There is no place like Andrés
If you ever come to Bogotá it is certain that someone will tell you about Andrés Carne de Res. “You have to go”, they’ll say, “there’s nothing like it anywhere in the world”. And they may be right: there might not be anything like it.
Andrés is definitely an interesting mixture of things and experiences, and has become a staple of Bogotá’s (and its surroundings) night and culinary scene. Not going for a meal and an all-out party is missing out.
Originally, Andrés was a small, Colombian asado restaurant started by Andrés Jaramillo in 1986 in Chia, a small town next to Bogotá. Asado, if you don’t know, is Spanish for “barbecue” or a “grill-out”, and – as with all in Latin America – we do it our way. It was the kind of place you go to in the weekends to get away from the busy city for lunch; and there were (and are) many places that offer this kind of deal.
And Andrés was, for a time, just that: a great “weekend restaurant” with great asado. But then you look at it. The decoration is off. Surprising. I can only describe it as old-art-garage miscellaneous.
When the restaurant started, like any “startup”, the owners did everything themselves by hand. The cooking, the serving, the obligatory calling-attention-of-cars-with-a-flag (this is real), the decoration… even the tables. Andrés (the owner) was quiet the amateur carpenter and from rudimentary tables and seats he jumped to the crafting of various decorative items. You can even call it repurposing trash or recycling but in an artsy way.
From this creative recycling a sort of decorative style – that is hard to describe – sprouted, and it is almost what makes Andrés such a lively, interesting and odd place. In the right light it can also be kind of scary, baroque, carnival-esque, over-crowded, but ultimately endearing. It is its own thing and – incredibly enough – very Colombian.
And parallel to this artistic renaissance of forgotten items and useless trinkets, Andrés also became the after-party to the very good food they were serving. This is probably because drinking is also par for the course when you are in an asado and what comes after drinking? Partying! (although I’ve always thought the decoration invites you to stay and party with its interesting grotesqueness almost calling for debauchery).
By the time I was old enough to be aware that Andrés was a thing, it was already the prime location for birthdays, graduations, Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, weddings and all sorts of parties (and party excuses). That it was Friday was excuse enough to go – the food almost being a secondary – if you were willing to make the trip with its lengthy return.
It is a great mix of good food, great ambiance, good music and – overall – great experiences. It’s a place full of surprises. Small bands of musicians tour the tables playing live traditional music, foreigners are given tricolored sashes, birthdays are sung by the staff, menus are like weird magazines, the bill comes hidden in a small chest – and I am probably forgetting most things.
But its location has always been kind of a problem. It is outside of the city limits and the logistics around taking a big group all the way over there have always been a hassle.
Maybe hire a van? Sure, but then you have to coordinate with everyone to get back at the same time. Take a cab? Its prohibitively expensive. Take your own car? Then you can’t drink or you have to hire a driver (called ángeles [angels]), which is the sensible choice (and fairy recent choice too, we used to call our car’s insurance to get sent a driver to pick us up).
(I will add that part of the Andrés experience is waiting in the parking lot, a strange transitory hub and eatery that offers the Colombian versions of “drunk food”).
It has its inconveniences, Andrés. Or had (?).
A couple years ago they became more like a franchise and started to open small restaurant joints (Andrés Express) all around Bogotá. They sell some, but not all, of what asado is all about. They are a franchise and a facsimile of the original. It’s still good, but more fast-food-y.
With this culinary invasion also came a new Andrés Carne de Res in the middle of the city: Andrés DC (it’s not really called that). Where Chia’s version is a huge sewn together house-rural-villa, DC is a four storied tower in a mall, themed like Dante’s Divine Comedy (Heaven, Purgatory and Inferno being three floors).
Andrés DC offers a good chunk of the experience that you get in Chia, certainly, but it is a little different – more streamlined and confined – which is not a bad thing. It is more comfortable to not have to deal with the long trip to Chia and the food is just as good. But I cannot say it is “just as good”. It’s different. Great, just not the same.
If you have just a few days to explore the city and are short on time: go to Andrés DC. It is worth it and you’ll get a glimpse of this weird place (and the partying is just as crazy). But if you have the time and really want to experience Andrés, you must go to Chia. No ifs or buts: go and have a blast. Guaranteed.
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