Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Colombia: The Happiest Place On Earth

Bienvenidos a Colombia ! !

Move over Disney World... the happiest place on Earth is in Colombia
International Travel Examiner - Dennis D. Jacobs

Somewhere near the bottom of my deceptively potent Mandarino cocktail, I realized that the happiest place on Earth is not in Orlando, Florida, but Chia, Colombia.

More specifically, the happiest place on Earth, at least Friday night, was Andrés Carne de Res. This restaurant/bar/nightclub is a combination of Applebee’s on steroids and your favorite steakhouse on HGH and your favorite dance spot on a six-pack of Red Bull. Outside, there are Christmas lights strung through trees and Moulin Rouge-style windmills. Inside, the décor includes large dangling lighted hearts, butterflies, traffic signs, clocks, posters, video screens, festive party decorations, mannequins hanging from rafters, musical instruments, and… well, you get the idea.

Andrés Carne de Res is beyond kitschy. It’s a chaotic cacophony of cultural clutter.

This is not a calculated production originating from a major corporation’s market research. It sprang from simple and humble origins. When artist Andrés Jaramillo opened the restaurant in 1983 there were just 40 seats. Now, a nice Saturday night might attract 2,000 customers or more. There are hundreds of employees and millions of dollars in yearly sales.

Friday night, the place was packed, but Saturday night is usually the busiest night at Andrés Carne de Res. It’s not uncommon for there to be a long line of people waiting to get in.

How did Jaramillo’s creation become so popular?

“A lot of people here in Colombia think he made a pact with the devil,” said Carlos, one of the Bogota residents who made the half-hour trip to Chia with our group of journalists. “That made him even more famous.”

Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature, is among the many Latin American celebrities who have visited Andrés Carne de Res. As we danced to “Me Enamora,” the pop hit by Colombian rocker Juanes, our hostess, Stephany Romero, pointed out a Colombian TV star. By that time, though, I had pretty much finished my Mandarino, so I can’t begin to tell you who he was.

You don’t have to drink alcohol to enjoy Andrés Carne de Res. On Sundays, the restaurant is more of a family place. And the steaks, which Carlos said are prepared in an Argentinean fashion, are thick and savory. Another must-try item is the surprisingly addictive plantain pizza. The menu is on a paper roller encased in a box that you crank to view the seemingly endless list of options.

Before we arrived, Carlos explained that a visit to Andrés Carne de Res is “like going into a theater,” which he attributed to Jaramillo’s personality.

“He was one of the most famous characters here in Colombia,” Carlos added. “He’s very eclectic.
Entertainers wander through the crowds of people, performing and interacting. A couple of 1920s-style flappers visited our table to help wish one of us a happy birthday.

As the enterprise continues to grow, so does the collection of decorations. Part of the staff is dedicated to finding new stuff to add on a continual basis.

The music is loud and the crowds and clutter add to the confused jumble of the place, so Andrés Carne de Res is not for everyone. Then again, neither is Disney World.


A great series of articles on Colombia by: Dennis D. Jacobs.

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