Puerto Rico’s lively atmosphere, vibrant community of LGBTQ locals, and attitude toward life make it one of the best American destinations for nightlife. Read about my experience exploring San Juan’s best bars and clubs…
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Visiting San Juan’s gay nightlife
My first night out in San Juan certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. I’d only arrived in Puerto Rico a few hours before—just enough time to dip my feet into the Caribbean and walk barefoot on the beach.
Back at my gay-owned guesthouse, I got some recommendations for a night out. First stop was Calle Loiza—a long stretch of road in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan. Multiple people had described the area to me as a “hipster neighborhood,” so I was excited to explore.
Along Calle Loiza, I found the typical trappings of any American travel destination. But, this is Puerto Rico, so things were also a bit… different. In a good way! Fast-food restaurants, a bar with salsa dancing, a street food market. Plenty of Puerto Rican restaurants with all of the local specialties. There were several international cuisines on offer, too. Even a gay bar (one for bears).
I had dinner at an Italian restaurant. The owner, from Italy, had been living in Puerto Rico for a while, but there was no denying the traditional Italian flavors in the homemade lasagna and classic margherita pizza. Carbo-loading for a night out in San Juan.
After-dinner drinks & a drag show
After dinner, I made my way to San Juan’s gayborhood in Santurce. Calle Condado is where most of the gay bars and clubs are located. It was a Thursday night, and kind of early, but my friends and I made our way to Puerto Rico’s most famous gay club: Circo Bar. It’s listed in every guidebook—and for good reason! It’s one of the most regular hangouts and caters to a pretty diverse crowd.
We were at Circo Bar for that weekly gay bar tradition: a viewing party for the newest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Bartenders served us drinks while in jockstraps and sexy underwear. Multiple TV screens played the show, and when it was over, a local queen presented Drag Bingo. I had a handful of bingo cards (one from each drink I ordered) but didn’t end up winning anything.
After more than a few drinks at Circo, we were on our way to the next club. We hitched a short five-minute ride with a friend of a friend from the bar and arrived at El Local en Santurce. From the outside, it just looked like a house along a busy road. There was a crowd of people in the street outside, standing around under the streetlights.
Discovering San Juan’s queer hipsters
Walking up to the gay club, it was obvious this was going to be a different kind of party. Much more inclusive of the full LGBTQ spectrum, all genders (and gender-non-conforming) were a part of the crowd. It was refreshing and exciting to see, and even before I stepped inside the queer club, I knew I was going to like it.
But, before I could even get inside, the empty lot just outside the entrance turned into a performance space. Music came on, and a performer set up in the background. An oddly mesmerizing performance followed. With strings attached to the performer’s body and lights reflecting their unique movements, I was immediately enthralled.
Once inside, with a cheap beer from the bar in my hand, I caught a second act from a handful of other drag queens and drag kings. Then, I started to take in the rest of the space. A steamy dance floor with a DJ booth in the far back was the entertainment space. A queen gave me a cherry lollipop; a room to the side serving as a lounge with furniture you’d expect to see in your grandmother’s house. A glass bookshelf in a corner with a weird assortment of things: a calculator from the 90s, a toy dinosaur skeleton, a comic book.
Performances continued throughout the night. There was fire twirling outside and groups of locals and tourists chatting away. In between acts, the DJs did a few different types of sets—there was techno music and some kind of pop. The room bounced with the beats.
By the time the club started to die down, tired from my first night out in San Juan, I opted to Uber back to my guesthouse. When I arrived, tipsy from the drinks and the dancing, energized from all of the conversations, I noticed the pool was lit up pink. A sign if there ever was one that I was in the right place, the right city, the right night.
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San Juan Nightlife
My other nights out in San Juan were all equally fun and exhilarating. Friday night I was out at a slightly sleazy gay club in a basement with a bunch of go-go dancers. There was the rooftop techno club decorated with a million live plants. An early evening out at the queer student pubs outside the city center with cheap drinks and street food (and dancing in the rain).
San Juan’s nightlife is varied and fun. And surprising. Gay bars and clubs are scattered throughout the city, and with classy cocktail bars and plenty of rooftop venues, it’s the kind of place where you never really know which way the night is going to go.
Below—some of my favorite bars & clubs I had the chance to visit on my many nights enjoying San Juan’s nightlife.
Read more LGBTQ travel tips for Puerto Rico on VisitGayUSA.com.
VisitGayUSA invites travelers to explore under-the-radar gay-friendly cities in the US. Read more gay travel stories on the VisitGayUSA.com website here.
San Juan Nightlife
7 Cool Bars & Clubs to Visit
1. El Cojo
A short taxi (or Uber) ride from San Juan’s main tourist areas, you’ll find a handful of gay pubs at the corner of Avenue Eleanor Roosevelt and Calle 12 de Octubre. El Cojo is the most famous of the three main bars, but A Pedir De Boca and La Esquina de Polo are all popular (and next door to one another).
The three LGBTQ pubs are most popular on Thursday nights when San Juan’s university students flood the street. While the pubs play dance hits and top-40 music, the dance floors are small, and these bars are usually most popular earlier in the night before heading to the bigger gay clubs in the city.
2. El Circo Bar
San Juan’s most popular LGBTQ+ hangout is this expansive gay club on Calle Condado. As Puerto Rico’s largest LGBTQ club, it hosts a number of fun events. With two dance floors, multiple bars, and regular parties, it’s most popular on weekend nights. Though if you visit on certain evenings, you can catch drag shows and TV viewings of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Drag Bingo is hosted in both English and Spanish on Thursday nights, as well, so it’s great club for tourists—and a fun opportunity to hang with locals.
3. El Local
Part dive bar, part art gallery, and part club, El Local En Santurce is one of San Juan’s coolest nightlife spots. Queer, alternative parties take place in the cozy interior (and outdoor patio) of this bar. Weekly drag shows (of both drag queens and drag kings) take place on the small stage inside.
While it’s not an exclusive LGBTQ club, Santos Rooftop (located across the street from gay pub Tia Maria’s), is one of San Juan’s hottest nightclubs. It’s a very welcoming space, and the rooftop club with indoor and outdoor dance floors makes it a great place to dance into the sunrise. Most DJs here play techno and electronic music.
5. La Factoria
La Factoria is one of San Juan’s more famous cocktail bars—it’s actually more of a speak-easy because it’s so well-hidden! Unique drinks on the menu make it one of the most important cocktail bars in Puerto Rico. Its relatively large space (despite being hidden behind a door in the back corner of a separate bar) make it great for groups.
On the second floor of a historic building in Old San Juan, The Mezzanine also serves some of the best cocktails you’ll find in San Juan. Classic, traditional cocktails like Manhattans and Negronis are on the menu, but don’t miss the ones with local rum and even some craft beers.
With a high ceiling of wooden rafters, old paintings on the wall, and plush armchairs, it’s the kind of place you could easily get lost in for hours. Some craft cocktail tours even visit the bar as part of a nightlife experience! Don’t miss the happy hour specials when there are food deals, as well.
7. Jungle Bird
Just around the corner from La Placita in the Santurce neighborhood is the super hipster Jungle Bird tiki bar. The fun and funky atmosphere, elaborate cocktails, and friendly bartenders make it a comfortable escape from the street bustle.
There’s even an outdoor patio which makes it especially popular with groups of friends. A food menu is also available so be careful: you could end up spending a lot of money here without even noticing the time go by!