This New Art Bar Mixes Cocktails, Murals, and Bolivian Tradition

Jallalla | © Jallalla
Harry Stewart

A unique newcomer has found its way into the burgeoning nightlife scene of La Paz, and it’s unlike anything the city has ever seen before. Tucked away on the corner of Calle Jaen in an unremarkable colonial-era edifice, Jallalla is a concept cocktail bar covered in specialized murals from one of Bolivia’s most famous artists and has the distinct objective of spreading Bolivian culture among the late-night drinking crowd.

The brainchild of Antonio Taboada, a Bolivian who recently returned home after 30 years abroad, Jallalla provides exceptional Bolivian art, music, cocktails, and cuisine in one venue, and is a celebration of national traditions through the finer things in life.

The team at Jallalla

Taboada’s repatriation was prompted by the desire to promote his ancestral traditions, which he felt were becoming lost in the modern age. To do so, he got in contact with Bolivia’s most celebrated artist, Roberto Mamani Mamani, and the two set about constructing Jallalla.

Inside, Mamani Mamani’s vibrant and colorful murals contrast heavily with the plain, red walls and hardwood floors, an intentional juxtaposition that draws attention to his surrealist works. Visually, these masterful murals eloquently complement the bar’s distinctly Bolivian flavor. The bar is situated directly above the artist’s renowned La Paz Gallery, so visitors can see the two attractions in one day, like a built-in after-party to a gallery show.

Interior artwork by Mamani Mamani

Unlike other establishments in town, Jallalla emphasizes music over mountains of beer. The venue only opens three nights a week, each with a defined theme: Salsa Tuesdays, Jazz Thursdays, and Folkloric Fridays. Some of the best bands from La Paz and beyond come to play, ensuring the quality of the tunes remains high.

“What we want is to create a feeling of a peña [folkloric music venue], where people can come to eat, drink nice singani, and enjoy our musicians,” Mamani Mamani recently told La Razon.

Musicians perform at Jallalla

As a pillar of Bolivian culture, food plays an integral role in the Jallalla experience. At lunchtime, well-to-do office workers come in droves to sample a traditional Bolivian almuerzo (set lunch) with a creative gourmet twist. In the evenings, talented Gustu alumni skilfully prepare an à la carte menu based on Bolivian staples such as quinoa and native fish.

Gourmet interpretation of the Bolivian dish papa rellena

To enhance the food menu, a carefully curated cocktail list showcases the best booze in Bolivia. Head mixologist, Gonzalo Guerra, earned his stripes in upmarket watering holes both in Bolivia and abroad. Yet much like Taboada, he returned to his homeland to promote the Bolivian scene.

Only local spirits can be found on the menu, including favorites such as 1825 Vodka, La Republica Gin, Killa Whiskey, and Cocalero, a coca leaf-infused liquor. To accompany these heady spirits, Guerra exclusively uses fresh Bolivian fruit, ranging from regional staples to exotic Amazonian delicacies.

Luka Quivo, inspired by La Paz shoeshine boys

Of all the cocktails on offer, a novel concoction named Luka Quivo garners the most attention. Guerra was inspired to create the drink after being moved by a chance encounter with a La Paz shoeshiner. “Society rejects us, they look at us as if we were going to attack them; however, they attack us,” said the unidentifiable boy.

As an ode to the city’s valiant underclass, Guerra serves his vodka and airampu seed creation inside a specially designed replica of a shoeshine box.

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