Buenos Aires is enjoying a new boom, and this time, it’s all about innovative bars and high-end cocktails. Welcome to a city that knows how to enjoy a good drink.
TEXT: Daniela Dini | Photos: Thom Sanchez
The bars of Buenos Aires have entered a true golden age. While the first boom in local cocktails happened in the 1950s, experts agree that we’re now seeing a new renaissance. This heady revival began less than five years ago and has continued to gain momentum with no apparent end in sight: new bars, excellent cocktail menus, star bartenders, signature concoctions, the return of classic selections and the rise of aperitifs. The movement is in line with international trends like speakeasies and hidden bars, as well as original innovations like updating traditional recipes using local products. In Buenos Aires, high-end cocktails are here to stay, and the city’s highly cosmopolitan nightlife has emerged as one of South America’s top settings for quality drinks.
El Ocho,” as the regulars call it, is a pioneer in the Buenos Aires cocktail revival. It began as a secret bar ten years ago, and its reputation spread by word of mouth. Today, even though 878 is a classic, its façade remains the same: there’s no sign outside, and the number on the door is the only indication that one of the city’s legendary spots is inside. The focal points of 878 are the two bars in adjoining rooms with perfect lighting, good music and food (which can be enjoyed at a table or eaten at the bar) and an endless selection of bottles detailed on the menu: check out the impressive collection of whiskies. Don’t leave without trying the Old Fashioned as prepared by head bartender Javier Sosa, or by the lovely Picca, who represents the new generation of female bartenders.
Thames 878, Palermo / www.878bar.com.ar
Lime, spearmint, passion fruit and Cinzano Dry.
The Industrial Revolution
Hidden behind the façade of a charming café, you’ll find the imposing 33-foot marble bar of this clandestine establishment, which boasts an atmosphere recalling the industrial revolution: galvanized pipes, barrels and murals. The name makes reference to the rumored love affair between Queen Victoria and her servant John Brown. “Finding inspiration in the age of invention makes our cocktails timeless,” says cocktail director Ezequiel Rodríguez. The menu is designed as a sort of journey; a compass points the way from fresh and herbal drinks to woodsy and complex concoctions. The bar functions as a laboratory where specialized ingredients are researched and produced: homemade liquors, bitters, vermouths, syrups and aged selections. Highlights include La Provence, made with lavender-infused gin, lemon, honey and fresh ginger juice.
Costa Rica 4827, Palermo / www.victoriabrownbar.com
The Immigrant Experience
It’s no surprise that the window of this sophisticated flower shop in the neighborhood of Retiro displays fresh flowers, but there are also wines bottles and vinyl records. After 7:00 p.m., the door to the basement opens, revealing a 60-foot bar and an atmosphere that recreates the immigrant watering holes of the early 20th century, when Buenos Aires was a thriving port city. Recently ranked 35 on the 2013 list of the World’s 50 Best Bars, Florería Atlántico offers a selection of drinks organized by country of origin, with an emphasis on traditional and classic versions, including mulled wine (served in a pitcher and meant to be shared). The drinks are accompanied by a variety of good-quality, fresh fare, like the fish cooked on a wood-burning grill that dates back to 1942. According to head bartender Sebastián Atienza, the house specialty is not to be missed. The Mitaz – a cocktail made with Príncipe de los Apóstoles (a top Argentinean gin favorite with yerba mate, created by Tato Giovannoni, one of the bar’s owners) – is a cross between a Bloody Mary and gazpacho, made with grilled tomato and red peppers.
Arroyo 872, Retiro / www.floreriaatlantico.com.ar
Sauvignon Blanc, Saint-Germain liqueur, lime juice, ginger and cardamom syrup and a teaspoon of pollen. Decorated with a piece of honeycomb and a dash of passion fruit.
El Bajo is the new stomping ground of the fashionable, and since 2013, it has been home to BASA, a basement bar and restaurant, where the cocktails created downstairs are the real stars of the show. Young Ludovico de Biaggi oversees the bar, where everything is made in-house: juices, bitters, brandies, etc. They specialize in updates of classics like the Bloody Mary and the “inverse” Manhattan, where the proportions of vermouth and whisky are swapped to create more of an aperitif. Great attention is paid to details like the ice, which is hand cut and shaped. BASA is also one of the best places to eat at the bar. Recommended: the Scotch eggs, the blood-sausage tapas and the Merguez sausage, all house-made, with a sophisticated touch.
Basavilbaso 1328, Retiro / basabar.com.ar
The proportions of vermouth and whisky are swapped to create more of an aperitif.
A Well-known Secret
In the United States, during the era famously known as Prohibition (1920-1933) the production, transport and sale of alcohol was illegal. But since “laws were meant to be broken,” this era saw the invention of speakeasies, clandestine bars that allowed patrons to enter using a password. Nearly a century later, this New York flair and 1920s glamour has returned at Nicky Harrison, a bar hidden behind a sophisticated sushi restaurant. To enter this timeless establishment, you need to be a member or dine at the restaurant and then ask to “see the cellar.” The host will understand your coded request and lead you through a passage to a luxurious bar overseen by Seba García, where classic and signature cocktails are celebrated. There’s plenty of whisky, rum, gin and vermouth in tribute to the golden age, but modern touches make each cocktail a true experience in itself. Such is the case with the Smile & Fly: three bottles – one each of mixed citrus juice, rose water and spiced honey – are served on a tray with a portion of Chivas Regal, but how you mix it is up to you.
Malabia 1764, Palermo
Decades ago, the most sophisticated bars were found inside major hotels. Today, this phenomenon is making a comeback, with Pony Line leading the way in Buenos Aires. Part of the Four Seasons hotel, but with it’s own entrance, this bar is inspired by the sport of kings and the world around it, as reflected in a polo-inspired décor, complete with booths repurposed from 18th-century Scottish stables and an original menu that includes cocktails in jars and metal cups that resemble the receptacles used for drinking mate (requisite straw included). Head bartender Matías Granata recommends the Dolfina – yerba mate, lemon peel, lemonade, Absolut, Zubrowka, pink grapefruit and hibiscus – and the house classic known as the Piletero #2, a super-fresh concoction made with Sauvignon Blanc as a base. Wednesdays are “Pony Line Day,” and from Tuesday to Thursday, the bar offers special drinks of the day and quality music spun by guest DJs.
Posadas 1086/88, Recoleta / www.elenaponyline.com
Absolut, Sauvignon Blanc, fresh mint, hibiscus, orange and passion fruit.