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Castro's Bar - Contender for Best Latin Club on the Planet

by Robert Abrams
September 7, 2006
Castro's Bar
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San Jose, OT (Costa Rica) -
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Dance Adventures in Costa Rica

  • Castro's Bar - Contender for Best Latin Club on the Planet - 9/7/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • CMC2006 Banquet with Dance Performances - 9/7/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • Pueblo Antiguo Show to benefit the Costa Rican Children's Hospital - 9/8/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • A Tour to Arenal Volcano - 9/9/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • Castro's Bar is Crowded on a Saturday Night but There is Still Plenty of Space to Dance - 9/10/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • Video of Costa Rican Cumbia at Castro's Bar - 9/10/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • It is just barely September 7, 2006 here in San Jose, Costa Rica. I have just returned to my hotel from what could plausibly assert itself as a contender for the title of Best Latin Club on the Planet: Castro's Bar.

    I am in Costa Rica for the Second International Concept Mapping Conference. At the last one of these get togethers in 2004 in Spain, I went in search of Paso Doble. This time I went in search of Salsa. This time I was not alone. It turns out that there are at least a bus full of concept mappers who crave dance. (Concept mapping is a technique for representing knowledge. There were over 300 attendees at the conference, from all over the world.)

    Castro's Bar opens at about 9 pm (Central time, but keep in mind that Costa Rica doesn't use daylight savings time). We got there around 9:30 pm or so. I knew this was a real Latin club before I even stepped inside because they looked in everyone's bags and waved a metal detector wand over everyone. Make sure you bring your id.

    The inside is decorated, but is not fancy. It has style without pretensions. The DJ was playing a Latin mix. The volume was loud, but not toxic. Some in our party thought it was a little too loud, but I thought it was just about right. There were a few couples on the floor. They were doing their thing, but it was a little basic. It is never a good idea to judge a place or a dancer by your first glance, and this turned out to apply here. Looking back on the evening as a whole, they were just warming up.

    Castro's Bar has a nice wooden floor inset in the middle of the seating area. I was wearing a pair of suede bottomed dance shoes which I brushed out before dancing. I thought the floor was a little fast: there is some potential to slip if you get wild or you land wrong, but it was generally a floor that any dancer can work with. The lighting was bright, colorful and creative. The DJ played an engaging mix of Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, and at least one sort of music that when danced to looked Latin but I couldn't quite identify (this turned out to be Costa Rican Cumbia, but more on that later). I think there was some Reggaeton in there too.

    As I said, I went to Castro's Bar with a large group of friends and colleagues, some of whom are dancers and some of whom just went along to hang out. If you are not from San Jose, I highly advise that you go with a group that includes some dance partners. By the end of the night, our group ended up in a jam circle that drew in a few locals, so I think it would be possible to make connections with the regulars, especially if you speak Spanish, but I wouldn't count on it and as with any cultural divide, caution is advisable. Also, my impression was that the Costa Ricans came in pairs, by and large, but I could be wrong about this.

    As the night wore on, the locals proved to be beautiful dancers. People have referred to me as "mu suave" once or twice, but there were more than one local couple at Castro's Bar who really deserved the compliment. They showed off impressive and energetic moves in a number of styles, but I was particularly taken with their Bachata. The Bachata that I know is mostly one or two basic moves repeated over and over again. These Costa Rican dancers threw themselves into the Bachata with sophistication and creativity. Their style was consistent with what I know of Bachata, but they moved across the floor and really mixed it up.

    I had the Imperial cerveza (i.e. beer). Quite drinkable and not that expensive. Prices in Costa Rica can be unexpected. Some of the cabs my group has taken were extremely inexpensive. The cab ride on the way back was $30, by contrast. We did make two stops, there was a fair bit of driving involved and it was a slightly better than average car, so considering that we got home safe, I am not complaining. It was not that much more than a cab would have been at that hour in New York City. There are several men in reflective vests whose job seems to be to stand outside the club and get people cabs. When we arrived one of them, an ornithologist who graduated from Colorado College of all places, promised to get us a safe cab when we left. I don't know whether this was strictly necessary, but while Costa Rica is certainly civilized, it does sometimes have a slight Wild West feel to it, so it probably is a reasonable idea to play along, tip the cab coordinator, and accept that your return cab ride may be slightly more expensive than it might be otherwise.

    Costa Rica, or at least the parts of it I have seen so far, is very USA compatible. They use the same electric current, most US plugs will work in Costa Rican sockets, a lot of places will happily take either Costa Rican Colones or US Dollars, and they use letter size paper.

    Costa Rica has a lot to offer, including rainforests, art, a university capable of pulling off a major international conference without more than the usual minor snags. If you are a dancer, that is all well and good, but it is almost worth the trip for no other reason than to visit Castro's Bar. Great music, great dancers, all without the attitude that gets in the way at some Latin clubs. I have been so busy with work lately that I haven't had much time to go dancing. Castro's Bar was just what I needed.
    Dancing at Castro's Bar on a Wednesday Night

    Dancing at Castro's Bar on a Wednesday Night

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Robert and Sylvia (concept mappers let loose on the dance floor)

    Robert and Sylvia
    (concept mappers let loose on the dance floor)

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    About to lead an under arm turn, probably

    About to lead an under arm turn, probably

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Cool shirt(s)

    Cool shirt(s)

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Mu Suave

    Mu Suave

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Unpretentious tropical decor

    Unpretentious tropical decor

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Moving to the music

    Moving to the music

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Good beer

    Good beer

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    A jam circle with locals and concept mappers

    A jam circle with locals and concept mappers

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Costa Rican Cumbia - leading two women at once

    Costa Rican Cumbia - leading two women at once

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Costa Rican Cumbia - leading two women at once

    Costa Rican Cumbia - leading two women at once

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    The exterior of Castro's Bar, with security person

    The exterior of Castro's Bar, with security person

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams

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