog post for a more detailed accounting of my Bacardi adventures.
Average Joe Arbitrage
Average Joe is just a guy who loves his wife, his family and his faithful dog Bandit.
When not loving them, he is wandering the world, exploring it’s wonders and showing people, just like you, how using and understanding Arbitrage, which is the art knowing how to find value, where others don’t, can make a serious impact to your bottom line and give you a life that is anything but average!
Seriously, I just wants you have more!
This blog post is Bandit approved.
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Average Joe’s Link and Referral Code for Ibotta-
Puerto Rico Street Art
Puerto Rico has an amazing street culture, something I have never seen comparable of in all my wandering around the United States. This amazing vibrant culture is most visible in in its displays of street art. I often wandered the streets looking for samples and have documented as much as I could.
If you are interested, please see my Puerto Rico Street Art page.
If the power goes out while you are bar crawling in Puerto Rico, just have a good laugh. Your in a beautiful place with wonderful people.