When in�Bogot�

3.18.2009

By Adam H. Graham

Just a five-hour flight from New York City (seven hours from Los Angeles), Bogot' is nestled between the lush mountains of Guadalupe and Monserrate, nearly two miles up in the Andean high plateau. By turns colonial and modern, this city-in-transition is frequently dubbed the 'Athens of South America' for its dense concentration of museums (of gold, colonial art, and modern art, plus one specializing in the artist Fernando Botero), libraries, and universities, not to mention its thriving gayborhoods like the Zona Rosa and Chapinero.

The 8-million-strong metro area was once notorious for crime and drugs, but wildly popular president 'lvaro Uribe has bolstered Bogot's civic pride by increasing security and adopting strict crime-fighting tactics used by the NYPD. In 2007, he sponsored a bill that paved the way for this year's constitutional court ruling that same-sex couples must be granted the same rights as heterosexuals in common-law marriages. But discrimination, violent crime, and rebel activity elsewhere in Colombia contribute to national
image problems.

Most recently, Colombia has been hit with global economic woes, but Bogot' seems to be weathering the storm. This is most visible in the bohemian Candelaria district and the more modern Gourmet Zone (Zona G), where chefs and restaurateurs from all over Latin America are taking advantage of the colonial capital's affordable rents and setting up camp. Plus, the city's bustling Juan Valdez coffee shops, thriving emerald market, booming medical tourism business, and leather handbag shops -- stuffed with buyers from all over the world -- all suggest the city is doing quite well.

STREET GUIDE

THE DRINK

Brokeback Mountain Caf' and Bar
Cra. 9A #60-25; +57-1-542-5683
This unlikely newcomer is named after Ang Lee's homo-western flick, but you won't find any cowboys thumping to its background disco and house beats. Pastel couches are strewn around the lounges, while karaoke and wireless Internet keep the gay boys busy.

Blues Bar
Cl. 86A #13A-30; +57-1-616-7126
The gays come to this Zona Rosa bar to chitchat and shake their hips to electro and pop. Open Tuesday through Saturday, with an open bar all night for a mere 15,000 pesos ($6).

THE GROOVE

Theatron
Cl. 58 #10-34; +57-1-235-4227
TheatronDePelicula.com
The heart of the gay ghetto of the Chapinero, this gigantic former movie theater is the city's premier gay dance club. Its various dance floors cater to everyone from househeads to lounge lizards.

THE BED

104 Art Suites
Cra. 18A #104-77; +57-1-602-5959
104ArtSuites.com
Bunk down in style at this glistening but affordable boutique hotel in La Candelaria, where a group of Colombian artists have converted an apartment building into the HQ of Bogot' cool. The spacious rooms have a clean monochromatic decor and stark edginess that you won't find at other area hotels.

THE BITE

80 Sillas
Cl. 118 #7-09; +57-1-619-2471
Tourists often don't make it to this bright, trendy, colorful cevicher'a in the office district of Usaqu'n, but they're missing out. Its walls are bathed in chalkboard paint, where a staggering variety of raw fish (delivered daily) and Colombian fruit combinations are listed above the heads of office workers and buttoned-up 30-somethings.

Andr's Carne de Res
Cl. 3 #11A-56; +57-1-863-7880
AndresCarneDeRes.com
Less a foodie destination than a party involving dinner (think salsa dancing and theatrical performances), the fiesta never ends at this legendary steakhouse in the suburb of Chia. The 700+ seat institution may seem ridiculously large and touristy, but it's a Bogot' must. Between rounds of mojitos (served in giant goblets), snack on plates of patac'n (pizza made with mashed, fried plantain in lieu of dough) and tender little papas criollas (roasted baby potatoes).

THE MORNING AFTER

Cerro Monserrate
Cra. 2 Este #21-48; Paseo Bolivar; +57-1-284-5700
CerroMonserrate.com
The $5 telef'rico (cable car) ascent to this gorgeously reconstructed church and monastery takes you over lush eucalyptus-scented hills to a dizzying 10,000-foot altitude, where food vendors and fancy restaurants await. If you're feeling fit, join the regular Sunday pilgrims footing it up the hill's windy paths (not to be done alone, or on any day except Sunday, due to muggers). The pilgrims come to visit the statue of Se'or Ca'do (Fallen Christ), which dates from 1640 and is said to perform miracles.

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