Hard-partying Puerto Rico capital faces new code that will limit alcohol sales

A new measure in San Juan, Puerto Rico will prohibit alcohol sales after certain hours, beginning in November.

Puerto Rico’s capital is renowned for its all-night partying, but a new municipal code is expected to change that.

San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero on Tuesday signed a new measure to prohibit alcohol sales after certain hours, saying he was “morally convinced” it was the right thing to do.

The new code, scheduled to go into effect in November, is expected to affect hundreds of restaurants and bars across San Juan. It was fiercely debated in recent months, with businesses and Puerto Ricans used to long nights and decades of no oversight decrying the new rules, which do not apply to hotels and their guests.

Residents in the capital’s historic district known as Old San Juan, which is popular with locals and tourists alike, rejoiced cautiously.

“The impression of San Juan is that anything goes,” said Reinaldo Segurola, 71. “It’s a mix between Disney and Las Vegas.”

Throngs of people with drinks in hand often crowd the narrow streets of Old San Juan, where businesses are known to remain open until 5 a.m. to serve the last stragglers, and the party often moves to the renowned seaside community of La Perla, where revelers welcome the sunrise.

A similar scene plays out in other areas of San Juan, including Loiza Street and La Placita de Santurce, a market square where businesses bustle and music thumps until dawn.

Under the new code, businesses in San Juan can only serve or sell alcohol from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday, and up to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday if Monday is a holiday.

“They went overboard,” Carlos Álvarez, a 34-year-old San Juan resident who works at a cannabis store, said of the mayor and municipal legislature that approved the code on Friday.

He and his girlfriend often party in Old San Juan and other areas of the capital late into the night, and he noted that the new code would likely force people to start partying earlier or seek clandestine bars he expects will pop up after the new rules go into effect.

“We carry the love of partying in our blood,” he said of Puerto Ricans.

Romero, the mayor, said the new code is needed to curb violence and noise, and that it would be revised every six months if necessary.

“The more the code is complied with, the stronger the economy of San Juan, the stronger the tourism,” he said.

Romero signed the code three months after two students at NYU’s business school were fatally shot on Loiza Street while on vacation, victims of a nearby altercation. Earlier this year, three tourists from the U.S. mainland were stabbed after police said someone told them to stop filming at La Perla in Old San Juan.

Overall, it’s rare for tourists to be killed in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.2 million people.

Before Romero signed the new code, bar and restaurant owners warned they would see a drop in revenue and accused him of favoring hotels, which are exempt from the measure.

“This is not the time to ban and shut down and stagnate the economy,” said Diana Font, president of the Association of Businesses of Old San Juan.

She noted that business owners are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and Hurricane Maria, which hit the island as a powerful Category 4 storm in September 2017.

Font and others also questioned whether the new rules would even be enforced, given that police currently do not respond to their complaints about noise, garbage and public drinking in Old San Juan.

Segurola, who lives in that area, said Puerto Rico’s culture is one of “drinking recklessly.”

“There’s no control,” he said. “It’s a culture of fun, of loud music and noise and drinking.”

– Dánica Coto, The Associated Press

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