Monday, January 18, 2010

Don Q Rum

It’s not all about Bacardi in the world of Puerto Rican rum. The Don Q brand is the one preferred by most Puerto Ricans, so you owe it to yourself to stop in at Casa Don Q to see why. Located directly opposite cruise ship Piers 1 and 2 (and just a few steps east of the La Casita Information Center), Casa Don Q is inside the Edificio Ochoa (corner of Marina and Calle Tanca).

The museum illustrates the origins of rum production on the island. Historical photographs and documents chronicle the story of the Serrallés family, and a video explains the spirit’s production process. Be sure to enjoy the bartender’s specialty, Don Q Dulcinea, a sweet concoction made with orange, pineapple and grapefruit juices, cream of coconut, grenadine and rum – a sure hit with the ladies.

Closed Thursdays during high season winter months. 787-977-1720

Friday, January 8, 2010

Catedral de San Juan Bautista

The San Juan Cathedral is located in Old San Juan on Calle del Cristo, overlooking a small plaza next to the El Convento Hotel. This cathedral of St. John the Baptist is the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. The original structure had wooden walls and a thatched roof, and a cathedral was soon planned to replace it. Construction began in 1521 in Late Gothic style, and some of these original architectural components remain to this day: a vaulted tower, gothic ceilings, a circular staircase and four rooms, all rare examples of Medieval architecture in the Americas. The British looted the building in 1598, removing many gold and silver treasures, and in 1615 a hurricane blew the roof off. In 1625 the Dutch burned San Juan to the ground, including all the churches and the bishop’s library – at the time the most famous and complete collection of books in America.

The cathedral was renovated in 1852 in Neoclassical style, and the plan we see today is three parallel naves intersected by a transept with a central elliptical dome and six lateral chapels. Located near the transept is a tomb that holds the remains of Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish conquistador who colonized Puerto Rico. In 1908 his body was disinterred from the nearby Iglesia de San José and placed in this marble tomb, one of Spanish sculptor Miguel Blay’s master works. The latest major restoration of the cathedral took place in 1917.

The cathedral also contains the wax-covered mummy of St. Pio, a Roman martyr persecuted and killed for his Christian faith. The mummy has been encased in a glass box ever since it was placed here in 1862. To the right of the mummy is a bizarre wooden replica of Mary with four swords stuck in her bosom. After all the looting and destruction over the centuries, the cathedral's great treasures are long gone, although many beautiful stained-glass windows remain. The cathedral faces Plaza de las Monjas (the Nuns' Square), a shady spot where you can rest in front of Hotel El Convento and the Children’s Museum.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blue Cobblestones

The sometimes steeply sloping streets of Old San Juan are paved with blue cobblestones. Rather than being cut from stone or cast as bricks, as was the usual practice, the cobblestones found in Old San Juan are an ingenious re-use of slag from Spain’s iron foundries. Slag is the waste when iron is refined and was usually just piled into huge slagheaps at foundries. But cast into blocks, the material served as ballast in sugar-carrying ships in the 16th century, and this 500 year old recycling effort produced a durable material for paving the streets of Old San Juan. The Spanish word for these pavers is "adoquines," and most of the streets in Old San Juan are still paved in this material.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Carli Café Concierto

Established 1998 in Old San Juan
206 Calle Tetuán; 787-725-4927

Owner Carli Muñoz had an earlier success as pianist for The Beach Boys, and the gold disc hanging on the wall proves it. These days Carli entertains his dinner guests with jazz piano on his grand piano. Located on the ground floor of the Art Deco landmark Banco Popular Building in Old San Juan, the establishment allows diners to sit in the main dining room or outside on the Plazoleta, with a panoramic view of San Juan Bay. The bar, with mahogany and brass fittings, is an ideal spot to relax and enjoy the live music, which begins around 8 pm. Closed Sundays.

Here Carli’s trio performs an original composition, Tujunga Waltz