Saturday, April 28, 2012

Paseo del Carmen and Evelyne's House of Shame

The Showbill
Discovered a new amazing nightspot in San Salvador. Having lived in Havana for more than a decade, I was spoiled with its amazing nightlife full of bars, cafes, restaurant lounges, live bands, jazz clubs, techno discos, ballet, flamenco and the list goes on and on.

San Salvador, on the other hand, has a nice bohemian club called La Ventana that you drive to, park very nearby and walk briskly to. Then you go back to car watching your surroundings and drive home. 

Or you go to the Zona Rosa where you kind of can walk from one place to another but the offerings aren't that great. El Rinconcito is full of bars and a karaoke and a disco but it is a bit dodgy. Other bars like 4 and the Red Lion are opened and then closed soon after due to declining crowds and some horrible service (I was once asked to pay a $10 clean-up charge when one of my guests was accused of throwing up in the washroom - and it wasn't even him but some underaged drinker that they illegally served). Republik is a poor facsimile of an Irish pub (no Guinness on tap, just the one national beer!?), Brasilea is okay if you have no other place to go to, and the fancy nightclub (Code?) was empty but the doorman told me that it was members only and I couldn't even look inside.

Then a group of nightclubs was opened in the nearby Mulitplaza Mall. With hundreds of parking spots and lots of security, it soon became popular and numerous bars and clubs were opened. Envy is the most exclusive and is a big, shiny Miami style nightclub.  I was denied entry for being a foreigner - the club caters to the children of the very wealthy who like to feel like the most important people in the club, something harder to do with foreigners dropping lots of money or having tall or blond people around. There are lots of other discos, some nice restaurant/lounges like Mai Thai, and lots of bars with music. But come on, it's a mall! You park, take the elevator or escalator up a few flights, then you walk around to see what the scene is surrounded by hundreds of kids.

And if you want to talk a safe walk around at night, you can go to the Gran Via mall that has a big courtyard promenade, somewhat reminiscent of the Gran Via in Madrid (minus the drug dealers and Cuban hookers) but you are in a mall again. Sure there is a nice fountain and some activities for the kids (mini golf, mini train, and the shortest zip line in the world) and sometimes some live music but you are still in a mall, walking from one retail area to another.

Early and quiet on Paseo del Carmen

So yesterday, when Fatima and her friend said that there was a French dance company doing a parade in Santa Tecla and that we could watch from a bar/restaurant, I jumped at the chance. We headed over around 6:30 pm which was the perfect time to hit heavy traffic and get stuck behind the many buses spewing so much smoke I had problems seeing the road. We finally pulled off the main street and we found a parking lot where a woman assured me that she would watch my car until midnight. So we walked a few blocks to the venue and I had my pocket knife ready in case someone tried to steal my man bag (which maybe stupidly contained my BB, an iPod, a camera and a tablet) and we came up to Paseo del Carmen. It was still very early in the evening but most of the street had been blocked off from traffic and tables and sofas and lounges had been put out onto the street by the numerous bars and restaurants that line this relatively small and quiet street. We walked along for 3 blocks and I was amazed at how many bars and cool restaurants there were. Also lots of cops and one very friendly one on a bicycle who gave us information and stopped traffic at one intersection for us to cross.

We wanted to see the parade so we ended up walking to the big cultural centre (Palacio tecleƱo?) and got a table at the nearby La Rioja bar for some wine and tapas. Eunice went to confirm that the parade would come by the bar and was told that the parade had been cancelled and the show would only occur inside the cultural centre. So we told the waiter sorry but to cancel our order and we would be back. 

Fatima enjoying the show

Then into the centre to see the show by the French company La Zouze and the Salvadoran National Dance Company and some invited guests. Wow, what a great performance art, cabaret, circus, interactive in-your-face, rock and roll extravaganza. I think the show was called the "Evelyne House of Shame" and was a mock bordello with everyone wearing trim and tight underwear, long stockings and heels (including the men and one guy who must have been 6' 10" with the heels). My favourite character sported a very tall Marie Antoinette wig and a mustache.

