San Juan nightlife comes in all varieties. From the vibrant performing-arts scene to street-level salsa, and with the casinos, discos, and bars, there's plenty of entertainment available almost any evening.
Island nightlife begins very late, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Hang out until the late, late afternoon on the beach, have dinner around 8pm (9 would be even better), and then the night is yours. The true party animal will rock until the broad daylight. Many bars and nightclubs are open until 2am during the week, and 4am on weekends. Many clubs and some bars are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
¡Qué Pasa!, the official visitor's guide to Puerto Rico, lists cultural events, including music, dance, theater, film, and art exhibits. It's distributed free by the tourist office. Local newspapers, such as the English-language weekly Caribbean Business (which carries a daily website at www.caribbeanbusinesspr.com), often have entertainment information and concert and cultural listings, as do the English-language Puerto Rico Daily Sun and the Spanish-language El Vocero, El Nuevo Día, and Primera Hora daily newspapers. Also check the Ticketpop website (www.ticketpop.com), which lists upcoming major acts.
Music While You Munch -- Several restaurants in Old San Juan, and elsewhere throughout the city, have live music on certain days of the week. Knowing the schedule could help you decide on where to eat dinner. The Parrot Club has live Latin jazz and salsa a few nights weekly. Carli Café Concierto (tel. 787/725-4927; www.carlicafeconcierto.com) has live jazz nightly at 9pm, while Barrachina Restaurant has a live flamenco music and dance show nightly. La Playita in Isla Verde hosts weekend troubadours, while Condado's Yerba Buena, Av. Ashford 1350, Condado (tel. 787/721-7500) has Latin Jazz on Monday nights and Cuban salsa Fridays.
There is no better place on a Sunday night from 5:30 to 7pm to watch the sun set over Old San Juan than at Paseo de la Princesa. In this evocative colonial setting, you can hear local trios serenade you as the sun goes down. Or walk around and follow it along around the base of El Morro. A great place to share the moment with your lover.
The Bar Scene
Unless otherwise stated, there is no cover charge at the bars recommended.
Hot Nights In Gay San Juan -- San Juan has probably the largest and most influential gay community in the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico is largely accepting and supportive of it. That was evident when Ricky Martin officially came out of the closet in 2010, and he was embraced with waves of support from his island fans. So visitors seeking gay and lesbian friendly establishments will find ample choices and have lots of opportunities to interact with both locals and visitors. Some discos, known for the hot music and dancing, also draw straight couples as well. Many mainstream restaurants and nightclubs have core gay clientele as well, especially in the Condado, Santurce, and Old San Juan areas.
La Rumba Party Cruise -- The trouble with most nightlife venues in San Juan is that the real parties in conventional nightclubs begin at hours so impossibly late that the average visitor will tend to be deep asleep by the time the dance floors at city clubs begin getting filled up. So if you love to salsa and merengue, but if you maintain relatively conservative ideas about your bedtime, consider the La Rumba Party Cruise as a viable option. It all takes place aboard a neon-lit two-level minicruiser that's moored most of the time to a point near Old San Juan's cruise pier no. 1 (Plaza Darsenas). Schedules vary according to business, but cruises tend to last 120 minutes each, and depart every Friday and Saturday at 10:30pm, 12:30am, and 2:30am; and every Sunday at 7:30, 9:30, and 11:30pm. You can get onboard about an hour before departure, shaking your booty to Latino music as the boat sits in port, music blaring, waiting for other clients. Cruises cost $14 per person (tax included), with children's rates $7 and seniors $10. There's a cash bar on board selling beer for between $4 and $6 each, depending on the brand. There's a sightseeing benefit to the experience as well: En route, as it chugs out to sea, participants garner sea-fronting views of both of San Juan's 18th-century forts and the coastline of Isla Verde. For reservations and more information, call 787/375-5211, 263-2962, or 525-1288.
Barhopping Through the Old City -- A good place to start your night is the bright and enchanting El Picoteo in the El Convento Hotel, Calle del Cristo 100 (tel. 787/723-9020). Get warmed up with some tapas and a fine sangria as you sit at one of the tables on a terrace overlooking Cristo Street and the hotel's interior courtyard. It's a good hangout for late-night dialogues. At the bar inside, you can often hear live jazz. Older locals mingle with hotel guests, the patronage mainly in the post-35 age group.
Afterwards, head for a pair of holes in the wall across the street from the El Convento Hotel. El Batey, Calle del Cristo 101 (no phone), and Don Pablo, Calle del Cristo 103 (no phone), are battered, side-by-side hangouts with a clientele of locals, expatriates, and occasional visitors. Whereas El Batey's music remains firmly grounded in the rock-'n'-roll classics of the 1970s, with a scattering of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra hits, Don Pablo prides itself on cutting-edge music that's continually analyzed by the counterculture aficionados who hang out here. El Batey is open daily from 2pm to 6am; Don Pablo, daily from 8pm to 4am.
You'll next want to head up the hill to San Sebastián Street, a place where Puerto Ricans have been partying for years. There is a line of restaurants and bars, running from Calle Cristo along this street down to Calle Cruz. On weekend evenings, the area is packed with fashionable crowds out for fun. Nono's (Calle San Sebastián 100, at the corner of Cristo; tel. 787/579-5851), is a great spot to watch the action out on Plaza San José. El Patio de Sam has been a favorite watering hole for locals and tourists since the 1950s. Candela (100 Calle San Sebastián; tel. 787/977-4305) is a late-night avant-garde club that plays eclectic lounge music until the earlier morning hours. There are often festivals of experimental music and art held here. Any of the bars along this strip is worth a look; many have pool tables and jukeboxes with great selections of classic salsa. A must-stop, however, is Rumba (San Sebastián 152; tel. 787/977-4305), where you will find live salsa and other tropical music. Your final stop will likely be Aqui Se Puede (corner of San Justo, 50 Calle San Justo; tel. 787/579-5851), which has great music, either live or on the jukebox, plus frequent special events such as performances and art shows.
If you need sustenance after all that drinking, head to Tantra, Calle Fortaleza 356 (tel. 787/977-8141), which has the best late-night menu in town, as well as a creative martini menu, including versions with mango, passion fruit, and, a personal favorite, a version with cinnamon and clove. Live belly dancers amuse the crowd on Friday and Saturday nights, and any night of the week you can rent, for $20, a Mogul-style hookah pipe for every member of your dining table, if the idea of playing pasha for a night appeals to you.
CasinosNearly all the large hotels in San Juan, Condado, and Isla Verde offer casinos, and there are other large casinos at some of the bigger resorts outside the metropolitan area. The atmosphere in the casinos is casual, but you still shouldn’t show up in bathing suits or shorts. Most of the casinos open around noon and close between 2 and 4am. Guest patrons must be at least 18 years old to enter.
A brutal sport not to everyone's taste, cockfights are legal in Puerto Rico. The most authentic are in Salinas, a town on the southern coast with a southwestern ethos, which has galleras, or rings, for cockfighting. But you don't have to go all the way there to see a match. About three fights per week take place at the Coliseo Gallistico, Av. Isla Verde 6600, Av. Isla Verde, Esquina Los Gobernadores. Call tel. 787/791-6005 for the schedule and to order tickets, which cost $10, $12, $20, or $35, depending on the seat. The best time to attend cockfights is from January to May, as more fights are scheduled at that time. Hours are Tuesday or Thursday 4 to 10pm and Saturday 2 to 9pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.