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When I learned that Jet Blue recently added service from New York to Bogotá, I decided to extend my Colombian adventure and spend 36 hours in the capital. I was amazed by how much I could pack in thanks to insider advice from super-friendly locals, chefs and mixologists.
I met Patrick Enste, founder of Luxury Travel Services, an agency offering Colombia’s most fabulous rental and hotel options, while in Cartagena. He suggested I book a room at Bogotá's 104 Arts Suites, a funky boutique hotel in the northern part of the city. Each of the 20 rooms was designed by a local Colombian artist. (I was in #201, Camilo Monsalve’s masterpiece). In addition to the fab design, the service was exceptional, and though I felt completely safe my entire trip, the staff always insisted I take their car service rather than hop in a taxi alone (“Just for precaution Mrs. Jennifer,” they assured me).
Saturday afternoon: I fueled up with a perfect pisco sour and a small plate of baby grilled octopus with a chimichurri of braised peppers and olives at star Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling’s eponymous Bogotá outpost in Zona G (Bogotá’s hot food ’hood), then wandered around Zona Rosa, a two-mile plaza of bars, restaurants and dangerously enticing shops ranging from tiny boutiques to enormous malls like Andino Center, Atlantis and El Retira. I splurged on hip Latin American–inspired bangles from jewelry designer Mercedes Salazar and restrained myself from buying colorful, beachy-chic dresses from Colombia’s hottest fashion designer, Silvia Tcherassi (who is also designing a boutique hotel in Cartagena).
Early evening: People eat late here so I grabbed a pre-dinner snack at Clos, a just-opened wine bar in Zona G, that has a diverse wine list spanning France, Spain, Italy and Australia as well as the usual Argentinean and Chilean offerings on every other list in the city. Regulars can by a kind of prepaid debit card so they can pour themselves a taste or a glass from one six enomatic machines. And the food is terrific too, with a nice selection of meats and cheese.
Late night: Everyone I met told me I must go to Andrés Carne de Res, located 40 minutes outside of Bogotá in the tiny town of Chia, and that I had to go with locals. Luckily, a friend of a friend lives in Bogotá and offered to take me. The only way to describe this enormous restaurant-bar is to think of a Latin American–version of Alice’s rabbit hole or Hunter Thompson’s dream restaurant. Originally a roadside steak stand opened by the hippie-artist owner Andrés, the place has evolved into a maze of bars and dining rooms spilling over with locals dancing on tables and drinking handles of aguardente, a potent firewater that I preferred mixed with fresh fruit juices. Colombians start lining up (and pay for parking as well as a cover charge to eat and party) around 10 p.m. and stay until the sun comes up. Despite the many distractions—the DJ booth, the wacky decorations falling from the ceiling, the masks they hand out—the food is actually quite good. I had a pork revelation eating addictive chicharrones (David Chang would have been smitten). Even after we paid (the check is delivered with a magnifying glass, flashlight and goodie bags of sweets) freebies like bowls of uchuvas (a sweet and tangy yellow fruit) and slices of green mango keep coming. The highlight of my night: learning that my new Venezuelan friends who were dancing next to me were all huge Top Chef and Ray Isle devotees!