If You’re Wearing Flip‑Flops, You’re Going to Pay More
Presidente in the Dominican Republic
It’s a hot, breezy day and clouds shift peacefully across the sky, but provide little shade. I’ve been in the Dominican Republic for less than 24 hours, and even early in the day, pre-lunch, it’s clear: it’s time for beer.
When my girlfriend and I booked the trip we knew that we didn’t want a sanitized resort experience. This sentiment was shared by our travel companions, a married couple with whom we are good friends. It helped that renting a compact but nicely maintained house in Santo Domingo cost a grand total of 400 dollars for the week. A hundred bucks per person for a week in the Caribbean is worth giving up a little luxury.
To find our beer, we walk up to the nearest colmado, located mere steps from our house. A colmado, essentially an informal corner market, fills a special function in the Dominican Republic. Equal parts neighborhood hangout and convenience store, it’s not uncommon for them to stay active nearly 24 hours a day, delivering bottled water and staples such as rice, beans, and plantains by motor scooter, and blaring music and televised soccer and baseball out onto the street while men of all ages hang out on old plastic chairs. It’s a refuge, a refueling station, or maybe just an escape from work and family.
We enter the shade of the store, our flip-flops slapping the sandy, poured concrete floor. The paunchy middle-aged man behind the counter looks up from his paper, his eyes filled with first with boredom, and then confusion at having two tourists in his shop, which is so far from the tourist-filled historic area, the Zona Colonial.
We point to the fridge case and say what we want: Presidente beer, a DR original. We speak virtually no Spanish, but his two word question, “pequeño, grande?” is clear. I look at my friend and we agree silently: “pequeño.” It’s still early.
“Cuánto?” we ask. “How much?” The man behind the counter looks at me and my flip-flops, swim trunks, and T shirt, in all their glory. The gears turning inside of his head are practically audible. He looks at the beers he has just uncapped and wrapped in thin napkins. Beads of condensation roll down the ice-cold green glass. He looks back at us. His answer comes slowly and phrased as a question, drawn out as he watches our reaction. “Ciento … cincuenta?” One hundred and fifty Dominican pesos, around three bucks, give or take. The shop is silent as we do the math in our heads.
Moments later we’re strolling down the sidewalk in the Caribbean breeze, Presidente in hand. Our upcharge was steep, likely twice as much as what someone from the neighborhood would pay. But to have successfully infiltrated the world of the colmado? Totally worth it. Few beers will ever taste as good.