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An Oasis for expats in downtown San José

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An Oasis for expats in downtown San José
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In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s San José was the epicenter of entertainment and nightlife for both Costa Ricans and Expats. 

During those days the expat community consisted of a whole bevy of colorful characters who would gather at the many local watering holes  to shoot the breeze, catch up on local gossip, and above all playfully joke about just any old subject.

The Soda Palace located on Avenida Segunda and across from the north side of San Jose’s Central Park and adjacent to the Soda Palace movie theater was  built in the 1930s. For years it was the gathering place for mostly ticos and  a handful of expats Opened 24 –hours a day you could always find  interesting people there . At one time or another even the famous and the infamous the likes of  Fidel Castro, Antonio Somoza  (Nicaraguan dictator), Carlos  Andrés Pérez (exiled Venezuelan president)  and John Kennedy in 1962 even ventured into the place. Sadly, the Soda Palace closed its doors on October 31, 1999 and with it the demise of an important part of san José history and culture. 

Many of the local hangouts in the 1980’s were frequented by soldiers of fortune who were involved on the Iran-Contra affair and scandal of the 1980s.  For those who do not remember, the Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran to effect the release of American hostages held in Lebanon. Money from the Iran weapons-sale then was used to fund the Contras, a group of guerrilla “freedom fighters” opposed to the Marxist government of Nicaragua. Lt. Col. Oliver North, who was one of the key figures in the scandal, was known to have frequented a certain bar near Central Park where many expats hung out in those days.

During the late 1980s and 1990s some of the we-known expat stomping grounds were Nashville South Bar, Happy Days, Tiny’s Tropical Bar, (the country’s first sports bar)  el Grupo 19 (interestingly co-owned and operated by 19 gringos), the Star Club, Risas, Our Club, La Bella Dona, Troy’s Hotel and Porkeys.

Toward the middle of the 1990s there was an interesting new phenomena: that affected the local bar scene. Gringo expats began to frequent  their favorite haunts with wads of money to burn. Where did they suddenly obtain these  riches? The source was the high- interest they earned from a popular local Ponzi scheme called the Brothers. Until it was closed by the local authorities in 2004, after operating for nearly 20 years, Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos and company paid their investors between  36 to 42 percent yearly interest on their money. Too good to be true? It was. In the end many investors made a lot of money while others ended up losing their shirt and had to return home. To this day nobody knows what became of Enrique Villalobos or how he really made his money.  One thing is for sure, while the Brother’s  business flourished  so did the local gringo bars and hangouts.

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Towards the end of the 1990s the most popular expat watering holes were the Piano Blanco Bar and New York bars. Both bars were run by the legendary dynamic duo of Pat Dunn and his partner  Michael Yafanaro.

Nowadays, it is possible to experience a bar similar to one from the good old days but with the addition of Internet and satellite TV.  Bar Poás ( http://www.barpoascostarica.com/ ) is the  gathering spot for many expats and Ticos. Six large screen televisions, soccer banners, flags and other paraphernalia adorn the walls and help to create a warm and unique ambience. On one  flat screen  TV patrons can view a whole slew of music videos from yesteryear. They can even select their favorite video via remote control, so no DJ is needed.  

On Sundays during the NFL season there is always a lively crowd watching their favorite team play. When there are soccer matches the place fills up with boisterous but friendly beer-drinking ticos. Expats are always welcome to partake the festivities. On Tuesday afternoons a group of long-time expats gather to have a few cold ones, reminisce and celebrate the great life they have enjoyed over the years in Costa Rica. 

The food is good with a variety of U.S., and Costa Rican fare.  

The congenial female bartenders will do their best to make you feel at home and quench your thirst with a variety of local beers, rum and other spirits. 

The bottom line: Tourists and expats can experience a slice of the old Costa Rica in a comfortable atmosphere and make some interesting acquaintances in the process. 

 Av. 7, Calles 3 y 5. San José Downtown. Tel. 2258-8604 – Email: info@barpoascostarica.com

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