Cheers to Bogotá!
One of country’s best bartenders takes us on a tour of the Colombian capital’s vibrant new nightlife scene. Four award-winning bars, electronic beats, and plenty of gin, tequila, and rum on an eight-hour odyssey in search of a rejuvenated Bogotá that wakes up when the sun sets.
Text: Martín Echenique @martinechenique photos: Victoria Holguín @victoriaholguin
THANKS TO Juan Valderrama www.cuartodeonza.com
The people of Bogotá should count themselves lucky. Very lucky. First of all, they don’t suffer through the same schizophrenic seasonal weather like most of the world. Second, they enjoy an average temperature of 66ºF, year round. And third, the 13-hour-long nights offer a genuine playground for those whose favorite pastime is to raise their glasses to pretty much anything that comes to mind.
Given these favorable conditions, we set out on a mission to find the best and newest bars in a metropolitan area of nearly 11 million people. To help us on our way, we enlisted 24-year-old Colombian bartender Juan Valderrama, winner of the 2012 Diageo World Class Award – the Oscars of the cocktail-making world – and a diehard fan of Negronis and Bloody Marys. In a single night, we visited four of the award-winning bars that Valderrama recommended, trying to stay as sober as possible in the process.
Chelsea: High Class
A suggestive neon sign reading “High Expectations” welcomes you with an implicit promise to all who venture onto one of the most stylish rooftop terraces in the Colombian capital: Chelsea.
Located on the 11th floor of the Bioxury hotel, Chelsea offers an incomparable view of the southern part of the city, while its terrace takes full advantage of the 5:30 p.m. sunset over the Bogotá skyline. The specialty on the 11-cocktail menu is a spirit that has been in style since 2011: gin. Here, tea tonics – gin and tonic infused with organic teas – are by far the most popular items. Don’t leave without trying Valderrama’s favorite, The Chelsea, made with Tanqueray Ten gin, strawberry green tea, and Fever-tree tonic water, all smoked with cinnamon and served in a very generous glass. “Chelsea is like being at the apartment of a millionaire friend in New York,” says Valderrama, tea tonic in one hand, cigarette in the other.
We finish our drinks and head out towards our next stop. The night is still young.
Mai-Tai: Fabulous Fusion
As we cross through the famous sector of the Zona Rosa on our way west, Valderrama explains that Mai-Tai has become something of a ritual, the new favorite among local bartenders who congregate there every Monday or Wednesday at lunchtime. “We get together, catch up on the latest cocktails over a few drinks, and head back to work.” If this place is the hot spot among the top Colombian mixologists, who are we to say no?
Valderrama adds that Mai-Tai – opened just 11 months ago – is the first restaurant in Bogotá to be owned by a professional bartender. César Acero, a 31-year-old native of Bogotá, recently joined the pantheon of Colombia’s mixologists at the last Diageo World Class in 2015. Today, his place offers an intimate atmosphere, Japanese fusion cuisine, and cocktails capable of teleporting you to the warmth of Polynesia.
The tea tonics at Chelsea have whetted our appetites. Valderrama recommends that we try the house cocktail and signature sushi, which both bear the name of the restaurant. Acero’s Mai Tai mixes natural pineapple and lemon juices, spices, horchata, orange liqueur, and a mix of aged dark rums, and it goes great with the sushi roll that has tempura eel, kani, and cream cheese on the inside and avocado and fresh orange on the outside.
In a word: delicious.
Queen Victoria: The Sovereign
Now at our third stop, the city’s engine seems to be revving up. It’s nearly 11 p.m., and Queen Victoria, a bar on the sixth-floor terrace of the hotel GHL 93, welcomes us with an
open-air terrace filled with twenty – and thirty – somethings, while the DJ plays electronic beats and house music opposite the bar in a scene that could just as well be in London’s Soho.
With a British aesthetic inspired by the Victorian era and terrific views of the northern part of the city, Queen Victoria is an institution in Bogotá’s vital new nightlife scene, and Valderrama was personally responsible for creating all the cocktails on the menu. “There was nothing like it, so I had to think outside the box,” says Valderrama as he orders a Kent Duke, made with gin, angostura bitters, orange bitters, Martini Bianco, and orange oil in a 450 ml (15 oz) glass worthy of royalty (and the brave).
The perfectly circular bar is the only one of its kind in Colombia, and the signature drinks on the bold cocktail menu incorporate tequila, whiskey, and vodka, coffee-smoke salt, lemon honey, and crème de cassis, among other delights. Get there early: by midnight, the place is packed.
Floyd: The New Challenger
Following a marathon of tea tonics, Mai Tais, and Victorian goblets, we wind down our nighttime crusade at a place that brings to mind those California clubs with red-carpeted entrances and security guards, where you might find Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan dancing on tables and drinking shots as though the world were ending.
With 40-foot ceilings and ten shelves lined with bottles of gin, vodka, and rum, Floyd is the newcomer on the scene. It was opened just four months ago with a menu created by Andrés Garzón, a World Class winner from 2011. The cocktails are “simple but with plenty of flavor,” according to Valderrama. His favorite? The Bubbly Gin – Tanqueray gin, strawberry syrup, champagne, and soda water – and the Gin Morrison with peach cordial, sencha tea syrup, and drops of bitters. We are tempted into trying one of each, as Floyd starts to fill up around midnight, the DJ plays hard house beats, and the crowd blends in with the kitschy, yet visually striking, jungle atmosphere.
The night keeps going, and I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to remember anything the next day after sampling cocktails all night long. Ironically, though to my good fortune, Valderrama gets inspired with a bottle of Gordon’s. Invading the other side of the bar with an unexpected and unpretentious boldness, one of the best bartenders in Colombia whips up four gin and tonics in less than a minute, as though he were at home in his living room. And now, the invitation has been extended: it’s your turn to discover a Bogotá that renews itself with each toast.
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