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-- Marianna Domingos (wddr200...) (webmail), August 13th, 2003 8:19 PM. (link)
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― researching ur life (grady), Thursday, 26 October 2006 21:33 (twelve years ago) Permalink
36 HoursSan JuanBy JULIA CHAPLIN
SAN JUAN is known for its clichés: big, gaudy casinos, honeymooners sipping rum punch on the beach and salsa bands at every turn. But avoid the tourist haunts, and you’re likely to find a more authentically pulsing Latin culture — a city of faded Art Deco neighborhoods, a growing contemporary art scene and emo reggaetón stars hiding out in dark corners of bars in Old San Juan.
6 p.m.1) RICO SUAVE
No man should be caught after dark in the tropics without a proper guayabera, the loose fitting dress shirt that originated in Cuba and Mexico. And Clubman in the Santurce neighborhood (Avenida Ponce de León, 1116; 787-725-3680), which opened in the 1940’s, is the place to score one that’s both well crafted and rico-suave tailored. Antonio Navado, a knowledgeable salesman who has worked in the boutique since the beginning, will guide you through the in-house label offerings of long and short sleeves, linen and cotton and hues like pastel lime, canary yellow and cloud blue ($60 to $150).
9 p.m.2) MAKING THE SCENE
O.K. Now you’re ready to strut your stuff at the hot, new restaurant of the moment. But don’t worry: the recently opened Boceto (Avenida Isla Verde, 7480; 787-268-2627) in the Isla Verde district is thankfully not another trendy lounge with wanna-be South Beach décor and blaring hip-hop. There are small gothic-chamberlike rooms with velvet couches, mosaics and carved wooden chairs that make perfect thrones for sampling the Spanish-skewed menu that includes tapas like zippy stripped bass ceviche ($14) and tropical root vegetable chips with tomato cancassé and mango sauce ($9).
11:30 p.m.3) LADY LUCK
Bronzed Las Vegas types and women with a lot of leg and cleavage converge on Friday nights at the island’s most turned-out gambling palace, El San Juan Resort & Casino (Avenida Isla Verde, 6063; 787-791-1000; elsanjuanhotel.com). There are other casinos in many of the big hotels lining the beach in the Isla Verde district, like the InterContinental and the Ritz-Carlton, but none pack quite the same dolled-up punch. Having undergone a semirecent renovation El San Juan doesn’t skimp on sweeping cinematic gestures like gold cupolas, mirrored ceilings and a lot of carved mahogany and red marble. The blackjack tables, submerged in a smoke and alcohol haze, are all the more authentic with a salsa band performing nearby.
Noon4) FISH FOR BREAKFAST?
Why not? Beeline it to Tasca el Pescador in Santurce (Calle Dos Hermanos, 178; 787-7210995) among the brightly painted hole-in-the-wall restaurants surrounding the Plaza del Mercado, a traditional farmers’ market where vendors sell everything from tamarindo to yuca to sides of beef. Inside the hyper air-conditioned, florescent-lighted dining room (two mainstays of the Puerto Rico culinary experience) is a fully stocked old wooden bar and an array of colorful, fresh fish on ice. The owners, Antonio Nuñez, a retired matador, and his wife, Asunción Martínez, bring in fish daily from around the island. Standouts include a thick salmon fillet in guava sauce ($17.50) and a whole, sautéed local yellowtail ($18).
3 p.m.5) NEW ARTISTS ON THE BLOCK
Five years ago San Juan’s contemporary art scene was practically nonexistent. That’s changing thanks to a handful of new galleries and collectors like César and Mima Reyes, who frequently play host to visiting artists like Jorge Pardo, Martin Creed and Cecily Brown. The galleries are mostly concentrated in the commercial stretches of Santurce, including Espacio 1414 (Avenida Fernández Juncos, 1414; 787-725-3899), which opened a year ago in a former Royal Tire warehouse with works by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla(the Puerto Rico-based artists nominated for this year’s Hugo Boss Prize), Piotr Uklanski and Peter Halley. Desto (Calle Américo Salas, 1400; 787-633-3381; esigualdesto.com) is an artist-run space, and a few minutes into the Hato Rey area is TagRom (Calle Guayama, 13; 787-403-6603). But the most hive-like of the batch is Galería Comercial, (Avenida Fernández Juncos, 1412; 787-217-5848; galeriacomercialpr.com). When it’s not touring on the Art Basel circuit, it’s open in a weathered pink concrete building that doubles as an air-conditioned refuge for a new generation of the avant-garde handpicked from the local Escuela de Artes Plásticas by the young gallery owner Tito Rovira-Rullán.
