An odd fact about Colombia, a country whose very name conjures images of coffee beans and Juan Valdez, wrapped comfortably atop a donkey, in serape and floppy hat; they’d been drinking gas station brew exclusively, until the late nineties, blithely exporting the good stuff while accepting “tinto” at their own breakfast table. Some enterprising young man had an epiphany, twenty-ish years ago, a realization that an unused opportunity lay before him, the chance to take ownership of what was rightfully Colombian. And so, they stopped exporting their entire supply, and with that, the Colombian coffee scene exploded, evolving into a world-class, competition driven, enterprise.
And so it came to be, that for the first time ever, my list of “must tries” included coffee shops. First tick off the list, Cafe Cultor, a repurposed shipping container located in Zona G, Bogota’s Beverly Hills, of sorts.
We quickly determined that walking on Carrera 7 a) was our best bet to reach any destination that I had bookmarked, all of which were clustered near the great thoroughfare, and b) is bordered by the most reliable of compasses; the Andes, running a straight north/south alongside the long road.
Café Cultor is a perfectly curated little hipster hub, nestled in the courtyard of what else, but an art school https://www.facebook.com/CafeCultorCol
the bulk of it is a blond wood deck, upon which people lounge and linger, drinking fancy coffee and being otherwise cool. The small interior is primarily bamboo-ish counter, small pastry case, and Frankenstein coffee machinery.
I’m not used to sitting down for coffee on vacation, it’s always a grab and go thing for us, but taking the time to relish in the Colombian coffee experience (otherwise known as people watching) was relaxing and energizing
Unable to make this trip foodless, we also nabbed a couple of pastries (not pictured, sticky cinnamon roll)
On the walk home, we decided to stay off the main drag, strolling through the laid-back neighborhoods connecting Zona G and Chapinero Alto, with the mountains as our guide
We experienced a magnetic pull into La Castana, a destination famous for its empanadas, which I had failed to locate (as I stood in front of it) previously, when I was in an addled, sleep deprived, barf depleted state http://www.lacastana.com/
A cozy little spot where I imagine many an awkward open-mic night has commenced
The staff gamely put up with my attempts at Spanish (still struggle with money/numbers) and heated up a variety of three buttery-crusted hand pies,
Philly cheese steak, chicken, and a veggie, for us to take home in a crisp little bag. These were gentle and satisfying to Jake’s still tender, rather empty, stomach.
Bogota is considered to be one of South America’s culinary gems, and like any big food city, the local scene has a short list of well known dominant chefs. There is Leo Epsinoza, a young female chef who runs no less than five of the city’s most popular restaurants, both fine and casual, Harry Sasson, the old, venerable chef, (also at the helm of seven restaurants) and the beloved Rausch brothers, to name a few. And yet, through hours and hours of exhaustive oogling over Bogotan food porn from afar, the destination that captured my imagination most was Tabula, an ingredient driven, non fussy affair, located a straight three miles from our apartment.
Along that three-mile journey, a gauntlet of street wandering, drinking, socializing with locals, and, yes, eating, was to take place. We did have a lot of making up to do. First up, a stop at Bogota Beer Company, a local brewery/chain.
The city is rotten with BBC’s, though that particular outpost, located on the corner of Carrera 7 and Calle 59, has a nice outdoor patio with a variety of flat screen TV’s, an adequate place to watch sports without sacrificing all atmosphere.
They make “artisanal” pizza to order at that location as well, a practice I’m not certain is universally applied
And, they sell merch…sadly, I am unable to keep my money in my pocket when confronted with such an opportunity.
We set out to walk south on Carrera 7 then, the four of us together on the streets of the city for the first time. One note about Calle 7, it’s thick with diesel in a way that Chapinero Alto, blocks above, is not. No matter. our walk took us by an astonishing array of Bogotan street art, one of the city’s most impressive legacies
In need of a pit stop, we pulled in to BW (literally, Buffalo Wings), expecting to try a Colombian version of buffalo wings in one of their larger chains. The place was, predictably, TGIF like, full of barley legals, drinking brightly colored drinks, watching soccer. As I previously mentioned, cocktails, the bar scene, are newer to Bogota. Our request to sit at the bar was met with confusion, and then, wrestling four stools out from under the counter (and over the foot bar). We sat squished, with no room to move back as there was a table behind us.
Jake drank some vile, neon-blue sugar bomb (a house specialty)
having needed a tiki drink myself at that stage in the recovery, I understood. The wings were wings, and, worth mentioning, BW offers a bunch of hideous sounding renditions that involve sweet goopy sauces, but we opted for classic, and they were fine.
