The Mariscal for Old People

To my mind, one of the major deficiencies of Quito is its lack of neighborhood bars. When we lived in Madrid and Barcelona, we could count on there being at least one bar on damn near every block in the residential neighborhoods. These were most often family places that opened early in the morning so you could get your café con leche and a croissant, served a hearty lunch at the beginning of siesta time, and were there for beer, wine and tapas after work.

No such luck in Quito.

We make up for the coffee ourselves by brewing a very strong pot every morning in our French-style press pot we brought from home. (We tried serving it to one of my students one day and he recoiled at the grounds that stuck in his teeth.) There actually is a place that makes pretty good croissants, but it's about a 20 minute walk, and we don't usually make it there in the morning.

Lunch is often whatever is leftover from last night, or maybe some scrambled eggs. Some days we go to one of the little neighborhood eateries where you can sit down at one of the four or five tables in a tiny room and get potato soup, a piece of chicken with lots of rice and a little salad, and a fresh made juice for under $2.

Unfortunately, that still leaves the bar problem. That's where the Mariscal comes in.

The Mariscal is the entertainment district of Quito. Every block has at least five or six bars, and they compete for the business of the youthful Ecuadorians and the not so youthful extranjeros like us by offering very generous pours of beer for $1.75 or so. And those are the nicer places. Some of the divier joints give the youngsters 60 cl (2o oz.) bottles for as little as $1.25. But if you go in there, you're likely to lose your hearing from the pounding South American hip hop and your lungs to the sad fact that every Ecuadorian under the age of 22 chain smokes.

Gringolandia, as the Mariscal is also known, also has some nice restaurants. Uncle Ho's does sort of a fusion of Vietnamese and Ecuadorian coastal food (read spicier than the bland Ecuadorian mountain fare typical of Quito.) It's pretty good, but suffers a bit from the fact that it has a rep among the tourists and the prices ($7 for an entree) are kind of high by Ecuadorian standards.

We also like the Great Indian Restaurant on José Calama between Amazonas and Juan Leon Mera.  The people speak English, since they're real Indians and are as much extranjeros as we are. They have an extensive list of preparations, mostly of chicken and vegetables, and the entrees only cost $3.50-4.50. We ate there last night with a couple of friends and the four of us got out of there for $19, including drinks. Very tasty stuff, too. The best part, however, may be the constant Bollywood music videos on the big screen.

But, enough food. I started out to try to talk about the bars, so here you go. Our favorite is Villa Cayetano, which is conveniently located right next to the Indian joint. It's run by Saul Vazquez and his son Christian. They lived in Canada for many years, and Christian speaks absolutely accentless English, if you don't count that he pronounces words that end in “out” as “oot.” A frosted mug of beer is $1.75, and they have a constant Johnnie Walker Red special of two generous shots for $5. They've also got North American sports (i.e. the World Series, NFL and college football, and hockey on the HD TVs. They also do European and South American soccer. They have a local clientele, too.) They'll also give you two hamburgers with fries for $5, or, our current favorite, fish and chips for $6. And, guys, the fish is sea bass. And, it's fresh. The service is great, and personal, and it's one of those bars that has a lot of regulars who all know each other and show up to hang out damn near every time we're there.

The same goes for the Corner Bar, which as the name would lead you to believe, is at the corner of José Calama and Amazonas. That's owned by Milton, who might have one of the best smiles in Ecuador, and his partner, who is from somewhere in northern Europe–Belgium or somewhere in that neighborhood.

Anyway, the bar literally wraps around the corner. There's a TV there, too, that usually is tuned to some soccer game, but nobody's really paying attention. The Corner Bar is for drinking, and a lot of the neighborhood natives–including a lot of European and North American expats, spend their evenings there. It's a good one, if a bit smoky, and after you've been there twice, Milton will know your name and have your regular drink in hand ready to pour by the time your butt is beginning to get comfortable on the stool.

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