Bar hop in Puerto Rico’s ‘chinchorros’

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This article by Nancy Trejo appeared in USA Today.

A good Puerto Rican chinchorro must have one thing and lack another: cheap beer and air conditioning.

Louis O’Halloran, an Irishman who has lived in Puerto Rico for 30 years, explains this to me as we drink a local Medalla beer and ignore the sweat dripping from our foreheads. “The chinchorro, this is the heart and soul of Puerto Rico,” he says.

We are at Carbon de Palo, a chinchorro in this west coast town of Puerto Rico. A chinchorro, I learn soon after arriving here, is basically a bar with inexpensive booze and food. Carbon de Palo’s Facebook page declares that “NO SOMOS UN RESTAURANT, SOMOS EL MEJOR SPOT DEL CHINCHORREO.” In other words, “We’re not a restaurant. We’re the best spot for looking for a cheap bar.”

Puerto Ricans like their chinchorros, so much so that regular chinchorro tours now run in various towns across the island.

German Ramos runs one such tour, varying the town each week. “We’re trying to support these types of places,” Ramos says. “It’s a small store where you can go with friends and family to eat cheaper but especially to have a nice place, to have a nice time.” Many cans of beer are being consumed. And why not? Each costs no more than $2.

In Carbon de Palo’s kitchen, Chef Ino Castillo is grilling all sorts of meat and fish and sending it all out with plantain chips or mashed green plantains. “They come here to find tranquility,” he says. It is indeed a tranquil night — for a time.

But soon a band called Plena Verdad appears to play traditional Puerto Rican music.

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“We spend a good time drinking, eating, dancing,” says Carlos Palacio, a local who likes to spend weekends with friends on a chinchorreo — essentially bar-hopping the chinchorros.

A few of the revelers decide to move on to the next chinchorro. My friend and I follow them but when we arrive, it is closed before scheduled. When you’re on a chinchorreo, you have to be prepared for things not going according to plan.

We end the night at La Naza, a chinchorro that doubles as a nightclub. A band is playing inside surrounded by walls painted with images of Mayaguez’s most famous musicians, but the place is too small. Most people have taken the party outdoors, dancing, drinking and eating empanadillas, or fried turnovers, in the street.

“Coming from a land of pubs, the chinchorros here, I give them a 10 out of 10,” O’Halloran says.

For the original report go to http://experience.usatoday.com/caribbean/story/2014/12/12/puerto-rico-bar-hopping/20251165/

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