IMBOLDN Imbibes: El Barón
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At the beginning of a recent week-long trip to Cartagena, Colombia, I discovered El Barón, an unassuming cocktail bar pleasantly situated in the shadows of the Church of St. Peter Claver, one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. After a day of exploring the city, I stopped in for what I assumed would be a quick drink. Not only did I stay for more rounds than I care to admit, I returned again. And again. And again. With their inventive cocktail list, great menu, and intoxicating atmosphere (pun intended) I can honestly say it’s one of the best bars I’ve been to. So I reached out to owner Juan David Diaz and bartender Oscar Velasco to learn more about my watering hole for the week.

Tell us about your background and what led you to bartending?

Velasco: I started working as a bar-back to pay for my studies in Cali. After a while, I had to make the choice whether to see my future as a graphic designer or as a bartender. Ultimately, you don’t choose the profession, it is the profession that chooses you. This decision has given me the opportunity to travel and meet so many interesting people.

Tell us about El Barón’s history. When was the bar opened and what makes it unique?

Diaz: El Barón opened on December 24, 2013. Very crazy to open that day, but hey, it is what it is!

I would think that El Barón is unique thanks to each of the people that we work at this bar. Each one brings their expertise and talent. Everyone at El Barón has an eye for details and makes sure everything is such that the client has a unique experience. We are always investigating and correcting our service delivery processes. We travel constantly to see what is on the market, to always be on the cutting edge with the latest trends.

Everyone at El Barón has an eye for details and makes sure everything is such that the client has a unique experience.

Tell us about the Muse Selection. Be honest – do you have a favorite?

Velasco: Well, the selection is based on a postcard book we made for the 2nd anniversary of El Barón, where we are told the story of this intriguing character who travels all around the world. Japan, the Middle East, Madagascar, Paris, and Chicago, were some of his stops. From there, we decided that in each city, El Barón had met a woman who marked his experience, and they were in charge of reviving the passage of El Barón in these places.

Certainly Aisha, inspired by the Middle East, is the one that generates the most effect. However, they are so different that it all depends on personal tastes: the peculiar and subtle aroma of Keiko, the sweet and refreshing Aina, the strength and balance of Helena – it’s hard to choose!

What is your favorite cocktail to prepare?

Velasco: Those that deliver a surprise based on the customer’s tastes.

What is your favorite cocktail to drink?

Velasco: I like the negroni and the margarita but I usually appreciate whatever I am served.

Diaz: A good Spritz in the morning, a Negroni in the afternoon and in the evening, a Boulevardier. Classic drinks are always my favorites.

What inspires you?

Velsaco: Usually women do, hahaha! But inspiration can come from anywhere. A story that someone tells me, a movie or just an ingredient can lead me to develop a drink.

What is the best thing about having a bar in Cartagena?

Diaz: The best thing about having a bar in Cartagena is that I am in the city where I was born. It is a source of pride to be able to create a business and provide jobs. It gives me the chance to know and understand how the city works and therefore make important decisions about the business. Nowadays, Cartagena is an important tourist destination and we must take advantage of this opportunity.

3 things that visitors must see in Cartagena?

Velsaco: An incredible sunset from any of the terraces. Many actually miss it but the Bazurto Market is its own thing.

Diaz: A tour of the old city, The National Aviary in Baru, El Barón

What is the best thing someone has ever told you about one of your cocktails?

Velasco: That they tried to reproduce it at home or in one of their bars.

What is your favorite bar in the world after El Barón, and why?

Velasco: There are two: Dead Rabbit was out of this world, and Employees Only made me live an incredible experience by letting me in to serve some shots

Diaz: Employees Only! Usually when I visit sites for the first time, I am partly thinking about the operation of the business. At EO it was an amazing experience, as I had the opportunity to relax and not be thinking so much about research topic, but really enjoy the experience as a regular customer. The bartenders welcomed us with open arms. We are still in touch. I always recommend this bar.