Aruba + Bonaire + Curaçao Nightlife
Tel: 599 9 461 4377
For jazz on the rocks, hit this casual spot at the end of a breakwater protecting the Avila Hotel's beach. On Thursdays and Sundays, when local bands or touring musicians play from a tiny balcony suspended over the bar, the 80-seat room is positively steamy from the stew of Latin jazz, merengue, salsa, and Carnival-inspired tumbaand the dearth of open windows. Otherwise, the scene is mellow, with DVDs of blues concerts playing on a half-dozen flat-screen TVs while clubgoers chase tapas with a Blues cocktail (a mix of Malibu rum, blue Curaçao, and pineapple and lemon juice). If you've got the musical chops, bring along an instrument and sit in with the band.
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 pm until the last customer leaves.
79 J.E. Irausquin Boulevard
Tel: 297 586 2233
Hiding in plain sight on a pier at the east end of Palm Beach, this affable watering hole is especially popular with local expats. The Dutch-owned pub, located between the Radisson and Riu resorts, pours an impressive range of mixed drinks, including a special Aruba Ariba (rum, vodka, banana liqueur, Triple Sec, fruit punch, and Grenadine) and a gut-check Prairie Fire (a shot of tequila with Tabasco sauce). A small kitchen serves up surprisingly good dishes, including grouper salad and cheese sandwiches topped with pesto, tomato, and olives. Boats tie up to hear the live music on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday nights; the last Monday evening of each month is reserved for an all-comers backgammon tournament.
Open daily from 8 am to 11 pm.
12 Kaya J.N.E. Craane
Tel: 599 717 8434
One of the immutable truths of the Caribbean is that every island has at least one overwater bar. On Bonaire, that bar is Karel's. The island's most reliable nighttime option stands like a beacon on a pier just off Kaya J.N.E. Craane, the Kralendijk waterfront's main drag. When cruise ships are in port, this is a loud, noisy place, a condition otherwise confined to Wednesday karaoke nights. And with a two-for-one happy hour (5 to 7 pm) and lack of a railing, Karel's can become a true dive bar, with customers making impromptu leaps into the sea.
Open daily 11 am to 2 am.
4 Kaya Bonaire
Tel: 599 796 1707
Anton Barzilay's noir cigar bar, with its hardwood floors, soft-leather sofa, and conspiratorial lighting, is the perfect Kralendijk nightcap spot. The walls hold portraits of icons of cool such as Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and Che Guevara, and the turntables spin classic jazz from the owner's 4,000-LP collection until 10 pm. As the hour gets later, the music and the Dutch-expat crowd gets younger; this is a popular after-work hangout for waiters and other restaurant employees who favor Jack Johnson CDs along with their Heineken draughts. The only bummer is the biker bar across the street, which occasionally cranks up '70s disco (must be a Dutch biker thing), but there are far worse places to savor a snifter of Grand Marnier and a smoldering Montecristo.
Open daily 5 pm to 2 am.
230 J.E. Irausquin Boulevard
Tel: 297 586 5365
On the plus side, this popular bar between the Marriott Surf Club and the Holiday Inn on Aruba's Palm Beach has an expansive drinks menu, blending up everything from mango smoothies to hurricanes and caipirinhas. In the debit column, the food is pedestrian and tourists become a well-oiled majority in the high season. Regardless, spend any time strolling Palm Beach, and you'll likely stop off at the oversize palapa, especially during daily happy hour (6 to 7 pm) for half-priced beers, daiquiris, and margaritas. The interior is very Caribbean sports bar: beer-bottle chandelier, quartet of TVs tuned to American athletic events, tiki torches, and a vending machine dispensing Cuban cigars. There's live music Friday nights and free Wi-Fi, and DJ Diablo spins on Sunday evenings.
Open daily 8 am to 1 am.
9 de Rouvilleweg
Tel: 599 9 462 5999
This 18th-century manor house offers a front-row seat on Willemstad's waterfront, especially from the open-air second-floor galleries. It's a locals' hangout, with older customers congregating in the back courtyard for dinner, and young sophistos out front nibbling on satays and bitterballen (Dutch meatballs with whole-grain mustard). The music is retro (Kool & the Gang and ABCs favorite Lionel Richie), the decor vintage (hardwood floors, ceiling fans, ocean liner posters). The bar offers the usual lineup of mixed drinks, but check out the encyclopedic collection of rumsthere are 55 varieties, including Santiago de Cuba, Surinamese Burgoe, 18-year-old Nicaraguan Flor de Cana, and Guatemala's silken Zacapa. Be aware that the bar is less than a five-minute walk from the pier, so the crowd is decidedly less local when a cruise liner is docked.
Open daily 10 am to 11 pm.