Costa Rica’s capital San Jose has a lively nightlife. Most tourists naturally fall into the Tican groove: the Latin rhythms of Salsa, Merengue, and on the Caribbean coast, Soca, and the driving sounds of Reggae music.
I’ve enjoyed Costa Rican nightlife on both coasts, but on a return to San Jose, I was surprised to find a club near my hotel that was decidedly different. Costa Rica rocks!
It’s a side of the country’s culture that shouldn’t really be surprising considering the mixed influences on this complex and engaging culture. Ticans take pride in their Indigenous Native heritage, in their Spanish Colonial roots, and they take pride in their close connection to the United States. For many young Ticans that connection is best exemplified by rock and roll music. Still, the last thing I expected to hear in Costa Rica was the primal driving rhythms of punk rock, heavy metal, and grunge music. The bar near my room was called Pub Rock, and it turned out it was just the tip of the rock and roll iceberg.
Conveniently for gringos rock is an international form of music. That means that any real fan will listen to music from around the world so that Ticans into rock will hear a lot of English language lyrics. Most rockers in San Jose speak English.
At Pub Rock I made friends with a few of the regulars, including Fernando, one of the staff who remained, hanging out, every night even when he wasn’t working the bar. After we traded concert stories Fernando wanted to know who the best rock bands in Canada were, and I asked him the same question about Costa Rica.
“For heavy rock the best-known band, even though they’re no longer together, is December’s Cold Night. They totally rock,” he said. Moments later he was searching though Pub Rock’s on-line music library. He cued up, “Ablaze All Shrines”. The growling vocals somehow had a melodic undertone that complementing the metal beat. Next Fernando found and played a song each from the Canadian bands I mentioned: Nickelback, Triumph, and Tragically Hip. The Hip tune, “New Orleans is Sinking” got aired three times in succession at the insistence of other bar patrons.
Canada and Costa Rica seem to share musical sensibilities. Through the rest of the night, I was exposed to other Costa Rican favorites, including Sintagna, with death metal sounding vocals, and Gandhi, who serves up a more melodic sound, reminiscent of the Beatles.
Pub Rock is in Barrio California, on the same street as the Nicaraguan Embassy, telephone 225-65958. Other nightlife options include El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte, where Latin, Reggae and occasional live rock bands perform (Av 1, 19/21, telephone 221-0327); Hoxton Pub (1590 Barrio Escalante, telephone 2253-9090); the 2011 Punk Rock Festival featuring Wilhelm Scream, Down By Law, Xpunkha, and a dozen other international and Tican bands was at October 8 at Club La Azotea, telephone 8995-0340.
If you want to hear Tican rock music on local radio in San Jose tune into Conexion at 97.9 FM, 91.5 FM, or La Radio at 91.1 FM.
This article was written for Costa Rica Discover, a San Jose-based specialist in Costa Rica tours.