5 p.m.6) HIDING IN PLAIN VIEW
As in Havana and Miami, Art Deco flourished in San Juan in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. But unlike South Beach, there’s no quaint district with perky, pastel restorations. Avenida Ponce de León in Santurce is the best place to glimpse these dilapidated gems with their old paint and funky, machine-age shapes. Many of the retro buildings are derelict, while others have been drafted into service as beauty schools and office buildings. Park at the top of Ponce de León at the corner of Avenida Jose de Deigo and peer into the lobbies of the faded beauties at close range, including the sun-bleached pink Paramount Theater and the old Telegraph Building in all its streamline splendor.
9:30 p.m.7) PLEASE, FEED ME
Old San Juan, built in the 1500’s by conquistadors, was once the turf of gangsters and drug dealers. Now, its colonial buildings and narrow cobblestone streets are popping with trendy restaurants, boutique hotels and bars that serve watermelon sangria. In SoFo (South of Fortaleza), there are dozens of painfully chic restaurants, like the bordello-themed Dragonfly (Calle Fortaleza, 364; 787-977-3886), which serves nouvelle Latino fusion fare, and Aguaviva (also at Calle Fortaleza, 364; 787-722-0665), which specializes in Latino seafood dishes. For a more laid-back experience, try the 40-seat Panza in the lobby of the new Chateau Cervantes (Calle Recinto Sur, 329; 787-724-7722), or 311 Trois Cent Onze, (Calle Fortaleza, 311; 787-725-7959; www.311restaurantpr.com). Owned by Christophe Gourdain, a former bar manager at Jean-Georges in New York, and Sylma Pérez, 311 has French-tropical dishes like mango and crab salad ($11) and Caribbean lobster tail with Champagne beurre blanc ($35). The décor of its 300-year-old building is noncliché tropical with a dark wood bar and banana leaves.
11:30 p.m.8) NIGHT MOVES
Bar hoping in Old San Juan can feel a bit like pre-Katrina Bourbon Street, especially along Calle San Sebastián where on humid weekend nights it’s wall-to-wall with young women in microminis and reggaetón acolytes in baggy athletic jerseys. Barú (Calle San Sebastián, 150; 787-977-7107) and El Café Seda (Calle San Sebastián, 157; 787-724-7720) are among the most populated of the dozens of bars. But the in-crowd hides out behind the crumbling colonial facade of Marrero (Calle Sol, 270; 787-406-7205), where there is a jukebox in front and a pool table in back, the latter presided over by bleary-eyed regulars. If you can last till the wee hours, you might glimpse Residente Calle 13, an art school graduate who has become the island’s first intellectual-styled reggaetón star. He wears tattoos of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Matisse on his arms.
10 a.m9) DON’T WEAR THAT THONG
Where isn’t there a beach in San Juan? For soft sand sunbathing and easy, wave-free swimming, nothing beats Isla Verde. There’s a reason many of the luxury resorts, including the Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental and the Water Club, were built there. Sure the shoreline is built up with high-rise hotels and condos à la Miami Beach and the crowd tends to be on the pasty tourist side, but if you look out to sea you will hardly notice.
Noon10) BACK TO THE FUTURE
Culture buffs should skip the museums — why travel all the way to Puerto Rico to spend the day indoors? Instead, drive to Puerta de Tierra and explore some of the great midcentury hotels. The Normandie (Avenida Muñoz Rivera Oeste 499; 787-729-2929; normandiepr.com) is an Art Deco extravaganza built in 1942 in the shape of the old French luxury liner. It has porthole windows and a tiled lounge that spills out onto a front deck. In the 1950’s, Toro Ferrer Arquitectos, a venerable Puerto Rican firm, designed the El Caribe Hilton (Calle Rosales, San Gerónimo Grounds; 787-721-0303; hiltoncaribbean.com/sanjuan) in a tropical International style with flirty curves and brightly painted concrete blocks that scream retro vacation. Unfortunately, the Hilton recently renovated away much of its original charm, but the bones and intention are still there.
