While in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we stayed a few days in the Condado area. An ocean-front neighborhood sometimes called the Manhattan of Puerto Rico. It’s east of the historic Old San Juan area, but no more than a quick taxi ride away. It is the place for easygoing urban beach fun with a touch of luxury.
We were checking in late, so opted for a traditional hotel with 24hr front desk. The DoubleTree by Hilton was our home base for a couple days. There is also a great selection of smaller boutique hotels that are worth considering. The cozy Wind Chimes Boutique Hotel is set within a walled Spanish villa a few steps from Ocean Beach West. Vegetarians love The Dreamcatcher Hotels breakfast and locally sourced brunch menu. Each room and suite is individually decorated.
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We had a busy few days exploring Old San Juan, the street murals of Calle Cerra, and a traditional local Santurce Market.
For some Puerto Rican barbershop inspiration we visited the Museo de Arte. Housed in a 1920s neoclassical former hospital, the museum boasts a wide collection of works by Puerto Rican artists including Pepon Osorio.
“No Crying In The Barbershop” is a mixed media installation where Pepon explores masculinity in a barbershop. After all the urban wandering and beach side fun, a relaxing drink at a unique local spot was in order.
High-End Cocktails in Transformed Barbershop
Tucked across the road from Instagram worthy Libros Libres and local cheap eats Bebo’s Café in the Condado/Santurce neighborhood on Calle Loíza, a distinct blue sign with a moustache stands out against a brick building – El Bar Bero. This is a cocktail bar with a twist. The bar’s name is a nod to its former history as a barbershop and a play on the Spanish word for barber (barbero).
Carlos Raoul Rivera is the owner here and over a decade ago, he turned this once abandoned space into a cocktail bar now known for its drinks and atmosphere. “This was actually a beauty salon/barber shop for 33 years. It was abandoned for maybe 10 years and I saw the opportunity to get the space,” he says.
“When I was looking for a name for the bar, I remembered that there were barbers here and beauticians, so I wanted to pay a little bit of a tribute to something that lasted so long in the area.” Carlos Rivera
Antique Flow with a Modern Touch
Stepping inside you’re immediately transported to the barbershops of the past. A large, red barber chair stands guard at the door – an original from 1898.
“We found this chair in pieces in an old antique shop,” Carlos says as he runs his hand along the red upholstered arm of the chair. “We restored it with my father a little bit. We tried to preserve it, the inside of the barber chair is still the actual original wood.”
The bar is full of decor with a barbershop theme including the classic red, white and blue barber poles. Also a haunting image of a lone, red barber’s chair in the ruins of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania covers an entire wall.
Vintage barber chairs in front of a mirrored wall provide a place to sit and enjoy your drink. Lining the walls are photos of famous people with mustaches in a variety of colorful frames. A closer look reveals Einstein, Freddie Mercury, Gandi, and Carlos!
“We try to incorporate a little bit of the antique flow with the modern.”
El Bar Bero’s unique take on bar stools with antique barber chairs makes the space feel authentic and playful. Carlos has collected the chairs over the years. Some were rescued from backyards or from where they were collecting dust in a house. He’s always searching for another to add to the collection.
The chairs get a new life here – the night life. “Nobody ever sits on 1930s or ‘20s barber’s chairs, so it’s a very interesting way to spend a night. A little bit of history, a little bit of cocktail history as well,” Carlos says.
Haircuts and Cocktails on the Menu
While cocktails are the bar’s specialty, haircuts are still available in the attached barbershop. Customers can get a haircut and a shave during the day and come back for a cocktail at night. Truly a mix of business and pleasure. Yes, I did indulge in a conservative fade haircut that we filmed and shared on Youtube!
Carlos says they develop cocktails in house and take the hit of a few hangovers themselves to nail down the perfect combinations. Once it’s on the menu though, it’s sure to be a winner.
“We try to remove a lot of the cocktails from the menu to try to bring in new ones, but people won’t let us,” Carlos says with a smile.
Drinks are ordered off their chalkboard menu with more than 60 specialty and standard cocktails to choose from. Many have barbershop inspired names like El Mullet, Gentleman’s Cut, Lavender Fade #7 or El Goatee.
But it’s the ‘Ron del Barrilito Smoked Old Fashioned’ we’re treated to. It features Puerto Rico’s oldest rum, Ron del Barrilito, star anise, mole bitters, homemade demerara syrup, freshly grated raw cocoa from the island and is topped with flamed orange peel for additional aroma and taste. This drink is unique as Carlos has woodchips from one of Barrilito’s aging barrels. Lit on fire, smoke from the woodchips fill the glass before adding the other ingredients – ensuring a smooth, smoky taste.
Unique, But Not Expensive
Carlos says El Bar Bero is not just for those who traditionally like the bar scene. They have something for everyone – from grandparents to college students and everybody in-between.
“We try to make it unique, but at the same time not that expensive either. We don’t like to have this pretentious vibe. It’s very affordable for everybody. We cater to everybody here.” Carlos Rivera
El Bar Bero also has a license to infuse liquor. The only bar in Puerto Rico to have that according to Carlos. It gives them the ability to mix together different spirits along with their own ingredients to create even more distinct drinks.
Carlos says you may even get the chance to drink with the spirits of the old barbers who used to call this space home. “They drink with us at night man. They come here and we can see some bottles turn. So they’re definitely here. They can definitely feel the good vibe here.”
Vintage Game Room at El Bar Bero
The surprises continue as we wander deeper into El Bar Bero. A vintage game room at the back of the bar houses an old betting table with wooden horses that spin around a track.
It’s from the 1950s and the game is called ‘Pica de Caballos’ or horse pike. Carlos feels lucky to have got his hands on an original. The horses are hand-carved out of wood. Between drinks, Carlos says customers in the past have placed a friendly bet while taking a spin at the game.
The room also contains a shoeshine station. Carlos helped build it with original foot stools and old-fashioned chairs from his grandma. The room is part of the vibe of the bar to pay homage to days past. A showcase of old professions and activities for future generations.
Cheers – Salud!
While most customers know what to expect when entering El Bar Bero, a few may still wander in expecting a haircut rather than a cocktail. Carlos explains the bar is a curiosity. When they first started up, people would post on Facebook they were at El Bar Bero and would have their friends wondering why they were getting a haircut after midnight.
Carlos ends our visit with a toast – “Salud” – which roughly means “to your health.” It’s something he says is important now more than ever.
He hopes to see many new faces in the bar where they do cocktails the right way. El Bar Bero is a cut above the rest when it comes to a spot to enjoy a drink and a fun atmosphere. Salud!
El Bar Bero,
1507 Calle Loíza,
San Juan, Puerto Rico