Despite my extensive travels–43 countries and counting–I had never been to Puerto Rico. That is until my recent trip in May 2023. For whatever reason, I just hadn’t booked a trip until now. Luckily, I had a conference to attend, so I landed in Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago. I think it’s important to learn about the places I visit. (This podcast on the battle for the public beaches recently came up in my feed.) While my focus here is on the best cocktail bars in San Juan, I also explored the city and learned about its history. One of my favorite things about visiting a new place is talking to people. I enjoyed quite a few conversations about statehood versus independence. If you are in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I hope you’ll check out one of these bars for a cocktail and a chat with a local.
1. La Factoria
- Location: 148 C. de San Sebastián
- Hours: 7 days a week, 11am-4am
Undoubtedly the best known bar in Puerto Rico, due to its many accolades, La Factoria is absolutely a must visit place. From the moment you figure out that there are five additional bars through the first bar you enter, you’re transported. As you push through doors you feel like you shouldn’t, different menus and musical genres are there to greet you. Open since 2013, this bar feels as old as the rest of Old San Juan that you walked through to get here. When I visited, I couldn’t find a seat in El Facto, so I pushed through the door slightly behind the bar to get to Vino. I enjoyed food and drinks, chatted with bartenders and guests, and had an amazing time.
Two cocktails in Puerto Rico not to miss out on:
- Mercado Roma – mezcal, ancho piña shrub, grapefruit, lime, clove honey, and angostura
- Grenache – ilegal mezcal, campari, amaro sfumato, luxardo cherry sangue morlacco, and myrcene/nerolidol
2. La Penultima
- Location: 1359 Avenue Ponce de Leon
- Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5pm-2am | Friday-Saturday, 5pm-3am | Closed Sunday
One of my favorite ways to discover the best bars in any city is to ask bartenders where they go to have a cocktail. I heard about La Penultima from the bartender at the next bar on this list. When I walked in, it was bustling. Friends and solo guests alike were eating, drinking, and enjoying themselves. The bar and the kitchen crew were hard at work and in sync. Seats at the bar were packed tight but I managed to grab a stool. The Manhatten-esque was amazing. Made with rye, jasmine tea syrup, Averna, and Punt E Mes, the cocktail was strong and smooth. This neighborhood bar is perfect for a bite to eat and a chill time with indoor and outdoor seating options.
3. Jungle Bird
- Location: 254 C. Canals
- Hours: Thursday-Saturday, 5pm-2am | Tuesday-Wednesday, 5pm-1am | Closed, Sunday-Monday
The very first bar I checked out after landing in San Juan was Jungle Bird. So many people had recommended it to me, and it did not disappoint. I love tiki bars and this one was understated and well-stocked. From the incredible rum selection to the curated list of cocktails, it was hard to decide what to drink. I landed on the Devil’s Paradise. It is made with mezcal, lime, pineapple, passion fruit, Campari, sugar cane, and tiki bitters. I enjoyed my delicious drink and some DonQ 7 year over a lively conversation with the bartender. If you want to learn a ton about the island and its rums, go early to have the bartenders and the place to yourself.
- Location: 1464 Av. Wilson
- Hours: Friday-Saturday, 5pm-3am | Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, 5pm-2am | Closed Monday-Tuesday
I was looking for a nice spot to take a group of women from the conference I was attending. We wanted to relax and have a conversation over drinks and some snacks. 173º (or 173 Grados) was the perfect spot for both. I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting the menu was, both for food and drinks. And, it was full of local people, a bit outside of the typical tourist areas, which I love. We spent several hours there enjoying great service in a laid-back environment. I will definitely be returning here.
The menu was highly creative with unique ingredients. I enjoyed these two inventive cocktails:
- Imagine – gin, Greek yogurt, lavender, Peche de Vigne, lemon, and chocolate
- The Cure – Fernet Branca, spiced rum, lemon, simple, choco & walnut bitters, and egg white
- Location: 201 Calle del Cristo
- Hours: 7 days a week, noon-1am
I’m not a smoker but when I heard about this cigar lounge that serves excellent cocktails, I had to check it out. Casa de Montecristo is located in the heart of Old San Juan in a space that’s more than 400 years old. In addition to the walk-in humidor and drinks, they also have live music which I greatly enjoyed. The atmosphere is chic and relaxed. It’s definitely worth a stop as part of a great night out in the city. My friends and I enjoyed a round of Wanderlust cocktails. They are made with Montelobos Mezcal, Campari, Lime, and Passion Fruit Foam.
6. El Batey
- Location: 101 Calle del Cristo
- Hours: 7 days a week, 3pm-midnight
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t make it to El Batey tavern in Old San Juan. But I am mentioning it here for you and to remind myself for next time. Described as a dive bar, the menu says otherwise. (Or at least not your typical dive bar impression which is to stick with beer.) The reputation of the friendly staff and laid-back atmosphere sounds perfect.
- Location: Edmundo B Fernández Inc, PR-5
- Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9am-6:30pm
If you’re visiting Puerto Rico, you have to visit at least one rum distillery. On my trip in May 2023, I visited two. The oldest rum distillery on the island is Ron del Barrilito which means rum from the little barrel. They offer great tours that include the original home of the founding family, the distillery, and the tasting room. The tasting room offers cocktails, in addition to rum flights. I enjoyed the Old Barrel made with Ron del Barrilito 3 stars, acerola syrup, orange and chocolate bitters, and served in a smoked glass. I also brought a bottle of the 3 star rum home, which is another reason to visit Puerto Rico as an American. You can bring back duty free without checking a bag.
- Location: 1413 Avenida Ponce de León
- Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 5pm-11pm | Closed Monday-Tuesday
Recently selected for the 20 Best New Restaurants in America by the James Beard Foundation, Vianda peaked my interest as soon as I read about it. With a focus on farm-to-table dishes, great wines, and a curated cocktail selection, it was the perfect place for my final dinner in San Juan. I enjoyed the Corazón de Melón which is made with El Nivel tequila, watermelon shrub, and candied melon. It was tart, bright, and delicious. The food was also incredible.
- Location: FW77+HR5, C. Los Rosales
- Hours: 7 days a week, 5pm-midnight
Before you think I’ve run out of great cocktail bars in San Juan and randomly stuck in a hotel lobby bar, give me a second to explain. First, there are some great hotel bars in the world. And, Caribar happens to be where the frozen piña colada was invented in 1954. This has been the official drink of Puerto Rico since 1978 and is known the world over as a fantastic tropical drink. I can honestly say that this was the best I’ve ever had, Coco Lopez and all.
And there you have my picks for the best cocktail bars in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I hope you will be able to visit some of these. If I missed any of your favorites, I would love to hear which ones. Cheers!