San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Escazú sports bar popular among Gringos shutters its doors

Known for its U.S.-style food and constantly streaming sports, Time Out Tavern has been an expat staple in the southwestern suburb of Escazú for nearly six years. But after a series of citations and restrictions from the municipality, the bar closed its doors for good last week.

“It’s really a bummer,” said Glenn Graham, a New Jersey native who owns the bar along with his brother Steven. “We’re like a family here.”

According to the owners, the bar’s troubles started at 11 a.m. on Feb. 4, the day after the Super Bowl, when municipality officials showed up at the bar’s entrance to shut it down. The owners then received a notice that they would be closed, they said.

According to Marielos Hidalgo, an administrator with the Municipality of Escazú’s Control Services, officials closed the bar because of an expired health permit and an expired liquor license. 

When the bar reopened, it did so without its liquor license, but the brothers continued working while they looked into renewing the license. After the initial closure, the municipality discovered the bar had more seats and tables than were permitted, insufficient parking and no record that it was paying into the Costa Rican Social Security System, or Caja.

“They told us that with the seven parking spots we have that we can only have 42 seats in the restaurant,” Glenn explained. “At events sometimes we will have 80 people here. We could stay open with that, but we definitely couldn’t make any money.”

When the owners announced the news on the bar’s Facebook page on Sunday, April 21, customers responded with shock. “Terrible news. How am I going to break it to my kids?” said one user. “No way… there won’t be sandwiches like yours in Costa Rica,” lamented another.

Around 80 of the bar’s most loyal patrons showed up Monday for a speakeasy-style, open-bar and all-you-can-eat goodbye bash. Guests paid ₡15,000 ($30) each and were ushered in through the back alley. According to the owners tears were shed, goodbyes were had and plenty of booze was off-loaded.

The restaurant stayed open throughout last week to sell off its remaining furniture and Thursday afternoon, save for the haphazardly strewn wall decorations and boxed-up liquor, the bar still seemed in full swing, with four customers firmly planted at the bar. 

“This was the spot,” said one customer who would only identify himself as Garfield. “It has the TVs, it has the sports.”

Other long-time customers filtered in to say their goodbyes or to buy off the sports bar’s remaining giant televisions, which went for $400 a piece. One customer, Mark Sanson, was even confronted with two old bar tabs that Glenn dug out from an old file folder. He paid the ₡15,000, despite his incredulity.

Sanson has lived in Escazú for the past 22 years and he’s seen plenty of expat bars come and go, and even owned a pool hall of his own, El Ché, years ago. Though he says he’ll find another bar, Sanson says he’s taking the loss pretty hard. “There is no other place like Time Out Tavern,” he said.

Despite the response from customers, the brothers Graham don’t plan on opening another bar in Escazú. Instead, they are looking elsewhere to start up another business.

“My family has been in the bar business since 1959,” said Steven. “I don’t know anything else. We are looking for other places and it might be in Costa Rica, but it definitely won’t be in Escazú.”

Despite the sudden demise of their business, neither owner expresses any regret for the way things turned out.

“It was a good run, I’ve got nothing bad to say,” said Steven. “It was good times, we made good friends and we did pretty well.”

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