Back to the mission at hand, we headed the short distance to our departure from Carrera 7, where we would make our final ascent to Tabula, which, it turns out, is located directly next to its sister restaurant, Dionistia.
We showed up at an odd time; 3:00, a mere hour before their 4:00 close, made more unfortunate by the fact that a big soccer match was on and the entire staff of both restaurants sat huddled in a room between the two restaurants, ravenously watching the television.
They were kind enough not to act put out as they sat us in the cozy, soothing, dining room, warm with cherry colored wood and verdant walls, thick with ferns and ivy
The, soft, slighty sweet, house-made bread with thick, herbed butter was an indication of good things to come
Our meal, from beginning to end, was composed of deeply satisfying, complex flavors; a menagerie of braised beef with a sauce both sour and sweet, richly smoked potatoes with herb butter, decadent chicken stuffed pasta doused in rich and velvety cream sauce, herbs, and well-tended vegetables. http://elorigendelacomida.co/tabula/
An exquisite experience, accented by a beautiful, soft, red wine. At meals end, we asked our server to recommend a nearby bar where we could retire and digest. She suggested Smoking Molly, a few blocks up the hill, which was inhabited by one, face down on the bar, snoring, Colombian.
We moved on. The neighborhood (known as Santa Fe, I believe) was charmingly hilly, full of winding roads, parks, greenery, and little shops. We heard a commotion and decided we needed to be a part of it, and thus, we ended up at a soccer party of sorts, at a Brazil friendly bar.
Colombians know how to do soccer, and we’d fecklessly wandered into a scene alive; five piece band, jerseys, flag waving, dancing, big screens. We soaked it all in with the help of a few rounds of caprihana’s, and eventually, moved on, with a vague end goal Candelaria, the city’s oldest, and most touristy, neighborhood. The charm of our surroundings started to slowly degrade as we got closer to our destination.
Soon, we were in a busy area rife with pickpocket opportunities, and, no doubt, pickpockets, a vision sharpened by ever-present, muzzled, police dogs on corners and rowdy groups of aggressively loud twenty somethings. It was an ugly part of Candelaria, sort of a financial district/tourist trap/sketchy/mugging-imminent kinda spot. We needed to get to wifi for a business emergency back home, so we tucked into the biggest, cheesiest, most touristy looking place on the block, and voila, we were connected.
Business conducted, we grabbed an uber and headed back to our neighborhood of origin, Chapinero, in search of 86 Cocktail bar, which had been billed to me on another blog as a speakeasy. I was surprised to be dropped off right next to Huerta (the previous nights destination) and across from Grande Cevicheria (also the previous nights destination) at a house, with a bronze address plate “86” on the door. We couldn’t quite figure out how to gain access, so, we knocked loudly on the heavy front door. On came the lights. https://www.the86bar.com/menu
Future reference, there is a light motion sensor at the door which alerts the staff to your presence, so, just be patient and eventually, someone will come get you. Upstairs, a beautifully rich space emerged, dark, glossy wood, leather banquets, and a small bar with cozy leather stools. We then became acquainted with 86 bar’s proprietor, one Chalo Marin, an expat of sorts, back in his home country by way of New York.
Chalo pays serious attention to detail, his passion for what he does is both unmissable and unmistakable; he is painstakingly methodical about his craft. The food was light and well-balanced, ceviches mostly, a delicate complement to the main attraction, which is, of course, the cocktails. Chalo is the type who revels in learning what makes each and every patrons palate sing, then crafts juuuuust the right concoction to make it do just that. 86 bar is a special experience, intimate and unusual, especially within the context of Bogota’s fledgling cocktail scene.
We heeded Chalo’s recommendation and took our fourth meal at Mesa Franca, a walkable few blocks from our Chapinero Alto apartment. https://www.facebook.com/mesafrancabogota/
MF has a vaguely Mediterranean, vaguely South American feel, a sort of sweltery respite, with tiled floors and exposed brick columns
The space is split into two rooms, bar (with tables) and dining room, with a substantial outdoor patio.
We scooped up forkfuls of fluffy rabbit rice with pickled vegetables and a smattering of pulpo with fried yucca in beet chimichuri with yellow peas, while fielding questions about the state of politics in the United States, a topic to which most conversations seemed to lead
And for our last trick, a robust dark cherry and cocoa cake.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we would be in serious need of this fortification come morning.