It’s not a place where you’d expect the patrons get up and start dancing, because it isn’t supposed to be that kind of place. It’s a restaurant with great food, charisma and an owner that works the front door seven days a week. Yes, there’s a famous house band that plays five nights a week and there’s other live music but it’s not dance music: Their name is Grupo Sol Latino and they play Andean style flutes and guitars. The owner plays the congas when he’s not seating people, and sometimes a waiter sits in at the drums when…well, it gets complicated but it’s fun. So much so that people spontaneously get up and start dancing between the tables in the Green Room.
It’s not really a Green Room so much as it’s a patio in a colonial style house that has a green and white striped awning that keeps the occasional evening showers from dampening the spirits of the usually jam-packed tables of tourists. As if that’s possible: the menu is eclectic but familiar with original appetizers, salads, main courses of fish, pasta, beef and chicken, and all done with flair and local ingredients. Their desserts are legendary and rightly so: The Three Chocolate Brownie is a feast both visually and flavor-wise.
The name of this unusual restaurant? La Pena del Sol Latino or ‘gathering place’ and they recently celebrated their 5th anniversary. Where is this delightful converted Spanish mansion? In central Antigua, Guatemala and located on west or Poniente as they say, Calle #5 and the building is numbered 15C. It’s easy to find because if you’re within walking or shouting distance, Bill aka ‘Crash’ Harriss will be in the doorway, on the sidewalk and sometimes in the street, coaxing if not cajoling any and all to partake of the delights within.
‘Crash?’ Noted for detaching a retina driving a Porsche at near 200 mph and recently suffering a shoulder injury when maneuvering his motorcycle on one of Antigua’s cobblestone streets, he’s back and in fine fettle. A tall and craggy kind of gentle giant, he was a session musician (drummer) in Nashville for many of that music centers greats. His pixyish wife, Mary, keeps an eye on the inner workings of their restaurant.
A few years ago they decided to buy a sailboat and cruise the Bahamas and finally ended up in Guatemala, on the Caribbean side. After eight years of cruising, they had the idea of trying something new: through what was a quirk of fate, there was also a band in Antigua searching for a permanent place to play their special music. ‘Paco’ Mendoza learned Peruvian music in the Andes and also learned how to make his own instruments. After playing in the central park for a few years, they needed a better venue. Voila! Bill, Mary and Paco, each with the help of a few friends, created a restaurant and music scene that consistently stands head and shoulders above any of the 125 or so restaurants found in Antigua. Their ratings on international guide books are always in the top five and the place is jammed, night after night. Groups of 25 to 60 routinely book the many rooms that constitute the delightfully decorated La Pena del Sol Latino.
The boat? Named “Backstage Pass”, it’s still in Rio Dulce but at La Pena Del Sol Latino the beat goes on, night after night: Bill’s on the congas or at the door, Mary’s at the bar or keeping an eye on the tables, Paco and his band of merry musicians blow their flutes, strum their charangas and if the mood is right, people get up and dance. Was it the triple chocolate brownies or the second margarita? Who cares? Everyone’s having fun, Bill’s smiling and Paco’s probably playing two instruments at the same time (he does that). Don’t miss it. Any questions? Their web site, www.lapenaantigua.com is an excellent source of information and you can almost taste the desserts from the photos.