A Colombian Café

You’re walking around downtown Bogota. Sooner or later you arrive at a café. They serve either coffee or alcohol. That is – unless you would prefer to have coffee mixed with your alcohol, which is perfectly acceptable at 10:00 pm in Colombia.

A zealous Colombian waitress spots you staring through the tinted windows. “Bienvenidos, a la orden?“ She’s short – around five feet tall with heels. She sports bangs and a gaping smile. “A la orden?” she repeats – emphasizing that the cafe has drinks ready to be served. Like a broken cassette tape she repeats “A la order?” yet again, as she widens her smile.  She’s charming, no doubt about it. You let yourself be lured inside.

Your eyes adjust to the dim lighting. There are roughly 20 tables squeezed into the small café. In the back is a massive couch for relaxing, but it’s taken all night. The pathway through the restaurant is less than a foot wide; at some points you turn yourself sideways to squeeze through.

Eventually you make your way to a table. Upon seating you, the waitress from the door immediately asks for your order – expecting you to already know what you want. You ask for the menu, and she leaves in search of the only copy in the entire bar.

Sit back and you notice just how loud the music is. So loud that it can’t possibly be healthy. You try speaking to the person across from you, but all they do is cup their ears in confusion. They don’t understand a single thing you said. Pretty soon you give up on talking altogether and begin nodding your head to the rhythm.

The waitress is back with the menu. She hands you the menu and peers over your shoulders as you read. You spot the ideal drink – not too cheap nor expensive. You yell the drink’s name to the waitress, trying to be louder than the pounding music. The veins in your head throb yet you can barely hear your own voice. Miraculously, the waitress understood and nods her head.

colombian bar rose seller
Photo by Rachel Jones

At one point during the evening, a short man carrying dozens of flowers enters the bar. So many flowers  that they practically cover his face. He offers a flower to each table, expecting each man to buy one for his date. He is successful more times than not. When he comes to the couch at the back of the bar, one man stands up and buys for each of his many lady friends.  A plethora of giggling and chatter ensues. Minutes later, the short waitress shoos the flower seller out of the building.

A moment of silence as the song ends. Peace, solace, a chance to relax. You lean back in your seat, but sudden trumpet blasting takes you to the edge. The next song has begun. On the other side of the café, a couple stands up from their seats, locks arms, and slow dances around their seats. Shortly after, another couple begins dancing – then another, and another. Eventually, the entire pathway around the bar is blocked as couples serenade each other. They share intimate dances, sharing affection and kisses along the way. Your eyes bear witness to the fact that there are no limits to public displays of affection in Colombia. The aisle remains blocked for the duration of the song, business shut down. The song ends and the couples nonchalantly sit down and resume their conversations.

Soon after, your group leaves to go back to the hostel.  As much fun as it was to ‘people watch’, the music’s volume has gotten to your head.  As you leave, you notice that the people at each table are the same ones as when you arrived.  Not a single Colombian left while you were there – they arrived hours before you, and have no intention of leaving soon.

Your ears ring from the music as you fall asleep.