At first glance La Piojera Santiago Chile resembles the type of bar that I would be hesitant to enter, the location is not exactly ideal and the yellow brick façade, akin to a dingy and sketchy tavern, is anything but inviting.
But first impressions are often wrong.
As I pass by two intimidating bouncers strategically positioned at the door to deny entrance to anyone who has had a few too many, I enter into a bar that is famously known for its history and one of Chile’s most dangerously intoxicating alcoholic beverages: the terremoto.
The inside of La Piojera
The bar itself is over 100 years old and was named “La Piojera” (translated: the flea) by President Arturo Alessandri Palma who upon visiting the establishment in 1922 exclaimed «¿Y a esta piojera me han traído?» (translated: what is this flea-infested place you have brought me to?). In retrospect, Arturo wasn’t exactly exaggerating and today la Piojera is definitely not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless it is must-see in Santiago as it is an explosion of sights, sounds and bawdy (yet intriguing) local drinking culture.
This bare bones drinking den, as described by Lonely Planet, opens around noon every day except Sunday and is rarely empty. The hallway leading to the bar area is often riddled with groups of individuals huddled around tables eagerly sipping their terremoto while avidly chatting up anybody that passes by, especially foreigners. I personally love La Piojera because it is the perfect place where gringo(a)s can experience local Chilean culture and exchange some words, often in Spanglish, with some enthusiastic and quite friendly Chileano(a)s. Everybody is your friend at La Piojera!
A musician playing and singing traditional Chilean music
At the end of the hallway is the main room filled with flimsy looking chairs lined around dirty and often sticky tables with sawdust scattered on the floor to soak up the extra alcohol spillage. Although the furnishings may be dirty, the energy in the room is quite the opposite. The room is often packed full of people, often using their outside voices while dancing on tables or singing along with the musicians that sing and play traditional Chilean music on their accordions/guitars. This chaotic atmosphere is simultaneously overwhelming and yet completely infectious. In fact, I often seen many gringos knock down a couple of terremotos and join the madness with a huge grin plastered across their face.
Different terremotos (left) mixed with grenadine (middle) a jug of the drink (right) a traditional terremoto
The bar area serves food (often greasy bar food) and different alcoholic drinks, but a trip to La Piojera would not be complete without a terremoto (translated: EARTHQUAKE!). Simply put, a terremoto is a Chilean drink that mixes a cheap type of wine with pineapple ice-cream (I personally like mine with a splash of grenadine). The drink is so strong that many say it causes the earth to move beneath the person’s feet after they finish the drink, thus earning the name earthquake. For CLP$2,000 (USD$4) the terremoto is quite the bargain and is just the right amount of liquid courage to persuade Chileans and gringos to fully immerse themselves in the folly that is La Piojera.
A bartender serving us a terremoto
In the end, let loose and have fun but please remember to drink responsibly. La Piojera is in a less than safe neighborhood and due to the high amount of tourists it is also a prime location of thieves. Do not leave ANY of your belongings unattended and avoid hanging purses/backpacks on the back of chairs. If you plan on getting inebriated, leave all expensive belongings at home, avoid bringing your passport and only bring cash. The less you have, the less you can loose! Lastly, the bar often is PACKED SOLID so arrive early (5 – 6 pm) to secure some seats.
REMEMBER to have fun but be safe! And happy drinking