On Friday night my coworker Katalina invited Seth and me out for our first rumba. Nine months into my stay in Colombia, I am still not exactly sure what the word “rumba” means—outside of its Afro-Cuban and ballroom origins, that is. I think it signifies the total dance-party experience: the dance, the music, the lights, the performance, the cocktails, and the shots.
Seth and I met Kata and her friends at the Bar Club, a multi-story bar-slash-club (Imagine that!) in the heart of La T. We started the night with a couple of cocktails—a cosmopolitan for Kata, a caipirinha for Seth, and a dirty martini for me. Seth then decided to order a shot of tequila, Blue Curacao, and gin (Yeah, I know…), and I was still sipping my first drink when Kata approached us, frantically waving her arms and rushing us to finish. She had ordered a round of shots for the group, except she hadn’t only ordered one shot for each person; she had ordered three mini shots! The bartender lined each set of three in its proper order and gave us the following instructions: drink shot one, spin around once; drink shot two, spin around twice; drink shot three, spin around thrice. Then, just as we swallowed our last shot, the bartender hit each of us on the head with a giant foam hammer. Aaand… that was our initiation to the party scene in Colombia! We danced for a while, and before we knew it Kata had ordered everyone another shot. The bartender lit the whole bar on fire, waited for the flames to subside, then popped straws into each glass. “Sigan!” he yelled. And so we did.
From what I can tell, cocktails and shots seem to be a way of life in upscale Colombian bars. Whereas Americans tend to order basic combinations of liquor and mixer—e.g., a gin and tonic, a vodka soda, or a whiskey and coke—Colombians prefer the sweet stuff. They like martinis, especially tropical fruit variations. When Seth and I went to Pravda with Juancho and his friend Alexandra a few months back, they insisted on ordering lulo martinis. Kata’s crowd was no different. Men and women alike, everyone appreciates the art of a well-crafted COP$20,000 (US$10) cocktail.
On nights when Colombians cannot afford to hit the bar-slash-clubs, they typically prefer to drink beer at their local cigarrerías (convenience stores). But Colombians do not drink just any beer; they drink Cerveza Poker. The cheapest of the cheap (COP$900), the lightest of the light, the worst of the worst, Poker is more or less the Natural or Natty Light of the Colombian beer world. Colombians will occasionally “splurge” on a Club Colombia or an Aguila for a higher premium. I often do, and besides the color of my skin it’s my deadest gringa giveaway. That said, the cigarrería drinking experience is not really about the quality of beer; it’s about the quantity of beer. Groups of Colombians gather at a single table under harsh lighting to chat and accumulate empty bottles like trophies.
I prefer something in between, namely the pub or the wine bar. I prefer a quiet place with good conversation and good drink. While there are a couple of pubs in Bogotá with a decent atmosphere, I have yet to find one with an impressive selection of beer. And, while I assume that wine bars do exist, I know I cannot afford them. Did I mention I’m looking forward to the holidays?
[The Bar Club: Carrera 14 # 83-57 Piso 2, Bogotá-Colombia]