Lonely Planet has partnered with San Juan-based travel community Platea to provide comprehensive guides, curated lists and insider tips for your next trip to Puerto Rico.
From storied dive bars to contemporary cocktail lounges, the bar scene in San Juan is thriving. Drawing influences from across Puerto Rico and the world, creative local bartenders have embraced island ingredients and innovative techniques to reinvent the city’s cocktail culture.
In sleek Condado, rooftop bars and terraces attract a stylish crowd of happy hour revelers primed for stunning sunset views. In the surrounding streets of Santurce, award-winning mixologists shake and stir everything from umbrella-topped tiki concoctions to artisanal rum cocktails in trendsetting bars and sultry speakeasies.
Meanwhile, tucked into the alleyways of Old San Juan, you’ll find sticky-floored literary haunts, steeped in a 1960s vibe, where the first order of business is an ice-cold Medalla beer and a shot of rum.
From chic waterfront terraces to backstreet bars hidden between the souvenir shops, here's our pick of San Juan's hottest watering holes.
Best for a shot and a beer on San Juan’s literary trail
A San Juan institution for more than 50 years, El Batey is the quintessential boozy dive bar – dimly lit, unpretentious, inexpensive and with an authentic backstory. On any given night, you’ll find a diverse cast of characters dropping by to trade stories with the friendly bartenders and relive the 1960s San Juan vibe so evocatively depicted by Hunter S Thompson in his novel, The Rum Diary, loosely based on the writer's experiences on the island in 1960.
Famous names from the Rolling Stones to Puerto Rican superstar actor Benicio del Toro have ducked into El Batey's cave-like recesses, pitched up at the bar and scrawled their names on the graffiti-covered walls.
To drink like a regular, order a Ron del Barillito (Puerto Rico’s oldest rum brand), then choose your soundtrack from the timewarp vintage jukebox and shoot some pool while you absorb the raw, bohemian vibe of Puerto Rico.
Best for salsa dancing and mind-blowing mixology
Since its inception in 2013, La Factoría has electrified San Juan’s bar scene, to the level that a visit to its hallowed dance halls is now a rite of passage for travelers and locals. The seductive backdrop to Daddy Yankee’s cult hit Despacito, La Factoria packs in the crowds all week long. Behind an unmarked door, a web of passageways etched with graffiti and strewn with fairy lights connects six bars, each with a very different vibe and theme.
After 11pm, the salsa dance hall is the place to be. While dancers strut, master mixologists conjure up some of the city’s most creative cocktails – the Lavender Mule, made from house-made ginger beer and lavender-infused syrup, is outstanding.
Best for an elegant sunset cocktail with a sublime view
One of San Juan’s most stylish rooftop bars, Arya is located inside the award-winning O:LV Hotel, one of San Juan's most stylish stays, in the ritzy Condado neighborhood. Instagram-worthy cocktails, dazzling lagoon views and an inspired all-day food menu draw a stylish crowd around the clock.
Sunset is prime time to swing by. As the sun sinks behind San Juan, house mixologists work their magic, shaking and stirring potent cocktails full of exotic island ingredients – try the refreshing watermelon mojito or a Caribbean tiki classic spiked with local rum.
The kitchen serves crowd-pleasing modern American and fusion fare, from velvety tuna tartare and trimmings-stuffed Ayra burgers to tasty renditions of Puerto Rican classics such as pork longaniza (a Spanish sausage similar to chorizo). It's very easy to settle in for the night.
Best for rum purists
One of 2021’s hottest openings, Scryer Rum is a buzzy cocktail bar and craft rum distillery that blends creative élan with an earthy neighborhood vibe. In the wake of Hurricane María, owners Garrett Robinson and Derek Schwarz built Scryer from the rubble of an infamous punk-rock hangout, and shifted the focus to small-batch, cask-seasoned rums.
It's a powerful symbol of resilience, and everything here feels like it's delivered straight from the heart. The bar is located on photogenic Calle Tetuán, and its laid-back vibe encourages drinkers to linger – sink back on the comfortable sofas or drift up to the rooftop terrace to soak up the views of Old San Juan.
