Santo Domingo’s Malecón is the traditional focus of nightlife; along with some of the city’s finest dancehalls, the promenade is crowded with outdoor restaurants and food shacks that slowly start getting crowded around 10pm and stay open into the early hours of the morning. Less known to outsiders are the nightclubs along Avenida Venezuela 1km east of the Río Ozama and Avenida Abraham Lincoln north of 27 de Febrero, easily the most popular clubs with locals but a bit intimidating for foreigners. In addition to the discos listed below, Avenida Venezuela boasts a host of smaller beer halls, pool halls and colmados that attract huge crowds nightly. There are also several clubs across the city that specialize in son – a slow, melodious Cuban groove with acoustic guitars and percussion that many Dominicans claim was born here – long popular and enjoying unprecedented respectability, highlighted by a citywide festival in March.
Keep in mind, though, that in 2007 due to an increase in night-time crime across the country, a strict curfew on drinking was imposed that shut all bars and dancehalls down at 11pm every night. These restrictions had the desired effect of lowering the crime rate significantly and have since been informally relaxed to the point where you can expect bars to stay open until 2am on most nights.
For some informal Dominican entertainment, check out the merengue périco ripao bands that wander the crowded colmados along Avenida Duarte in the early evening. A popular tradition with the local middle class is open bars, where the drinks are free once you pay the cover charge; check the Spanish-language website w www.809k.com for open bars across the city.
There are several Spanish-language websites devoted exclusively to covering the latest events in Santo Domingo nightlife; particularly well worth checking out before you arrive is www.uepa.com.
Bars and cafés
The Zona Colonial is the place for bar-hopping: at night the ruins are particularly atmospheric and dotted around them are a variety of working-class neighbourhood joints, jazz bars and slick clubs. The other major centre of activity is the Plaza Central shopping district in Arroyo Hondo, where most wealthy young Dominicans hang out. It’s counter-intuitive, but the busiest night for heading out to these bars is Monday, perhaps because locals need to fortify themselves in the face of a new week at work. The Malecón also has a number of popular informal shacks, with a few chairs and tables, that sell booze to the sound of blaring merengue.
Discos and live music
Weekends see plenty of activity, but the busiest night for local clubs is Monday, when most are booked with big-name acts; street-side banners across the city advertise any notable concert, which will raise the cover charge by RD$200.
Gay clubs and bars
Gay clubs come and go in Santo Domingo so it’s often best to check in first at Friends for information on the current scene, or take a look at www.monaga.net. Keep in mind you’ll be accosted by local hustlers in most places. Male clubs are often a target for assault; unfortunately, it’s safest to arrive and depart by taxi.
Most Santo Domingo cinemas focus on first-run American action flicks, which hit the screens at the same time as they do in the States; unfortunately, almost every theatre in the city shows the same two or three Hollywood blockbusters. You’ll be able to check at the ticket booth whether the film is in English with Spanish subtitles or dubbed. Either way, expect the audience to be as much a part of the show as the movie – locals often derive most of their pleasure from making fun of the action on screen.