2 p.m.11) JET FUEL
Need a little pick me up before dealing with the airport? Puerto Rico takes its coffee seriously. Its arabica beans from the wet, mountainous regions are said to have a special richness. Connoisseurs abound at Panadería España Repostería in Isla Verde (Centro Comercial Villamar, Marginal Baldorioty de Castro;787-727-3860), an old-school, florescent-lighted cafeteria and bakery in a strip mall. Some of the most intoxicating café con leche ($1) is whipped up behind a metal counter there. Locals know it tastes even better with a thick slice of flan ($1.50) in coconut, vanilla or cheese.
San Juan is just under four hours on a nonstop flight from New York and is served by the major airlines. Public transportation is scant, so you will need to rent a car or take cabs, which are plentiful and relatively inexpensive.
With its classic midcentury facade the InterContinental San Juan Resort & Casino (Avenida Isla Verde 5961; 787-791-6100; www.ichotelsgroup.com) is the best-looking hotel on the beach. The interior, however, is generic hotel chain with floral comforters and nondescript semiantique furniture. Still a room on an upper floor with an ocean view that seems to go on forever can’t be beat. Rooms start at $239.
The Normandie (Avenida Munoz Rivera Oeste 499; 787-729-2929; www.normandiepr.com) has survived multiple renovations and still retains its original over-the-top charm. Rooms start at $137.
Among the latest boutique hotels to open in Old San Juan’s SoFo district, the Chateau Cervantes (Calle Recinto Sur 329, 787-724-7722; www.cervantespr.com) is in a 16th-century building. The 12 rooms are cozy, with Art Deco-modern interiors and cast iron balconies that overlook the narrow streets below. Rooms start at $500.
― ianinportland (ianinportland), Monday, 30 October 2006 16:29 (twelve years ago) Permalink
It was worth it to go to the docks just to see the cruise ships and go "holy crap!"
― Eppy (Eppy), Monday, 30 October 2006 16:59 (twelve years ago) Permalink
The only time I have been to Puerto Rico was for a long layover. We rented a taxi for two hours and just had him drive us around and give us a tour. We stopped at one of the old forts near old san juan and had fun when we noticed that a few of the cannons were perfectly aimed at some of those monstrously huge cruise ships.
― ianinportland (ianinportland), Monday, 30 October 2006 18:30 (twelve years ago) Permalink
The other good place was an Arepa place called Arepas y Mucho Mas in the southeastern corner, sorta just as you come into the old city. $2 for shrimp or pork arepas and totally delicious.
― Eppy (Eppy), Monday, 30 October 2006 22:39 (twelve years ago) Permalink
Anyone familiar with Puerto Rico's profile for people with allergies? Does the humidity create an environment where the pollen and, more important (for me), mold levels, are high? Or does the salt sea air tend to moderate those things?
― Rockist Scientist, Sunday, 27 May 2007 17:18 (eleven years ago) Permalink
Bump. Getting ready to take a walk to old San Juan to see the fort and the cannons and such. Not really sure what else is in store but after reading this I feel like it could be quite awesome. If anyone sees this and has suggestions that are more up to date than 6-7 years ago, lemme hear them.
― a monolithic testament to shiftlessness and lost productivity (dan m), Tuesday, 30 April 2013 13:36 (five years ago) Permalink
Whatever you do, don't wear nylon stockings underneath your jeans.
― pplains, Tuesday, 30 April 2013 17:04 (five years ago) Permalink
It's too hot for that anyway.
― a monolithic testament to shiftlessness and lost productivity (dan m), Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:08 (five years ago) Permalink
Update: Mesa Verde in old San Juan has fanfuckingtastic vegetarian and pescatarian food.
― a monolithic testament to shiftlessness and lost productivity (dan m), Wednesday, 1 May 2013 03:37 (five years ago) Permalink
Bumping 'cause I'm back home now. PR is amazing and slightly mad, but completely worth visiting. I have many suggestions if you do go.
