San Juan nightlife: best spots to drink and be merry
Given the fervor of San Juan nightlife on practically every street, every night of the week, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there is always something to celebrate. The best action often takes place right on the city streets as party-goers spill out of venues in the wee hours of the night for impromptu block parties.
No matter what part of the city you’re in, you'll be able to experience the legendary nightlife of Puerto Rico. From pulsating night clubs and rooftop lounges to delicious cocktails and cheap beer, San Juan really comes alive at night.
A night out in Old San Juan
Old San Juan is more than the forts and cobblestones. As the sun sets, crowds gather in the old city for a night out, particularly around Calle San Sebastian. Often hailed as the heart of Old San Juan’s nightlife, the area is lined with bars and restaurants and home to the infamous Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian.
Make one of your first stops to La Factoría. The signless entrance and furtive wooden door lead to a series of bars, each with its own speakeasy feel. Grab a casual drink at the front, enjoy some wine and a bite to eat at Vino or head to Shing-A-Ling at the back for live music, DJs and lots of salsa dancing.
Down the road and tucked inside the eclectic Gallery Inn Hotel you’ll find another speakeasy-inspired venue. The Cannon Club’s piano bar is home to not one, but two Steinway pianos, as well as labyrinth-like interior garden and pool bedecked in sunken sculptures. The full bar provides the fuel to sing along to classics on the self-playing piano all night long.
Get wild in el Callejón de la Tanca
At the far end of the San Sebastian, el Callejón de la Tanca is quickly competing for the liveliest street in town. Take in the views at La Vergüenza Puertorrican Chinchorro, a three-storied dive bar overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. On Sundays, just across the street at Adoquín del Patio, the drums come out and locals dance the afternoon away to the rhythms of bomba, plena or salsa right on the cobblestones.
If el Callejón de la Tanca doesn’t sound quite like your scene, head to El Batey for some straightforward old Puerto Rican authenticity. Forever immortalized by Hunter S Thompson's novel The Rum Diary, the seedy dive bar’s walls, which seem to sweat in the heat, are covered in decades-old graffiti. Leave your business card on a lamp, take a shot at the pool table or at the bar, or for $0.25 per tune, select some classic 60s rock-n-roll from the jukebox.
Nightlife in Santurce
Young professionals and the older bohemian crowd flock to the hip Santurce neighborhood for its strong drinking scene.
The Placita de Santurce is the boisterous epicenter of it all. Farmer’s market by day, on weekend nights the area transforms into an open-air block party. With a plethora of bars and restaurants surrounding the market’s central square, you can wander around freely and sway from bar to bar or from side to side thanks to the music that booms from the many open-air establishments.
Just down the road, Scandalo The Club is a LGBTQ spot that hosts some of the best drag shows in town. El Local en Santurce operates as a cultishly popular home base to local alternative rockers and indie bands.
La Esquina Watusi was launched to international fame when the late Anthony Bourdain hung out there while filming Parts Unknown. But locals have long been heading to the bar for its cheap and strong drinks, fried food, urban art and live plena music on Thursday nights.
On Monday night, swing by La Terraza de Bonanza for live bomba and plena music. Let the local experts show you how it's done, sway your hips to the throbbing drum rhythms as you enjoy some cold beers. Another Monday night classic is hip-hop nights at La Respuesta, an independent music venue with (nearly) nightly performances featuring local bands, DJs, MCs, art exhibits or theater.
Want to experience it all in one convenient location? Spend the night bar hopping on the trendy Calle Loiza for a real wave of experiences. Bounce from chic drinks at Sabrina, to dancing salsa at Piso Viejo. Sip on craft beers at El Tap or go clubbing at Industry Club/Bar. Whatever your taste, you can find a venue for it in Santurce.
Rhythms in Rio Piedras
The collegial Rio Piedras neighborhood is a popular hangout for university students who have no class on Fridays, which means the scene gets especially animated on Thursday nights.
Steps from the train station, Club 77 sets the stage for local bands with an emphasis on rock. Another slightly surprising performance venue in the neighborhood is Baker’s Bakery, which, as the name suggests, is a bakery by day and event venue come night. Amongst the freshly-baked goods, you can see stand-up comedy, theater, bands, DJs or live performances.
But the true stalwart of the Rio Piedras scene is the iconic El Boricua. The al fresco bar has been attracting a mixed crowd of students, professionals and bohemians since 1979, largely thanks to its assorted live music sets including salsa, jazz, DJs, plena, rumba and more.
Party it up in Condado
Condado is home to a vibrant and upscale nightlife with its bars, lounges and casinos open late. The neighborhood is home to many of the city’s biggest hotels and their guests tend to concentrate along the swanky Ashford Avenue drag. Here you can find popular venues like La Concha, whose hotel lobby is transformed come nightfall into a club for the city’s chicest.
A newcomer to the Condado nightlife scene is the recently inaugurated rooftop at the O:LV Hotel. The Arya Rooftop delivers incredible views of the Condado skyline and lagoon to be enjoyed with signature craft cocktails.