PUBS, PATIOS & BARS: San Juan’s coolest, ‘secret’ cocktail bar revealed

La Factoria is not easy to identify, even though it’s located in the centre of bustling Old San Juan. Blame it on the signage – or lack thereof – or perhaps, a decision to keep the venue’s former marquee rather than update it with a new one. But that’s part of the bar’s secret speakeasy vibe.

Nevertheless, La Factoria is a not-so-secret San Juan hotspot, not least for its notoriety as the video set for Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” but more importantly, its place on the World’s Best 50 Bars list, a designation the prompts immense pride, co-owner Robert Berdicia (banner photo) told Travel Industry Today.

WB50B offers the following justification for La Factoria’s No. 12 ranking (for North America):

“La Factoría might have poured fuel on Puerto Rico’s contemporary cocktail scene when it opened in San Juan in 2013, but inside the charming-yet-gritty bar feels as though it’s been around for centuries. The sprawling building hosts a surprising labyrinth of six drinking dens in total, each with different menus and themes catering to guests looking for a slightly different experience…

“The tie that binds each one together is a dishevelled-chic theme that weaves throughout the decor and outstanding cocktails made to showcase Puerto Rican sensibilities conjured up by celebrated bartender Roberto Berdecia.”

Salsa bar

Visitors enter off cobblestone San Sebastian street into the purposely dim atmosphere of the El Facto bar, which includes red velvet couches for a vintage touch at the back of the narrow space.

A doorway leads further into the den to the wine-focused Vino, intimate El Desvío, and Shing A’Ling, the latter boasting a small stage that comes alive with the city’s ubiquitous sounds of salsa at night, an atmosphere that dares patrons not to dance.

Meanwhile, Cuban-inspired cocktails are offered at La Cubanita, and El Final is a smaller, intimate space.

Discovering the various drinking spots inside is part of the charm, says Berdicia, who also runs a popular drinks festival in the city.

He notes that each bar is carefully curated to have it’s own ambiance and drink styles – craft cocktails of all descriptions are the raison d’etre – creating a venue that is “not your ordinary bar.”

Popular amongst locals, even more so than tourists, La Factoría is located on Calle de San Sebastián at the corner of Calle de San Jose in Old San Juan. With an otherwise utterly non-descript (shabby one might say) facade, look for the window opening to San Sebastián covered in stickers.

Note that drinking age at the establishment is 21, and closing time is late, going all night on weekends.

’Despacito’ video in Shing A’ling

With glass purposefully in hand, we at Travel Industry Today continue our series on some of the planet’s best bars, patios and rooftop venues. For more articles in the series, click here:


First published at Travel Industry Today