I think this French dude was the director of the company. I was tempted to punch him in the face because of the T-shirt ... and it was the kind of show where punching the director would have blended in quite well!

Nice venue with the interior space surrounded by columns and a great sound system with live heavy-duty guitar. They had a bar and cafe set up so we could drink wine and beer and people were smoking ciggies (civilized!). We were famished so ordered a delicious Mediterranean Panini sandwich and munched through the show.

Ooh look, the famous Patricia, one of El Salvador's finest Thespians.

Not sure if there was a plot but lots of random drama and groups running around and then the rock music started with the strobe lights. The crowd was very mixed but mostly artsy and bohemian. Saw lots of actors (including the famous Patricia) and of course, every dancer in the country. Also skater boyz, and funky girls - very reminiscent of the freakies of Havana.

Yes, it was surreal.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the parade had probably been cancelled because the night before, there was public nudity and masterbation on the streets and that probably freaked out the authorities. So instead, they had it inside and said you had to be 18 and over to get in although I must have seen about 30 kids in there so obviously that wasn't being enforced.

Beginning of the show with my favourite Marie Antoinette character.

We were really enjoying the show but after about 90 minutes, we were getting tired, thirsty and hungry and we knew that the show was going to degenerate (or elevate) to the point where lots of people would be taking off their clothes (including audience members) so we left early and went back to La Rioja. No smoking inside so we took a sidewalk table and ordered a very nice wine and lots of tapas. I lit up a big Hoyo de Monterey doble corona and took about 2 hours to smoke it. Hundreds of people along the street, families with strollers and kids with skateboards, lots of couples and young people. I have never seen this at night in San Salvador and it was fantastic. Paseo del Carmen was closed to traffic but full of pedestrians, some beautiful colonial houses, the Iglesia el Carmen, street vendors, nicely decorated bars and restaurants, and lots of live music. At our place, we had a kid with a walkman hooked up to a big powered speaker who played a decent saxophone - went from cheezy easy listening to quite decent lounge bossa nova.

So Fatima and Eunice were saying hi to the loads of people they knew walking by and eventually Mariemm (who had performed in the show) and Jesse came by and they joined us for more food and drink.

The girls had desert and I had a couple of espressos with a small Monte Cristo Especial and then we walked the length of the street to go back to our car. About 11:30 pm and almost every table and every lounge (there were sofas and some low tables and cushions set up in the middle of the street) was occupied. There is also another mini "plaza" where they often have live music.

Eunice and Fatima with their dessert at La Rioja
Cross the street at the end of the Paseo and back to our car - loads of people and traffic and some cafes on that street so still felt safe and back to the parking lot where the young woman was still there watching the cars! So I gave her another dollar for a tip.

I am so pleased to have found Paseo del Carmen - oh, should mention that it is in Santa Tecla. Take the Alameda Manuel Enrique Araujo (who was this guy and why is the street name so long?) road past the malls until it turns into the Carretera Panamericana past Bulevar Merliot, past that giant bike shop, past the big long bus platform, and turn right on 7 Avenida Sur. Two blocks down is 1Calle Oriente (or Paseo El Carmen or del Carmen) on the left and the parking is another block down on the right. You can park on the street as well to get closer but we didn't since it was still rush hour when we got there. Hmm, plus might be a good idea to have someone watching your car to avoid a break in or a pry off.

The place is open all week but the street is pedestrian only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Eunice said that there is a food festival on the weekends as well.

So if you live in San Salvador, I highly recommend you go check out this scene. And if you come down to visit, make me take you there.


  1. Thanks for the great write-ups from E.S.! They are very helpful to any and all future visitors. I hope to check out some of the spots you mentioned when I go next week!

    1. Hey jazzrazz,hope you have a great time in El Salvador. If you have any questions or suggestions of what to blog about, let me know.