by Michael Miller
Closings in Barrio Amon and Barrio Otoya. In the past few months, a surprising number of establishments in San José‘s Barrio Amon and the adjacent Barrio Otoya have closed. Some have closed for good, and some just temporarily.
This area has seen many ups and downs throughout its history. It was once considered the most fashionable neighborhood in San José, as is evident from the dozens of beautiful century-old homes and buildings that you can see by walking the streets of these two barrios.
By the middle of the 20th century, this neighborhood began to decline, as many of the original wealthy families moved to quieter and more modern parts of the Central Valley.
In recent years, both Barrio Amon and neighbor, Barrio Otoya have been experiencing a renaissance, and the area has seen an increase in the number and the quality of hotels, restaurants, art galleries and professional offices. This is why it is disappointing to learn that some of the area’s businesses have closed.
Here are some places that are permanently closed:
Restaurant Otoya – This was an upscale Nuevo-Italian restaurant in one of the most beautiful buildings in the neighborhood, on Avenida 9. It faced tough competition from long established popular restaurants within a block (including Cafe Mundo, El Jardin and the Sportsmen’s Lodge).
Rica Barcelona Restaurant – Specializing in Spanish cuisine, also on Avenida 9, this place just never caught on with the locals or the tourists.
Scores – A restaurant, and sometimes raucous bar, that catered mostly to single male tourists, Scores was also a victim of nearby competition. Scores was formerly part of the old Havana Bar on Calle 3A.
Cafe Centro – Housed in one of the neighborhood’s fine old homes on Calle 11, behind the Casa Amarilla, Cafe Centro was a restaurant and coffee shop. It was only open for lunch and a few hours in the afternoon, and featured a very limited menu.
Wine Art – After a heralded grand opening, including lots of press coverage, the first and only wine store in downtown San José has closed. It was located in a tough-to-find building and featured mostly expensive wines. Several friends of mine told me that they went to Wine Art looking for a nice bottle of wine for $10 to $15, and could only find bottles priced $60 and up. Unfortunately, Wine Art lasted less than six months.
Not all the news is bad. Two major businesses have shut their doors, but only temporarily. They are both doing renovations and they both plan big comebacks.
Hotel Castillo – This long-time fixture on Avenida 9, next to the Hemingway Inn, shut its doors in October, 2014, and began an ambitious construction project. A great deal of the work has already been completed, and the hotel’s management is now waiting for permits from the city before moving forward.
According to Darren Rutherford, the Castillo’s general manager, “We have about two more months of construction work left. As soon as the city gives us the OK, we will get our men back to work.”
Mr. Rutherford said that, once completed, the hotel will have beautifully renovated rooms, new suites will be added for guests, and a fashionable new restaurant and a martini bar, with views overlooking the zoo. The restaurant and bar will be available both to guests and to the public. “It will be the jewel of the neighborhood.” He said.
Mona Lisa Hotel and Casino – This is the other major renovation project in the neighborhood. It should be noted that the Mona Lisa Hotel is open for business. However, the restaurant and the casino are shut down for renovation.
We spoke to Guy Grand, the Mona Lisa ’s Director of Marketing and Guest Services. He told us that the hotel was purchased by a new owner last month and that there are major changes in the works, starting with the name: The hotel will be renamed Taormina Hotel and Casino, after the magnificent seaside city on the east coast of Sicily.
While the restaurant at the Mona Lisa is currently closed for re-modeling, we got a sneak peek at it. The work is mostly finished. It is very impressive, and is scheduled to reopen “within the next few weeks,” according to Mr. Grand. It will feature an upscale Italian menu.
The old casino has been totally gutted and will be rebuilt and modernized. However, Mr. Grand tells us, “That will take a bit longer.”
At first glance, it may be a little disconcerting to learn about so many closings. Nevertheless, every neighborhood will see businesses close, and new businesses open, all the time. That is just part of the natural ebb and flow of a vibrant economy. And as the Hotel Castillo and the newly named Taormina Hotel and Casino show us: Some exciting changes are coming to this part of Downtown San José soon.
It’s all part of "the real San José."
Michael Miller is the author of the first and only guide book that focuses on Downtown San José, Costa Rica, titled The Real San José. Paperback copies are available for sale at selected retail outlets in San José. An electronic version of The Real San José is available at Amazon/Kindle. To access it, click here.