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La Polonesa: Welcome Back to the 1950's

La Polonesa: Welcome Back to the 1950's

During the day, the occasional tourists visiting the Cathedral Basillica Metropolitana might wander into this local spot across the street from Parque Bolivar in Medellin, Colombia. After dark, however, chances are that the foreigners have all scurried back to the safety of El Poblado as the area is deemed “dangerous.” And at the time of writing it was for those who don’t understand the barrio or pay attention. 

When Arcesio bought the bar seven years ago he didn’t change a thing. But then, neither had the various people who had owned it for 50 or so years before he took it over as otherwise it wouldn’t have maintained its character. 

Check the original floor – how many thousands of footsteps have landed there? And the dark, solid wooden bar that would be a great cover if there was a shoot-out. When was the last time you saw two stuffed eagles and an armadillo perched on the top of a bar?

Caught in a time warp, nobody wants to alter anything as it works. The furniture, the ambience, and the music could come from an episode of Father Knows Best.  Think of the bar notables in Buenos Aires, and get the feel for the ambience. It is contagious and seeps into salsa toe tapping feet. 

Why is La Polonesa 'The Local' for the Locals?

By about 19:00 the office workers have left and the people in the neighborhood have slouched into their usual chairs.  The music – not an English song on the premises – is not head-banging loud and is so familiar that people often sing along.

Snag a table by the window and watch the going-on the park across the street. It is an insight into the questionable activities from a safe vantage point. It is also a voyeuristic view into life on the street. It may not be pretty, but it is what it is. 

The Service

Jorge – who has been there for a mere three months – is an old-fashioned waiter who has carved out his turf. He knows the regulars and makes sure that everything is in order. Napkins under all glasses, pleeaaase. Little bowls with slices of avocado, carrot and oranges appear, followed by overflowing containers of popcorn. And he keeps bringing the snacks to people who eat them.   

Salsa, Tango, Rumba

Yes, the locals frequent La Polonesa in Medellin, but there are also a group of regulars who treat it as their private club. Francisco, for example, will get up, pick a partner and start dancing salsa, rumba or tango. Early on into the song, others get up and join in until the bar turns into a dance floor. Couples glide smoothly around the tables while Jorge maneuvers his tray of drinks between them without spilling a drop.  

Sorry to Leave

Officially the bar closes at 23:00 and it is time to head out. Nobody – but nobody – wants to be anywhere near the park after this time of night. But that will change as the neighborhood is gentrified. 

Meanwhile, the bartender is happy to call a taxi for you, which is much better than hailing one on the street as they are safer. Another good idea is to take a photo of the car and driver with a cell phone.  

However, if there are people still drinking, La Polonesa stays open. Another sign of a good establishment that truly puts their customers first. 

La Polonesa

Calle 55 #48-30 --Across from Parque Bolivar in El Centro

Medellin, Colombia

Jody Hanson is an insufferable travel junkie who has visit 107 countries – 67 on her own – lived in nine and holds passports in three. She has visited all the countries in North, Central and South America except for Venezuela, Guyana, Surname and French Guinea. She wrote this article on behalf of Tucan Travel who can take you on adventures in Colombia and all over Latin America.

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