Stuck up & non-existent service

It was a long-awaited date on a Saturday when we were looking forward to going to the legendary Gaira Cafe, the restaurant owned by the brother of the most revered singer in Colombia, Carlos Vives.

Upon arrival, I got a little disoriented because the house looked like an ethnic hut transported directly from some tropical forests. It was densely covered by heavy vegetation of different kinds of trees and shrubs. A shaved ice vending booth stood outside the entrance.  When I entered the place, I was greeted by curiously-dressed people of faces painted in black.. They also made funny animal like noises and gestures and you wondered why they were behaving like birds. You passed through an outdoor enclave that reminded you of the rainforest when you heard sound of waterfalls. The life-in-Caribbean theme continues with a curtain made from bone-like features in front of the toilets and photos of ethnic groups..

You get relaxed and chilled by the theme-parksie features. And then you get excited with a change in the scene. Because the place is not simply a restaurant but also a place for entertainment and music, you have accordion musicians dotted around the restaurant and a full-blown stage in the centre. These different aspects really work up your expectations! As I ascended towards the first floor, I climbed a stairway that has been coated with the names of Colombian musicians on every single step, venerating the industry, comparable to the walk of fame in Hollywood. The first floor turned into a very different scene. The whole ceiling was covered with pictures of Colombian singers, punctuated by artifacts from famous Colombian musicians such as a costum that Shakira wore at a concert, a pair of jeans from Carlos Vives and a guitar from Juanes The restaurant is really a crossover of the tropics and Colombian pop/rock music.

It was obvious that Gaira was ‘based on’ (to put it loosely) the model of Hardrock café and was trying to make a Colombian version, especially with the chosen name.. Or you can call it a Sancocho – ‘mess’ in Spanish, also the name of a Colombian soup that is a mix of everything.

As with any clubs in Colombia, there is an entry levy of $30,000 pesos (US$15). We were told to arrive on time, at 7pm for our table, and otherwise we’d lose it. We were lucky with traffic, so we arrived at 7pm sharp. We went to the window to pay for our cover charge. We had to wait for 3 minutes even though there was only a couple in front of us. By the time we got to the window, we told the lady our name, and she said, ‘you’re late, your table is gone’. It was totally shocking and we thought they’d mistaken. So we went to a guy at the entrance to ask what’s going on. And he said we were late. So be ready for this: you’d lose your table at Gaira if you’re late because you are queueing at the ticket window.‘You should have come to me. I was asking everyone here at 7pm for their reservations and you didn’t turn up!’ ?!!!!!!!??????????????? It didn’t make sense. And it didn’t make sense for other people either. So the result was a big bunch of people blocking the entrance because they also had nowhere to go after being denied entry for being 5 minutes late.

So I asked him what were our other options. He asked us to wait. And in the meantime more people went in. I tried to fight for my rights, ‘Did these people who just got in make reservation for 19.10, that’s why they are “on time”’? ‘No, I am not letting any more people in. The people who are going in now are the ones who already have friends and tables inside.’ It was totally ridiculous, because we arrived on time, and according to him, ‘2 minutes’ late because we were queueing at the ticket window, and there was no more table left. It was impossible that he would have given our table to people on the waiting list in such a small gap of time. And even if he did make the phone calls, the people wouldn’t have been able to come and replace us within 1 minute, right? So something very wrong was definitely going on, especially when I saw a group of girls who arrived after us, and had the same situation as us and couldn’t get in (except that she was  worse, being 10 minutes late). She talked in distress to the same guy with whom I spoke, the guy said no, she made a phone call, asked the guy to talk on the mobile phone, and the next thing I knew, when we waited inside for the possibility of seats, was that the group of girls was sitting right in front of the stage! We made a reservation for a table right in front of the stage because we went with someone important who only likes that table.  So the group got in, took our table, and we were left with none.

Mario continued to make some phone calls and we quoted the name of ‘someone important’ who worked there but the staff couldn’t help us. Just when we were leaving to go somewhere else, Mario asked me to follow him. Then 1 minute later I found myself alone because I lost Mario when I was busy taking pictures and making notes about this ridiculous restaurant on my phone. I looked for an usher, asked about Mario, and he asked me to follow him. He took me upstairs to the first floor, passed through all the people at the bar. Then we went behind a curtain that hid an archway, through a tunnel that led to an area that looked like an office space with computers. Then we were at the back of the restaurant (which was essentially a house so I guess we were at the back of the house). He took me up another flight of stairs. These stairs started looking like the ones you get at the backstage, narrow and metal-made. It didn’t seem to be right. It felt like some horror movie in which he seemed to be taking me to a hidden place to cut me up. I asked him 3 times if this was the right direction and he said yes.. Then we got to the second level and then passed through a set of doors, at that moment I was above the stage, looking over the lights and bars that are on the top of the stage. It was very strange and bizarre when I didn’t know where we were heading! So after passing the stage we took another turn and then this time we were going down.. It seemed like a joke! Once we got down to the first level again he led me through another set of door and brought me into a secretive space with a piano and some sofas that looked like a storage/siesta space of the club..

We walked through the room and walked through another set of door again and we were on the top left of the stage.

I felt like the woman in black in Cassat’s painting, enacting the whole voyeuristic scene, in one of these VIP booths of the opera house freely looking at the ‘peasants’ down below. So that’s a ‘VIP room’ in a Colombian club.. It took the definition of ‘private’ to the max. It was such a hideout that even if the police had come to crash a drug trade they wouldn’t have found us! Anyway, our ‘VIP’ friend didn’t want to stay in that room, so we left.

The bottom line is, do not go there unless you want to try your luck because even though you have made a reservation you won’t get a table. Our theory is that the doormen might have taken bribes so other people who didn’t manage to make a reservation got in with our tables.

Carrera 13 # 96 – 11


  1. dont u just love it, when u live somewhere where having contacts gets a new concept?

    1. er.. yes it can be a love or hate relationship. Love if you’ve got them and hate when the system isn’t in your favor..

  2. […] service quality is ubiquitous in Bogotá, but since customers don’t complain or have any better choice, […]

  3. […] among the working/middle class that sells everything from food, iPads to tyres. When I was queueing (an activity that you often find yourself doing quite a bit here) at the till I entertained […]

  4. […] Gaira: costeño/Caribbean breakfast from coastal places like Baranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena, i.e. deep-fried. A recent discovery, their ‘super’ arepa huevo which comes with added cheese and mince is really quite impressive to say the least! […]

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