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Those seeking authentic experiences and local vibes need to add a visit to the historic Rancho neighbourhood on the outskirts of downtown Oranjestad.
Once a village of fishermen and their families in the mid 1800s, the area’s population grew in the 1920s when a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell constructed a small refinery in the area to accommodate the workers and their families, the neighbourhood saw the the addition of stone houses, traditional to Aruba’s architecture at the time.
Shortly after, the Rancho refinery was shut due to the operations of the much larger Lago Refinery in San Nicolas. With the exception of a lime kiln, operating from 1892 to 1949 (currently preserved as a national historic monument), there was very little activity in Rancho, and eventually the population migrated out of this area, leaving the test of time to leave its mark on the area.
In 2010, new life began to reemerge in the neighbourhood when it was marked for historic preservation by the non-profit Rancho Foundation. This area is budding with the help of an eclectic collection of bars, cafes and restaurants, adding a lively nighttime ambiance for culture seekers and foodies to explore.
The area is anchored by Flor de Oriente, a Dutch-style café housed in the oldest bar in Aruba. Originally established in 1935, this gem of a relic was lovingly restored in 2018. Attention to historic detail left much of the original building intact, with a fascinating collection of antiques decorating just about every corner of the indoor enviros, while outdoors, guests can relax under sparkling bistro lights, enjoying the colourful streetscapes of this area.
In 2021, live music began filling the air with the addition of Hard Grooves Jazz Café. Tucked in closely with its neighbour, Flor de Oriente, some of the island’s best musicians, as well as visiting guest musicians, are highlighted here. Owned and operated by local jazz musician, Erik Eman, the café features music events, impromptu jam sessions, and music trivia nights paired with craft cocktails, a selection of local and craft beers, wine, and a light menu of sandwiches and typical Dutch snacks.
Most recently, two new additions to this up-and-coming area of hospitality and entertainment premiered. Nusa Indonesian Restaurant is a lovely al fresco Balinese garden experience, offering a traditional rice-table experience, as well as classic Indonesian favourites like sate and rendang. Adjacent to Nusa, Flor de Oriente, and Hard Grooves is Beer Garden Aruba, boasting vintage charm and a fresh boho beach-house vibe. The indoor environs pay homage to its over 100-year old history (it’s one of the oldest standing houses in Oranjestad), with one side of the house lending its space as a beer-tasting room, while the other side of the home is dedicated to private events and groups. The original rock walls were opened up in several areas, offering a window to this bygone architectural era of Aruba. The outdoor garden offers several relaxation spaces to chill, or mosey up to the bar and strike up a conversation with the friendly and knowledgeable bartenders.
Keep your eye on this historic neighbourhood, as ongoing preservation efforts will reveal more dining and nightlife options to look forward to.
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