At the Condado Vanderbilt, the Soundtrack of a Caribbean Hotel

Above: Carlos Escobar plays at the Condado Vanderbilt (All photos by CJ)

By Alexander Britell

SAN JUAN – Carlos Escobar is playing “As Time Goes By.”

It’s true. It’s been almost a century since this hotel first opened its doors in the Condado section of San Juan.

Since the Vanderbilt family constructed the property in 1919, it’s changed hands, changed names and changed looks.

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Then, thanks in large part to the hand of billionaire (and new majority owner) John Paulson, the historic hotel reopened at the end of 2014.

Right now, the song fills the new-old walls at the Condado Vanderbilt, wafting through the air to the Mara Bar in the far corner of the lobby.

It’s where I’ve chosen to conclude the night, listening to Escobar and his piano.

There’s just the rum (Martinique’s Rhum Clement), served on a low-slung, luxurious bar in a dim, gilded light, and the sound of the piano.

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This is the moment when you discover the best part of a hotel, the thing that gives it its soul.

Sure, there are any number of impressive things at this place; the new Condado Vanderbilt has a beautiful construction quality, from the stone in the bathrooms to the chandeliers, designed to evoke the necklaces of the women that used to frequent the hotel when the Vanderbilts roamed the ballroom.

It’s a place where detail is not a detail.

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But this is the soul, the thing that gives walls, however old, however well restored, emotion. It’s this, the sound of the keys, that links the present to the past.

Music is important to a great hotel. I’d go so far as to say that every great hotel should have a piano player, the way Escobar tickles the ivories every night from 8 to 11 PM.

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Like a great film, a hotel needs a great soundtrack.

And sitting at Mara, lobby echoing with the piano, the hotel sounds just right.