Every morning, before arriving at the beaches of Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta, the sun climbs the Sierra Madre Occidental; the mountain spine of Mexico. And on hundreds of plantations spread across the ridges and valleys of the Jalisco Highlands not far to the east of here, that rising sun causes the agave to grow. And when it is grown, it is transformed into tequila, which is the true Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And at Secrets Vallarta Bay, you can prospect for tequila treasure at inviting tropical bars where the drinks, like the clientele, are top shelf. What say we start exploring?
Rendezvous Lobby bar
Entering Secrets upon arrival, it is by design you come to the check-in desk before you see the lobby bar. If it were not so, check-in would be considerably protracted as you are overcome by an ocean vista so stunning it will seize you by the eyeballs, drag you to a viewing chair, command you to sit and twist your arm to accept a magically-appearing tall glass that turns out, happily, to be bottomless. But seriously, by all means grab a cocktail from the lobby bar BEFORE checking in. It is encouraged!
Genial Pablo is senior bartender at Rendezvous when we arrive. He grew up in Oaxaca and came to Puerto Vallarta to work in the nightclubs and discos. He’s been a barman for 24 years and came to Secrets 3 years ago. It was fun in the loud and rowdy clubs, but Pablo prefers his current office with its expansive view of the blue Pacific and the nightly sunset. On cue, he collects the tools for the construction of a Tequila Sunrise and a Tequila Sunset.
The Sunrise begins with tequila and OJ and a dollop of red grenadine sinks to the bottom and rises to infuse the rest with a hue of orange. A later inventor conceived of the Tequila Sunset, in which the red color floats on top; an upside-down Sunrise. Pablo prefers his sunsets to be blue, and paints them with Curaçao.
Rendezvous is a name that aptly describes what happens there. The lobby bar is the place guests connect. It’s the day-planning HQ, where excursion plans of attack are plotted over drinks. Later, it’s a good spot for a tequila-fueled debriefing following the day’s missions. Or to grab a drink to take up to the room.
Fabian and Omar are the evening bartenders. Omar delivers Mudslides.
We decide we aren’t 100% certain they were the best we’ve tasted so we commission two more to confirm.
There are two sides to Rendezvous. In the evening the two bartenders man the back-to-back bars.
In the interior portion of the bar, behind the wall of tequila and liquor bottles, sporting events are televised on two flat screens. And smoking is permitted in the area behind the interior bar. Many international guests request sporting events from their home nations. That would include futbol as well as football, be̒isbol, NBA, NHL or whatever. Just ask.
As sunset approaches, across the lofty lobby loungers loiter, sipping tall drinks and watching the action play out below at the pools and the beach. At the point when the sun shares the same elevation as Secrets, Rendezvous Bar is flooded with light which crosses the lobby and ricochets blindingly off the mirrored backbar. As though it was positioned by some ancient astronomers to signify something important— perhaps that it is 5 o’clock somewhere.
Open from 10am to 1am.
Sugar Reef Bar
Sugar Reef shares a space with a bar that serves fruit smoothies beside the activity pool. The Sugar Reef Bar offers adult beverages (Piña Coladas are smoothies, too!) starting at 11am until 7 (or 8 depending on how many thirsty guests continue to linger poolside).
Javier has been a bartender for 11 years, almost half that time at Secrets, arriving soon after the grand opening.
After handing a repeat customer another Mojito, Javier informs us Secrets offers a signature drink that changes daily. This day it is a Pacific Sunshine. Ingredients: White tequila, simple sugar syrup, lime juice, Sprite, Blue Curaçao and a splash of orange juice. Officially offered only on Saturdays, Javier says one of his pool regulars requests it daily.
A young woman approached to exclaim that Javier had made her what he calls his signature drink and she badly needed another. Called a Mad Passion, it is a frozen blend of passion fruit, mango, and raspberry vodka.
As had other bartenders, Javier told us of the resort’s environmental campaign to eliminate the use of plastic drinking straws. The Movimiento Anti-Popotes (anti-straw movement) has a goal of persuading bar patrons to skip the straw. Bar-top cards inform that the average person in the US uses and tosses 38 thousand straws in a lifetime and that in the world 500 million straws are discarded every day. Javier declares less plastic pollution will help save the jungle, the animals and the ocean. Of course, should a guest request a straw anyway—no worries. As more than one bartender declared during our stay—“Our job is to say yes, not no.”
