There may be no lobby more grand, more beckoning, more exciting than the lobby of El San Juan. After check-in you might well find yourself just sitting on one of the sumptuous sofas and admiring the place and the people who frequent it. To your bellman you would say: "Just take the luggage up to the room, if you would. I think I'll just watch the show, if you don't mind."
El San Juan's lobby is high intensity and high society. From the intricately carved mahogany ceiling and walls, to the rose Italian marble flooring, to the 250-year-old French tapestries, the effect is dazzling.
It's at night, especially on the weekends, when the lobby blazes to life with the fire of Puerto Rico's high society. They are in search of the sizzle of Latin music, the action of the casino, and of each other. "This is truly the most exciting nighttime hotel I've ever been in in my life," says David Kurland, the hotel's vice president and general manager. "I've never been in a hotel where the lobby is the show."
In the center of the lobby is an exquisite oval bar over which hangs an enormous chandelier of Czech gem crystal. Near the front desk is a wine bar. And along the right side, just on the other side of the island's largest casino, is Kurland's pride and joy, The Cigar Bar.
More than a quarter of a million dollars was spent on crafting this glass and mahogany showcase; its 52 private humidors are climate controlled by computer and rent for $1,250 annually. Among the celebrities with a humidor at the El San Juan are tobacco craftsmen Avo Uvezian and Hendrick Kelner. Kurland also hosts quarterly black-tie cigar dinners. "The Latin culture is so cigar friendly that we have definitely fulfilled a need with The Cigar Bar," says Kurland. Premium wines and Cognacs are served, along with such snacks as caviar (Beluga, Ossetra and Sevruga) and house-smoked salmon.
If you can tear yourself away from the lobby there is fine dining to be had. La Piccola Fontanta serves Italian cuisine that can stand the test of any Italian restaurant. Back Street Hong Kong, with its unique street scene entrance and vaulted ceiling, is El San Juan's Chinese offering. There is also a steak house and the more casual La Veranda. El San Juan has recently added a rooftop Margarita Bar for Mexican food, a Japanese restaurant called Yamato off the lobby and the French Bistro in the lobby.
El San Juan was bought at a distress sale for $7.5 million in 1984 by the Williams Hospitality Group, which also owns Puerto Rico's Condado Plaza and El Conquistador Resort. With nearly $100 million invested since then, the hotel has been renovated to standards that exceed its former glory as well as keep up with the business times. There is 31,000 square feet of dedicated business conference space, and the enormous ballroom can be configured for any sort of business meeting or exhibition.
The 389 rooms, including 33 suites, have undergone extensive renovation, with new fixtures and furniture as well as marble bathrooms.
You probably won't spend much time in your room, however. There's the beach and the pool and the casino and the restaurants and La Galeria boutique shopping arcade, all of which are very lovely spots--if you could only get out of the lobby.
Jeff Williams is a writer for Newsday.
El San Juan Hotel
6063 Isla Verde Avenue
Phone: (800) 468-2818; fax: (787) 253-0178
Room rates: $295 to $445 from standard to deluxe, $510 for junior suites and garden lanais, $960 to $1,360 for one- and two-bedroom suites, and $2,500 for the presidential suite