Effervescently poppin’ – that’s the best way to describe San José’s nightlife, which has really flourished over the past few years. Like warm, sweet-and-salty popcorn bursting straight outta the kettle, its fresh, local creativity, and trendy foreign influences have turned this city from hapless to hoppin’ in just over a decade. 

Let’s first explore the area just east of the Costa Rican capital: San Pedro, Barrio Amón, and Barrio La California. Near the University of Costa Rica, this area is the most cultural and ebullient part of the entire metropolitan area, with a sprinkling of quirky cafes and verdant parks. Considered the ‘old rich’ section of the city, it hosts some ritzy neighbourhoods with spacious housing.

Amón Solar and El Sótano

For the past few years, this pair of parlours (plus a bistro) located inside a renovated house have been among the most trendy bars to visit. Upstairs, the Amón Solar features the country’s greatest variety of shows, ranging from sentient local artists to nomadic international performers. The repertoire spans from jazz trios to French reggae; from funky electronic to swing criollo – a local sound. 

Amón Solar

Downstairs, El Sótano (“the basement”) is reminiscent of a late-night New York City bar, brimming with soul, blues, funk, and Indie singer-songwriters. Intimate, with dim lights and theatre-like seating, it’s a great place to end the evening. 

Live music at El Sótano

A gin and tonic will cost about ₡3,500 CRC (around US$6), and a local craft beer, such as Libertas, is about ₡2,500 CRC. Stop by the convenient restaurant next to Amón Solar and enjoy a homey Aztec soup, or some tasty, toasty yuca. Prices are mainly mid-range. It’s best to take a taxi or an Uber, as the location itself is quite a distance to walk to from any built-up urban area.

Las Moiras

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The city’s first modern cabaret, Las Moiras attracts a wide range of artists to one trendy space, boasting versatility at its best. Here you can treat your epicurean taste buds to a night of sangría and tapas, enjoy an art exhibition, and even a game of bingo. You can also boogie to the tunes of a live local band, or a funky DJ, with cocktail in hand. So much to do, so little time!

On the menu, you’ll find delectable vegetarian-stuffed tomatoes, and spicy-mango salmon (₡5,500 to 7,000 CRC). The sangría and wines are highly recommended. Prices are mid-range, to slightly expensive. Take a taxi, Uber, or just walk. 

Stiefel and Bebedero La California 

There are, indeed, a couple of other east-side bars worth visiting. Stiefel is reminiscent of a European pub, with a vast array of refreshing local craft beers. Beers cost about ₡2,500 CRC, and it’s located in a pleasant area, near the picturesque Ministry of Foreign Relations. 

Poke your head into Bebedero, an intimate den near the city centre, for an unprecedented surprise. You can design your own cocktail concoction with creative ingredients, which will, in turn, be masterfully mixed by the bartenders for about ₡5,000 CRC. This locale is best reached by taxi or Uber. 

Photo: Bebedero

Don’t forget to meander down to Barrio La California, which hosts a handful of dive bars frequented by a slightly younger crowd. It’s perfect for bar hopping, and it also provides a deeper understanding of the idiosyncrasies for which Costa Ricans are known. The most popular bars here may just be La Concha de la Lora and Bahamas. Pricing is quite affordable in this area, especially if you swoop by Rafa’s for their ₡1,500 CRC beer. 

Take a 20-minute drive to the west side of San José, and a different world – modern, glamorous and upscale – begins to unfold. This area is increasingly the land of the ‘new riche’, due to the volume of wealthy foreigners who have settled there. Here, opulence contrasts with the more old-fashioned town centres, which maintain the rustic and rural Costa Rican feel. Two spectacular bars in the area are set alongside the main highway – la 27, as locals call it – and they make for quite an enjoyable night. 

Jazz Café Escazú

The Jazz Café has a sister bar on the east side, in San Pedro, though this one, three stories high, is much bigger. The venue hosts shows almost every night of the week, from local rock, to tropical rhythms like salsa and reggae, to jazz jam sessions. Savour the local fish ceviche or pork chifrijo bocas for about ₡4,000 CRC each. Relax with a creative Coconut Tequila cocktail, or the famously epic guaro sour. Prices at the Jazz Cafe vary between mid-range to expensive.

8ctavo Rooftop 

Situated on the top floor of the Sheraton Hotel, the 8ctavo Rooftop bar is pretty and posh, with a magnificent panoramic view, and a splendid, well-lit pool overlooking the city. Whether it be to attend a DJ night, or a casual dinner with drinks, there’s no question this is a must-see spot for those willing to splurge. The seafood is most popular, and the cosmopolitans and fruity martinis are quite the hit, especially on ladies’ night (two beers for ₡3,000 CRC, ladies!). Prices on other nights are high. Both the 8cotavo Rooftop and the Jazz Cafe Escazú are only a short ride from the grand Multiplaza Mall by taxi or Uber.

So if you are planning on visiting Costa Rica just for its natural paradise, do give San José a chance as well. This cool capital’s trendy vibe will definitely spice up your holiday!

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