Old School Bogota: An Ode to the Venerable Traditional Cafe

Almost as far as the eye can see – grey skies permitting – Salmona-inspired brick apartment blocks are shooting up all over Bogota leaving precious little breathing space in barrios such as Cedritos, Chapinero and beyond. Hit the city at ground level, take a day out to give in to your urges as a closet hipster and sit on the cracked pavement, preferably near an independent bookstore, don those thick -rimmed glasses (whether you need a prescription or not), ridiculous plaid trousers and pose ironically alongside the gritty urban-ism  of Bogota as if you were actually in Williamsburg. And then head to your favorite traditional city cafe to enjoy the Formica, the clutter and the seemingly achingly hip yet effortlessly chaotic artwork positioned haphazardly on the wooden paneling.

Leave the wifi and the Juan Valdez behind and come in and view Old School Bogota. Hopefully you’ll glimpse some folks in old school dress who have been frequenting the “venerable” traditional cafe for going on decades.

Cafe Pasaje

Cafe Pasaje

The Cafe Pasaje is one of the most obvious and most accessible of the old school cafes in Bogota. Located in the Plaza de los Esmeralderos right downtown, this Bogota institution used to be called Cafe Rhin and is the very site where graduates of the Universidad del Rosario created the football club Santa Fe. Surely this is where Jack Greenwell, arguably the most successful English coach to ply his trade overseas, and first official coach for Santa Fe, could have enjoyed his elevenses. After all Greenwell lived on the Calle 16 with Carrera 9. Now, you’ll find it full of older city gents, Rosario graduates, undergraduate lawyers and riffraff like myself. The coffee’s not bad at all, but, I was a little disturbed by the 9/11 photographs on the right had wall as you enter.

casa del merenguito

casa del merenguito

Heading uptown a little ways you can find some real corkers heading into Chapinero. At one stage the faux wooden Formica tables must have actually resembled split timber. Painstakingly clean and worn down from generations of corduroy/ tweed clad elbows, there is a tired and spent feel to the place. Why, this is exactly what you are looking for. Hit this place up and sink several Pokers amongst rebel students and some interesting types  from the nearby Lourdes park. I am continually fascinated by the contrast between the rigid – as if molded – tables and chairs, the wooden paneling and then the almost fluorescent mini-meringues in the window. There must be less alarming colors for these sweets than blue and orange?

There must be hundreds if not thousands of such establishments located about the city, and most of you will have encountered one or another somewhere along the way. My last mention is not really a cafe, but an old school rock bar located in Chapinero. Longing for something that was neither reggaeton, vallenato nor salsa, my wife, sensing my northern European needs researched “decent rock bars” in google. Your grungy Lourdes places popped up and then something caught her eye.

Named after the famed vaudeville performers from the 1940s and 1950s, Abbott and Costello is a rock institution in its own right. In fact this place probably merits its own blog, but, I’ll leave that for another day. Located along a dank side street lined with shop after shop selling light fittings, opposite a love motel and just before you hit the Avenida Caracas this is how a seedy rock bar should look. If you didn’t know it existed you’d think of the locale as one would a shuttered up furniture store.

Abbott and Costello rock bar, Bogota

Abbott and Costello rock bar, Bogota

It’s dark within, and by the throw of the flash in the first photograph you can see that the wooden paneling theme is continued. In fact it’s so dark that you’ll not notice the mysterious grime on the floor until you try and leave. Beer is the order of the day and if you order draught it’ll come in a small plastic jug for one. Class. Be warned, if you are not fond of Kiss, W.A.S.P, Whitesnake and other such luminaries or throwbacks to the late 1970s and early 1980s, then you are in the wrong place. Bring a date and get cozy in a dark corner and secretly wish you had kept that suede and leather number with under arm tassels for it is the perfect get up for Abbott and Costello. Don’t worry, the owner, who I am sure is neither called Abbott nor Costello, can usually be found in a black singlet.

And not a hipster in sight.



About Richard

Anglo-Canadian resident in Colombia. Journalist, Writer, Hotelier, Expedition Guide
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3 Responses to Old School Bogota: An Ode to the Venerable Traditional Cafe

  1. erika says:


    • sfoswald says:

      Really nice read. I should be in Bogotá next Month and will be sure to visit Cafe Pasaje. I've been in the area a few times (not for emeralds though). My biggest problem in this instance is my love for Tea and lack of it for coffee. This is were I'd die for a Juan Valdez hot chocolate and sink for their wifi. But this post has given me yearning interest to enter myself into this scene.

      • Richard says:

        It's nothing special, but you can tell that there is a weight of history here. We all owe it to Bogota to explore further places and uncover some of the lesser known corners of the city. After all, Bogota has its very own flavour and for this reason we love it.

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