Quito may be the city where hemispheres collide, but Ecuador’s capital is itself of two distinct halves.
The cultural epicentre that is the Old Town, flanked by soaring mountains and watched over by a benevolent Virgin Mary who is revered for her miracle performing, is a maze of cobbled hills teeming with museums, galleries, coffee stores and vendors of hot corn comestibles.
Restaurants abound, but the Old Town is pretty much a cocktail bar-free zone. So if it’s miracles of a mixology nature you’re after, you need to head to the flatlands of the rather less inspiring New Town.
While backpackers on a budget beat a path to the pubs and clubs around trendy Plaza Foch, where meal deals and two-for-one Margaritas are the order of the day, those with dollars to burn stride further afield to the Pradera, where the city’s economic centre is based. It’s anything but picturesque, yet here is where the high-end activity takes place.
Quito may not boast a comprehensive A-Z of cocktail bars, but it does have at least one letter of the alphabet covered, thanks to Restaurant Group Z, owned by entrepreneur Jan Niedrau and comprising Zao, Z(inc), Zuni, Zeafood and Zazu, where we kick off our list (above right).
Z(inc), Av. Paul Rivet, Quito EC170135
The air in Quito may be thin at an elevation of some 3,000m, but the atmosphere is high octane at gastro-bar Z(inc). Literally around the corner from sister restaurant Zazu in the popular La Floresta district, Z(inc) is alone among the establishments listed here in being far more bar than restaurant.
All industrial chic with exposed brick, dark metals and treated timbers, this buzzy nightspot is the haunt of well-heeled locals and tourists alike, lapping up the signature serve of G&T with basil and grapefruit.
For the peckish there’s an impressive sharing snack menu running from sizzling sliders to tempura prawns.
Unusually for a Quito bar, this stylish hotspot ratchets the decadence up a notch with a smoking terrace where at least the music is filtered.
Zazu, Mariano Aguilera 331 & La Pradera, Quito
The A-lister of the Z group is Zazu, as modestly positioned as it is unpretentiously adorned. You need to know what you’re looking for to find what is widely acclaimed as one of Quito’s finest restaurants and its setting in an unglamorous side street, opposite a locals’ café, is unexpected for such a sophisticated venue.
Opened in 2005, Zazu caters to the international traveller and is feted for its beautifully presented dishes in modern, stylish surroundings which extend to the cocktail area. Here the smiling, smartly dressed bar staff will mix you up signature serves such as the Eczotia (gin, toronja, piña, mango and arasha) or Pisco Martini (vodka, pisco, gin and albahaca). The place also boasts an 8m high glass-ceilinged wine cellar housing 2,000 bottles.