A low-key, though generally busy, dive bar with low lighting just bright enough to reveal the stripped down walls covered in graffiti from the flow of bar patrons over the years. Locals return regularly for games of pool and to vie for control of the jukebox. Tourists are not likely to award the bar any points for decorum, but the crowd, a lively and artsy mix, fill the bar with enough welcoming energy for anyone to have a good time. El Batey offers a full bar though the majority of bar-goers opt for a local Medalla beer and shot or highball of local rum.
101 Calle del Cristo (Old San Juan)
Whether or not you may agree with it, cockfighting still exists as a gaming sport in Puerto Rico and is considered to many as an important part of the island’s cultural history. First introduced by the Spanish in the 16th century, the sport was briefly banned in the late 1800’s until it was legalized in 1933 and became subject to government regulations relating to designated arenas, breeding, fighting practices and betting.
Club Gallistico caters to both locals and tourists offering several admission price promotions, including a tourist entrance fee of $5. You will enter on the upper level of the arena, which looks down into the well-lit artificial turf fighting ring where the cockfights take place. Walking around the upper ring, spectators will pass the pens holding the gamecocks and will be able to see the handlers filing the bird’s feet and attaching small spurs onto them prior to their fight. The upper ring also houses a small bar, which is useful for both the faint of heart and over zealous cockfighting enthusiasts.
The gamecocks are loaded into plastic cages from the upper level and lowered down to the ring. Ringside handlers each unload a bird and begin prepping it for the fight by hitting it with a stuffed rooster before re-loading the gamecocks into their boxes, which are separated by a single divider. The roosters are released and the fights, which tend to be brief, begin until one bird is typically killed or injured to the point where it can no longer fight by the other. All the while, spectators shout out bets, a system based on honor, which continues to exist as cockfighting is revered as a gentleman’s sport. After the fight, the gamecocks are removed and new birds are lowered down to the (blood-stained) ring for the next fights.
6600 Isla Verde Avenue, Isla Verde, Carolina
Easily recognized by its appearance, memorialized in songs and a long-standing favorite in Puerto Rico, the Piña Colada is a cocktail made of rum, coconut cream and fresh pineapple juice. Typically garnished with a maraschino cherry and wedge of pineapple, the drink has become synonymous with the island, but the origins of this famous cocktail have been debated since the early 1950’s.
While the actual history of the drink is a bit muddled with claims that the first Piña Colada was invented outside of Puerto Rico either in Cuba or Spain, the two histories that are given the most weight are those surrounding Ramón Portas Mingot at Barrachina and Ramon “Monchito” Marrero of the former Beachcomber Bar. According to Barrachina loyalists, the drink was invented in 1963 but the story believed to be more credible is that the original Piña Colada was the result of over three months of experimentation by Marrero, bartender of the then well-known Beachcomber Bar (now the Oasis bar) at the Caribe Hilton. As the story goes, the bartender was tasked with developing a drink to appease the bar’s high profile clientele. Coincidentally, in 1954, the popular ingredient Coco Lopez-Cream of Coconut was also invented. Marrero was also the bartender acknowledged on that day in 1978, when the government declared the Piña Colada the official drink of Puerto Rico and recognized Marrero for selling 3 million orders of the drink. The actual truth behind the origins of the drink may have been already lost to history, but that shouldn’t preclude avid researchers from hitting both Oasis and Barrachina in pursuit of the truth during their stay in San Juan.
Oasis at the Caribe Hilton, 1 San Geronimo Street, San Juan
Barrachina, 104 Fortaleza St, Old San Juan
Widely available and a favorite of tourists and locals alike, mofongo, in simple terms, is a dish of mashed plantains filled with vegetables, chicken, beef or seafood. Though mofongo, as it is known today, is traditionally Puerto Rican, it is widely believed to be derived from the island’s African influenced history and a riff on the West African dish, fufu. Traditionally, the starchy dish is made from fried green plantains mashed with garlic and pork cracklings into either a bowl to hold the fillings or into balls to accompany the main dish. A simple dish but a staple in the Puerto Rican kitchen and likely to become a favorite of those who try it.