Twenty-five years ago, Anita Myketuk opened the first gift shop in Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast. For more than a decade, her store, La Buena Nota, was one of only a handful in the area.
Now, however, development has skyrocketed, and once-sleepy Manuel Antonio is teeming with hotels, restaurants and, of course, stores.
“There are so many gift shops!” Myketuk exclaims. “But things change.” In November, Myketuk changed the tune at La Buena Nota, debuting a new bar and restaurant on the store’s first floor that provides a platform for musicians, offering weekly jam sessions, live music on weekends and instruments for sale.
Calling the bar “a crazy idea,” Myketuk says the inspiration for the expansion came from her love of music.
“I don’t go to restaurants or bars unless they have live music,” she says. “I have lots of friends who are musicians, and I always wanted to have my own music place.”
But Myketuk, who came to Costa Rica 35 years ago with her late husband to research pre-Columbian turtle traps, was unable to secure a liquor license at her desired location in Quepos because of zoning restrictions. So, attending an auction to buy a license of her own, she left it up to fate.
“I told myself, ‘If I get the license, I’ll do the bar and restaurant. If I don’t, I won’t,’” she says.
She won the first license put up for bidding.
While telling us her story, Myketuk, who also operates the nearby Casa Buena Vista Bed & Breakfast, offers to personally whip up some drinks for us. She returns with a tasty duo of mixed fruit colada and tequila sunrise, two of the bar’s specialties, she says.
The bar offers a full selection of cocktails (¢3,000/$5.40) as well as smoothies and sport drinks (¢900/$1.60) for the thirsty traveler.
The menu features breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Breakfast offerings include gallo pinto (¢3,000), omelets (¢2,500/$4.50), pancakes (¢2,000-2,500/$3.60-4.50) and French toast (¢1,500/$2.70), while lunch options include a selection of sandwiches (¢1,600/$2.90), burgers (¢2,100/$3.80) and casados (¢2,500). Though it’s only 2 p.m., we sample some of the dinner fare, which ranges from rice with chicken, squid or shrimp (¢3,500/$6.30) to mahimahi (¢4,000/$7.20). They’re out of the mahimahi for the day, so my companion tries the steak (¢4,500/$8.10) while I go for the chicken with tropical sauce (¢4,000). The steak, served with a side of rice and vegetables, is a bit overdone, but comes with a smoky, peppery rub. The chicken, however, is perfectly tender, and the tropical sauce – a sweet mix of banana, pineapple, passion fruit and papaya – is especially succulent.
Our waiter, Christian, points out that it also goes well with ice cream.
Instead of that combo, we each take a slice of chocolate cake accompanied by vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce (¢1,500), served chilled and surprisingly refreshing.
Just far enough up the road to Quepos from Manuel Antonio, La Buena Nota’s bar and restaurant provides a comfortable respite from the bustle of the beach. The interior is decorated with tribal masks and artifacts, which contribute a jungle edge to the modern ambience. A small collection of artwork and crafts are on sale downstairs next to the guitars, bass and drums set up for the weekly jam sessions – a holdover from La Buena Nota’s previous life as solely a gift shop.
“Those used to be all down here,” Myketuk says, motioning with her hands at the seating area downstairs, where a few tourists sip drinks on a Sunday afternoon.
But the previous Friday, the entire floor downstairs is cleared out, and more than 300 people dance to the reggae sounds of Johnny Dread, on hand to celebrate La Buena Nota’s 25th anniversary. Dread doesn’t play in front of crowds under a thousand very often. But then again, businesses in Costa Rica don’t turn 25 very often, either.
“Who knows when I’ll have the next one?” Myketuk laughs, before quickly adding, “Actually, 30 sounds pretty good.”
La Buena Nota gift shop, bar and restaurant is on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio, a few minutes from the national park. It’s open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Tuesday. For information, call 2777-1002.