Public service announcement concluded. On to the pool bar!
Manatees Swim-Up Bar
Twin back-to-back beach-side restaurants establish the border and dividing line between Secrets Vallarta Bay and sister resort Now Amber. Secrets guests have border-crossing privileges. Now Amber guests do not. On either side of the restaurants are matching swim-up pool bars both called Manatees. The pool barmen at the Now Amber often work in the presence of children at the family-friendly resort. But at Secrets, the boys behind the swim-up bar are gregarious jokers accustomed to an adults-only clientele.
Today Edgar is our bartender. He’s worked behind a bar from the age of 18 through his most recent birthday when he turned 40. An affable man with a winning and easy smile, he employs a comfortable humor with guests. A woman guest asks what kind of drink he is making for another, and he replies –“the BEST kind!”
His gregarious partner Jose displays a Bruno Mars resemblance and a comic impishness. When he spots my camera aimed in his direction he grabs the Corona draft pull and tilts his head as though ready to pour beer down his throat. He’s a non-stop production machine turning out drinks for a gang of waiters delivering tall cocktails and cervezas to loungers populating the pool and beach.
We order two frozen drinks—Edgar’s choice. An Oasis is his first creation. He layers orange juice, Blue Curaçao, vodka and grenadine and perched a pineapple wedge on the rim. Then he assembles a frozen Mango Tango: tequila, strawberry flavoring, mango flavoring and garnished with an orange slice.
Edgar says many guests prefer wading up to the swim-up bar to having drinks delivered to their chairs. It’s a great place for conversations with friends while relaxing on barstools in waist-high water with a killer sea view.
There is no better front-row seat to the daily seaside show than the swim-up barstools closest to the beach. With one’s back to the bar with a view to the Maleco̒n esplanade of downtown Puerto Vallarta, on the left is the pool action and on the right are the thatched palapas shading beach loungers with a view to the Pacific.
Open 8am to 8pm.
Preferred Club Secrets Vallarta Bay
The Preferred Club’s higher price comes with perks, including an exclusive bar hideaway and top-shelf and premium spirits not offered at other resort bars. Finger sandwiches and other appealing appetizers are there for the taking. Carlos is behind the bar when we visit. To keep things from becoming stale and offering a change of scenery, resort bartenders move from one bar to another in a two-week cycle. A team’s stronger when the players know every position.
11-year bar veteran Carlos came to Secrets soon after the resort was opened. His family lives in Guadalajara and on his days off he travels there to visit. He explained he has a large and close family and began to list relatives. I asked how many there were in total and he paused to think, grinned, and replied—“A million.”
Carlos delivers a drink he created called a Tequilar. It contains tequila, lime juice, Cassis and Sprite. An observation: You can never get scurvy in Puerto Vallarta. The bartenders either put lime, orange or grapefruit juice into every drink or attach a slice of citrus to it. And Carlos artfully fashioned his lime slice into a flower!
Carlos introduces us to the 1921 La Crema de Mexico, which is a tequila-based version of Bailey’s Irish Cream. The tequila crème liqueur is a revelation; dessert in a bottle, smooth and velvety. He says guests at the Preferred Club like it in coffee or on the rocks. Beautiful sweet taste. 15%ABV. Will hunt for it back home. Fantastico!
Daniel joins Carlos behind the bar holding Don Julio tequilas in each hand; Club favorites.
He says the secluded bar is a refuge from the boisterous afternoon crowds at the pool. He says some guests find the Preferred Club bar atmosphere so convivial they spend half their days there.
Open from 7am to 11pm.
Secrets Bonus Bars!
Guests at Secrets have free access to, and full privileges at, Now Amber Puerto Vallarta a few steps away. There, one can sip cocktails while watching nightly shows at an outdoor theater and then ride the elevator to a bar/nightclub on the floor above. The border is open in only one direction. Now Amber guests don’t have free access to Secrets.
Secrets Vallarta Bay also offers a Bloody Mary and Mimosa Bar at the breakfast buffet as a kickstart to another day in paradise! And remember…tequila instead of vodka makes a Bloody Maria!
Click here for a link to The Bars of Now Amber and learn of more lounges and watering holes available to Secrets guests.