On a grey Bogotá morning, I was wandering the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria between the bronze hand of Botero and the granite walls of the country’s main library, the Bibloteca Luis Ángel Arango. It dawned on me as I looked at the green hills in the east to turn northwards along the perilous Carrera 4 with its dank hostels, graffiti-painted walls and cracked sidewalks.
The Carrera 4 is void of many of the charming details such as the wooden doors and balconies characteristic of the colonial district. Fifties-esque office towers have replaced many of the colonial structures that once graced the street. Yet hidden behind the glass storefronts are some new “treasures” which are catering to an international clientele.
Take La Tarteria (Carrera 4 No.12-34) for example. Owned by Georgina Moreno, La Tarteria is part patisserie, part breakfast eatery. After living in France and learning the fashion trade, Georgina tied on her apron strings to launch a renovated space on a street not known for innovation.
With low-hanging lights, glass exhibition shelves and a wooden counter, doors opened in 2010 despite other French bakeries nearby. As an avid collector of recipes, Georgina’s husband Luis Eduardo Liebe claims that one “should see the trunks of recipe clippings in our home,” to understand why there are so many pastries at La Tarteria; including the classic crispy almond croissant topped with a lusty dose of confectionery sugar!
La Tarteria, with its vintage Moulin Rouge posters and black tableux, is more than a breakfast room and café. Lunch comes served with quiche, a side of tabboule and fresh juice. The soggy bottomed tart shells typically found elsewhere are not used here. Instead, the shells are textbook perfect and filled with whipped custard, ham or tuna.
Coffee D.C. (Carrera 4 No. 12B-03) joins a growing list of coffee shops taking over old spaces. As I wander in to admire the Italian bean grinder and espresso maker, the staff are cordial and encourage me to stay for another coffee.
A classic establishment for yet more French in La Candelaria is La Pasteleria Francesa (Calle 9 No.1-95). It’s a bit of a hike up the mountain, but if you can muster up the strength and deal with a dose of altitude sickness for a crisp baguette, La Pasteleria is worth the walk. If not, aim for Andante Ma Non Troppo (Carrera 3 No.10-92) which has a large selection of merengues and other sweet treats. Andante Ma Non Troppo offers good lunchtime menus of soup, grilled sandwiches and salad.
One of many eateries which cater to a backpacker’s budget and the taste of the Middle East is L’Jaim (Carrera 3 No. 14 -79). Ideally located in front of a hostel catering to mainly Israeli travelers, the restaurant has been serving hummus, shawarma and falafel for years. Although one might not distinguish it easily if it weren’t for a swaying plastic wall sign, it’s well worth visiting, especially as it specializes in home cooked couscous and chickpea salad.
Maybe I caught them on an off day, but the staff at Yumi Yumi on the corner of Carrera 3 with Calle 16A seemed utterly uninterested in preparing my smoothie. It didn’t seem too much to ask, especially as this small venue has built a reputation for using exotic and tropical ingredients in their juices.
Perhaps I should have called in advance from one of the ‘minute’ vendors near Los Andes University to advise them that I wanted to quench my thirst – but I didn’t – and as I walked in from the street I caused certain suspicion.
I won’t return, as with all the new coffee shops opening up in La Candelaria – the quaint patisseries, the ethnic eateries, and trendy juice bars – I know I can get my daily fix of colonial charm without getting too bent out of shape over manners.