aruba san nicolas charlies
It's the oldest, most legendary bar in Aruba.
Eat & Play

Journeying to Charlie’s, the Oldest Bar in Aruba

By: Bob Curley - April 20, 2024

The oldest bar in Aruba still draws a big crowd almost any time it’s open, even if these days tourists tend to outnumber oil workers elbowing their way into Charlie’s Bar for a cold beer or rum drink.

Arriving on a weekday afternoon at the bar in downtown San Nicholas — traditionally an industrial town but lately attracting more visitors thanks to its vibrant arts scene — we’re momentarily stymied by a doorman blocking our entry. Too many people inside, he says, friendly but firm: seems that the local fire marshal has been laying down the law on the bar’s capacity, particularly since the pandemic.

We take the opportunity to soak up the sun and shoot some photos of the bar’s colorful exterior and the even more vibrant murals decorating many of San Nicholas’ buildings; after just a few minutes, some guests depart and we’re seated at a small table near the bar.

aruba inside the bar with bottles on the back wall

Out of the hot sun but still subject to Aruba’s famous warm breezes through an open doorway, it takes a minute for our eyes to adjust and take in the bar’s interior, which turns out to be a cacophonous experience for both the ears and eyes. It’s easy enough to eavesdrop on conversations among the patrons squeezed into seats at the small bar — we quickly learn that several are visiting from our home state of Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts — and soon make a game of identifying familiar police and fire department badges festooned on the walls and ceiling beams.

The mementos left behind by first responders from all over the world is just one facet of the Charlie’s Bar “decor,” which is really a history lesson in and of itself. Beer mugs, Dutch clogs, license plates, fishing gear and old newspaper clippings find a place amid the ephemera gathered over more than 80 years since the bar opened.

the schedule of the bar
The schedule is one of a kind.

Founded less than two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 by Charlie and Marie Brouns, Charlie’s Bar initially served workers at the nearby refinery that would become a vital source of oil for the Allies. Charlie also found common cause with fellow sailors enjoying their time ashore between dodging German U-boats that lurked in the waters of the Caribbean. The refinery shut down in the 1970s, but the Brouns’ son, also Charlie, kept the bar going by shifting focus to attract the growing number of tourists coming to the island — at least the ones adventurous enough to venture away from the beaches and explore what was then a still rough-around-the-edges town.

Today, Charlie Brouns III and his sister, Montsy, carry on the tradition at Charlie’s Bar. And while San Nicholas has changed mostly for the better — the city’s murals and art galleries now make it a legitimate stop on the island’s tourism trail — Charlie’s Bar remains more or less as it always was.

inside the bar
Inside Charlie’s, with 80 years of history.

Sure, there have been changes, some aimed squarely at the shorts and t-shirt crowd. The bar now boasts about its connections with local fishermen that supply the fresh seafood on the menu, and these days patrons can dine on Hoere Hop — a local creole calamari and shrimp dish — and New Zealand lamb chops as well as burgers and fries. There’s even private dining offered in the evenings.

Charlie’s Bar retains the sort of ramshackle appearance that practically breathes history and familiarity. In short, this place oozes character in a way that few other watering holes in Aruba can match.

It’s only open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and getting there takes a good 40-minute drive from the high-rise hotel district where most island visitors stay. But it’s well worth the effort for an authentic taste of Aruba at Charlie’s Bar, which was here before the first hotels and casinos, and is likely to still be serving cold Heinekens and Amstels to visiting “Boozers” long after the last cruise ship disappears over the horizon.

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