― a monolithic testament to shiftlessness and lost productivity (dan m), Friday, 10 May 2013 18:44 (five years ago) Permalink
^^^this place is boarded up and for sale now, we walked past it
― a monolithic testament to shiftlessness and lost productivity (dan m), Friday, 10 May 2013 18:45 (five years ago) Permalink
i'm going there in a week, to spend two weeks there.
― 뉴 메탈은 나머지 모든 보지 똥, 거기입니다 최고의 음악이다 (Eisbaer), Saturday, 2 August 2014 02:35 (four years ago) Permalink
It's pretty sweet.
― dan m, Saturday, 2 August 2014 05:08 (four years ago) Permalink
ok, i had to push the vacation back a week but it's definitely on beginning next Friday till Labor Day.
any recommendations, dan? i vaguely remember from one of the WDYLL's that you went to Arecibo (which is also on my itinerary).
― 뉴 메탈은 나머지 모든 보지 똥, 거기입니다 최고의 음악이다 (Eisbaer), Friday, 8 August 2014 23:46 (four years ago) Permalink
Yeah, definitely go to Arecibo if you're at all a science/tech fan.
We stayed at these places:
http://villaherencia.com/ - Villa Herrencia in Old San Juan (This place was fucking fantastic but slightly pricy, worth it though.)http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review ... _Rico.html - San Juan Park Hotel (This was probably the best value for the money.)http://www.copamarina.com/ - Resort outside of Guanica.http://www.rainforestinn.com/ - Bed & breakfast outside of El Yunque. Really, really cool, friendly owners, beautiful views, loud as fuck tree frogs all night long.
Bear in mind it was my wife and I on honeymoon so ymmv as far as some of these places. There are lots and lots of options, of course.
I'd leave a day or two for San Juan itself, though you could easily do more. We wanted to get out and see the rest of the island so we rented a car and did the circuit all the way around. El Yunque is worth visiting, for sure, as is the dry forest near Guanica. I found the east coast of the island the most inviting, though we didn't make it to Vieques or the bioluminescent bays. If you go near Fajardo my suggestion is get some food and drinks here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/la-estacion-fajardo, it was fantastic. The pinxtos stands in some of the beach communities are amazing as well.
If you make it to Ponce the tour of the Serralles family home is worth taking, they're the originators of Don Q and Captain Morgan rum. A lot of Ponce was pretty depressing when I was there, though.
Also, if you're renting a car, be sure to get a really good map, because if you venture off the main roads shit gets confusing really fast.
That's all that springs to mind at the moment, I've been traveling the past few days and my mind is frazzled.
― dan m, Tuesday, 12 August 2014 12:37 (four years ago) Permalink
Follow up: be sure to get to some of the small towns and poke around a bit. This is probably obvious but you can stay in the places-that-cater-to-English-speaking-tourists and be fine, but the real fun is elsewhere imho.
― dan m, Tuesday, 12 August 2014 12:42 (four years ago) Permalink
going here in a few wks but only for like 2.5 days
― johnny crunch, Saturday, 21 November 2015 00:10 (three years ago) Permalink
you're missing the hoops
― mookieproof, Saturday, 21 November 2015 01:08 (three years ago) Permalink
non hoop travel
― johnny crunch, Saturday, 21 November 2015 01:48 (three years ago) Permalink
this was nice cept the rainforest was kinda garb or idk we did it rong poss
― johnny crunch, Sunday, 6 December 2015 00:59 (three years ago) Permalink
Can anyone tell me about the island of Culebra? Really want to go sometime early next year.
― Josefa, Sunday, 6 December 2015 03:52 (three years ago) Permalink
here on business this week. the word "beautiful" doesn't even begin to do it justice.
sadly will be indoors for majority of trip (it *is* business) but got to enjoy the beach today.
― Neanderthal, Tuesday, 5 July 2016 00:40 (two years ago) Permalink
Still resilient as fuck. Even despite a President who decided to take a shit on them.
Going to Old San Juan tonight hopefully.
― fuck the NRA (Neanderthal), Sunday, 10 February 2019 16:22 (two months ago) Permalink