The signature cocktails successfully combine some unusual flavors – try the Classy Lassie which blends Scryer rum with Port wine, lemon and honey, or the Claude & Sherry, a playful riff on an Old Fashioned. Hardcore rum aficionados can tour the distillery (see online for timings, $15) and sample rum direct from the Port and sherry finishing barrels.
Best for classic aperitifs and old-school glamour
Rich in history and ambiance, VC Lounge is the sophisticated lobby bar at the storied Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, which has been luring the great and the good since 1919. A well-groomed crowd of locals and guests gathers nightly to swap stories at the bar and take in breathtaking Atlantic views from the breezy terrace.
There’s no need to pretend you have a room upstairs – just dress the part, sink into a plush red velvet chair and take your time enjoying a perfectly executed cocktail. The cocktail list includes the impressive El Soñador 19, a smooth combination of Bulleit bourbon, fresh lime juice and cardamom syrup, and the Vanderbilt Mojito, made from Ron del Barillito – the Rolls Royce of the rum world.
Should hunger strike, the tapas menu features Spanish-inspired classics such as Jamón Ibérico and croquetas de bacalao (salt cod croquettes). Try to time your visit with happy hour (5-7pm daily) for pocket-pleasing specials.
Best for a tiki sipper and inventive small plates
Owned by Roberto Berdecía of La Factoría fame, funky Junglebird is known for its wildly creative tiki-style cocktails and other agreeably tropical libations. Located just off La Placita de Santurce, it's a great place to start a bar hop around town.
Mingle with locals in the neon-lit lounge or head out onto the patio and try one of the house cocktails. We recommend Frida’s Visit to MOMA – a fruity tequila and cachaça-based concoction – or the Saturn, made with London Gin, passion fruit and lemon.
The bar’s kitchen – Jungle BaoBao – is helmed by acclaimed local chef Paxx Caraballo Moll and serves up globe-trotting small plates of bao buns, dumplings and ceviche.
Bar La Unidad
Best for wine, cocktails and speakeasy glamor
Bar La Unidad is a favorite locals' hang out in the upscale residential neighborhood of Miramar. Concealed within a nondescript building, with dim lighting, leather banquettes and dark wood, it has a sultry speakeasy vibe, and it's easy to miss. Locate Hazel Bar – a coffee shop – and it's a couple of doorways away on your left.
Inside, adept bartenders reinvent classic cocktails and mix up playful libations from unexpected ingredients – the tart Beet O’ Juice combines aged rum with rhubarb bitters, habanero pepper and beetroot soda. There’s also a well-curated wine list partnered with a stellar menu of small bites and bar food. If you’re looking for a spot to bring a date, this is the place.
Best for an authentic local feel and drinks with an island vibe
Conveniently located a short stroll from Condado Lagoon, Antillano combines a relaxed, eclectic vibe and tasty cocktails. Owners, Edrick Colón and Stephen Alonso, are veterans of Puerto Rico’s cocktail and liquor scene – and it shows. Every item on the cocktail and tapas menu brilliantly showcases fresh Caribbean ingredients and flavors.
Edrick and Stephen are often found behind the bar, creating custom cocktails and tropical aperitifs such as the Caribeño, made from aged Bacardi, passionfruit and cayenne pepper. The food here is equally superb – make space for the fresh-off-the-boat tuna tartare and the must-try house special, piña colada bao bao (coconut crusted fish served inside a bao bun).
Best for people-watching, artisan cocktails and a beautiful setting
Helmed by José Santaella, one of Puerto Rico’s top chefs, Santaella’s wood-paneled bar is one of San Juan’s most inviting spots for an early evening cocktail. The decor is smartly contemporary with Edison lights, exposed concrete walls, an interior garden and flamboyant murals adding a creative spark.
Award-winning Caribbean cocktails are skillfully crafted by the bar staff, using produce, herbs and spices grown in the restaurant's garden. A stand-out is the Santurce Daiquiri, which blends aged Don Q Reserva (Puerto Rico’s top-selling rum, produced in Ponce) with apricot brandy.
Bartenders will happily create a cocktail to fit your mood but it’s hard to go wrong with anything on the menu. It’s well worth sampling Santaella’s flavorsome appetizers – especially the goat cheese quesadilla drizzled with white truffle oil and the ahi tuna skewers.
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