Drinking in La Paz
30 Sep, 2012 | Alice Ayling
Night after night, hoards of expectant partygoers line the streets of La Paz; queuing eagerly with their IDs in hand; standing outside the myriad bars, clubs and popular nightspots. As the Sun goes down, an eclectic array of evening hang outs—each with a wide selection of spirits and drinks—opens its doors to the city.
Whether it’s chilled out Reggae, a heavy dance beat or an intimate drink you desire; if it’s wine, beer, or a spirited cocktail you’re craving; La Paz has a venue to suit. Catering to a diverse Bolivian clientele and to the nocturnal travelling masses, the vibrant night life of La Paz will provide what you and your taste buds are looking for. One of the popular spots for gringo tourists is the illicit establishment Blue. In complete disregard of the legal opening hours, Blue is one of the few places in La Paz where you can party till sunrise.
For Europeans, Americans and Australasians visiting La Paz, this late night option features many home comforts. It plays chart music through the night, invites provocative fancy dress and offers complimentary vodka jelly shots. These western peculiarities in a country so different from home provide respite for many a patron.
As one American explained, ‘I do like that you meet a lot of people from Europe and from all over the States. Sometimes it gets kind of lonely when your Spanish is as terrible as mine, and it’s nice to hang out with some of your fellow countrymen and compare experiences.’ Despite Blue’s popularity, it is among the more characterless venues in La Paz. The décor is sparse, with white walls, wooden tables and a DJ booth so highly elevated above the crowd it feels removed from those on the dance floor.
The international feel of the club permeates onto the bar scene and influences the selection of drinks on offer. Of course, Paceña will be for sale, but the bright lights of the jagermeister dispenser and the tempting array of colourful yet uninventive cocktails are hard to resist for young travellers.
Sadly, Blue’s efforts to draw an international crowd often extend to excluding Bolivian clients. Attending the club with local friends can prove difficult as the staff is afraid of being exposed for their (less-than-legal) hours of operation.
‘The down side,’ one patron said, ‘is that they turn away people who are too “Bolivian”, I guess in an effort to cater to the Gringos. But it smacks a little bit too much of Colonialism for me.’ Soundbar in Zona Sur is a popular spot for a smarter, more Bolivian-friendly experience. Since the venue is much larger than Blue, the dance floor dominates! The focus here is on the music. DJs play a mix of Latin American dance hits and more international tunes.
From early on in the night, the floor is packed with a young Bolivian crowd visibly engrossed in the main activity of the evening. For the size of the club, the bar is relatively modest – as are the queues for drinks. The highly priced tequila shots reflect the priority of dancing over drinking and can make the night more expensive for those in need of a little Dutch courage to hit the dance floor.
Unlike Blue, this establishment welcomes Bolivians as a priority, especially those with connections. Soundbar’s VIP area is extensive if sparsely populated. But money alone will not get you in. Only those from the right type of neighbourhoods and with the right family and friends are granted the privilege.
Ttkos, in Sopocachi, is the perfect spot for a more chilled out vibe and live music. Despite its modest size and its dim lighting, this is one of the liveliest venues in the city. The neon designs on the walls and the shambolic arrangement of the furniture add to the individual character of this club. But what sets it apart from other places is the live music played in such an intimate setting.
Ttkos is a regular spot for Bolivian artists Ma Tamba and Chuquiago Reggae. It is a highly respected venue within that particular music scene. At first, its fairly sparse bar might dissuade the more discerning drinker. Do not be fooled,though, because the fruity house cocktail has become something of a legend.
They call it the Tutuma. It is a delicious concoction of papaya, singani and a number of top-secret ingredients. ‘Me and three friends who work in bars came up with the recipe’ says the manager of the bar when I enquire. ‘And no, I can’t tell you what it’s made of.’
Served in a large wooden bowl with as many colourful straws as required, this drink is as aesthetically pleasing as it is tasty. It represents alone roughly eighty per cent of the drink sales at Ttkos.
Please beware of the toilets, as they are not for the faint-hearted. Women should be prepared to have less than total privacy when using the facilities. The absence of cubical doors and unreliable plumbing are barely tolerable but otherwise, Ttkos provides a relaxed and friendly place to spend an evening.
For a quiet and more sophisticated evening, Diesel bar offers an attractive alternative. You could mistake this upmarket watering hole for something of an industrial scrap yard. A tall wire entrance gate, abstractly placed train tracks, piles of loose piping, and an imposing brass doorway help create this illusion.
Diesel’s highly stylised appearance is unusual for bars in La Paz. One could picture this bar in London, New York or any other rich western city. Its harsh, highly metallic décor is matched with a large open fire, thoughtfully dimmed lighting and atmospheric music.
The friendly waiting staff will offer nonalcoholic options to drink, but this is a place for spirits and cocktails. One can easily get lost in the extensive menu. The quality of the drinks is consistent and the prices are reasonable.
‘This is where I come for the best mojitos in town and the service is great,’ one patron said. ‘The drinks pack a punch,’ she continued, jokingly pointing at her friend struggling through her second glass of Diesel’s highly potent Long Island Ice Tea.
While some punters overindulge in the liquid delights, Diesel remains one of the classier establishments in La Paz and provides the perfect spot for a romantic drink or an overdue catch-up with friends.