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Perfect Day: San José, Costa Rica

Long famous for its coffee, Costa Rica has become a haven for sustainable gastronomy in recent years, and the country’s drinks scene is following suit. In the capital of San José, bartender Liz Furlong has helped spearhead the movement since arriving in Costa Rica six years ago. While working at Hotel Belmar in the Monteverde region, the 30-year-old Canadian ex-pat embraced the fertile surroundings, often foraging for cocktail ingredients, or as she calls it, “jungle bartending.”

“I started visiting the market and experimenting with ingredients I found on my walk around the hotel grounds or on my hikes, coming up with cocktail recipes to test on tourists,” Furlong says. “I would go into the garden and trim fresh mint, grab guavas from a tree, collect rose petals and see how I could use that with eucalyptus from my hike or starfruit and soursop from the market.” Now, she continues to emphasize drinking locally at Bebedero and Maza Bistro, her two cocktail bars in San José.  In the 2018 Imbibe 75 Issue, we highlight San José as a destination to watch, and here, Furlong walks us through her perfect day of food and drink.

Breakfast A perfect day must begin at Franco. I feel pretty lucky to live next door to this coffee shop. It’s home to San José’s best baristas, and they purchase coffee from farms all over the country and roast them to perfection. I never have to face a morning without great coffee because they also open very early, which is great for those days when I have early morning trips to the farmers market. The city has many markets, but I mostly frequent Plaza Viquez. I stock up on whatever fruit is in season, great local cheese and free-range eggs, and I almost always stop by the pupusa stand for breakfast. After the market, I grab a smoothie or juice at Liquida, a zero-waste smoothie and infusion bar. They have lots of tropical combinations, the best almond and coconut milk, and l love the old-school hip hop playing.

Lunch If you’re like me and want to get into the best restaurant in San José—La Esquina de Buenas Aires—and you forgot to make a reservation, go for an early lunch without the wait. La Esquina de Buenas Aires is an authentic Argentinian steak house with great ambiance, so think paella, steak, chimichurri, espresso and dulce de leche crepes.

Perfect San José Day
Breakfast at Franco. Photo by Karina Ramos.

Afternoon Snacks After lunch I’ll pop into Satisfactory, a Costa Rican design shop. They have an amazing curation of prints, clothing and furniture, all made in Costa Rica, but I’m after the cool dishware and mugs. I’ll grab a beer or kombucha at Apotecario, one of my favorite spots where they brew their own beer and kombucha and then walk through the rest of Barrio Escalante, the city’s most vibrant neighborhood. You’ll see everyone catching some sun in Parque Francia, where there is often live music, someone selling fresh mango or orange fruit juices, or a guy who sells amazing Chemex coffee from a bike cart. From here I’ll head downtown to take a stroll down Central Avenue, stopping for an ice cream Pops across from the National Theater or have a coffee in Alma de Cafe in the National Theater. Choose a patio to people watch like El Patio, and enjoy the afternoon while popping in an out of all the interesting shops on the street until getting to the Central Market.

Dinner As soon as the sun is down, it’s time to decide between a full dinner and wine at Al Mercat, led by one of San José’s most famous chefs using market fresh ingredients in a modern way, or tapas and classic drinks at Buchón, a classic San José-style home re-done into everyone’s favorite neighborhood bar.

Nightcap A few locations over from Buchón, you’ll find Bar la Bohemia, an original San José cantina with a lot of soul. I love showing up around 10 p.m. to catch the mariachis and the regular barflies breaking into old cantina songs while sipping on a Centenario rum on ice. If I didn’t try almost every tapa on the menu at Buchón I would definitely save some room for some more traditional bocas (Costa Rican bar snacks) here.

Last Call My perfect day includes a stop in my bar, Bebedero, but it’s a stop when I don’t have to work and I just have oysters, pejibayes (peach palm fruit) and our Leche de Tigre Martini. Depending on how many martinis I drink, I might end up at Chelles—San Jose’s 24-hour restaurant that has been open for more than 150 years—for one last Imperial beer and some gallo pinto (a traditional Costa Rican breakfast dish of rice, beans, cilantro and eggs), or a chiliguaro (local firewater with tomato juice and chile) at The Fallen Stag, which is definitely last call, because it closes at 5 a.m.!

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