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You’ve probably heard the rumors – and they’re true. At long last, a craft-cocktail movement is on the rise in Buenos Aires, and it’s accessible to all. Speakeasy bars with secret passwords, bars hidden behind the back doors of boutiques, lounges set inside refurbished warehouses and even bars visible to the naked eye are springing up by the dozen. Run by passionate bartenders dedicated to the art of mixology, many of these spots take on an old-school New York style.
Historically, Argentines have been die-hard wine drinkers (which is easy to understand when you consider the standard of the nation’s wine). Beer has long been a favorite, as has the standard nightclub drink, fernet and Coke. However, there’s much more to enjoy. Porteños have always had a cultural connection with Italy, and their drinks do, too. Amari (bitters), Campari and sweet vermouth are omnipresent. Mixologists adopt native herbs as well as locally distilled liquor. Among the most common additions are yerba mate, pisco and cynar (a bittersweet artichoke liqueur). Moreover, you can enjoy the country’s world-famous Malbec in more ways than you could possibly imagine.
Whether you want to sip the innovative creations of Argentina’s most-revered mixologists, or you’d simply like to mingle with Buenos Aires’ cool crowd, we’ve selected a few bars to set you on your way.
The Best Cocktail Bars in Buenos Aires
Franks (Arévalo 1445, Palermo Hollywood). Mixing style and decadence, Franks has been a hot spot of B.A. speakeasies since opening in 2010. It’s not so much the drinks but the high-energy parties that give this bar its reputation. Get the password from the Facebook page, knock on the door and inform the bouncer of said password. He’ll give you a four-digit code that you’ll need to dial into a phone booth. The phone booth then opens to reveal a hallway that leads to a raucous two-story bar.
Rey de Copas (Gorriti 5176, Palermo Soho). The son of the late and legendary Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró is the owner of this bar, and it shows. The blend of bohemian African and Latin American décor is instantly lovable. A glass ceiling affords glimpses of a starry sky and the tapas are the perfect accompaniment to the cocktails. Drinks are copyrighted by the passionate bartenders, who have a fondness for using Argentine wine in their concoctions. Try the Gauchito Gin, which has hints of yerba mate.
Verne Club (Medrano 1475, Palermo Viejo). Romantic lighting, Chesterfield sofas and the smooth sounds of jazz provide the perfect setting for this new member of B.A.’s cocktail scene. The drinks, which come at a great value, are impressive and named after the works of French poet Jules Verne. There’s a section of drinks that pays homage to the cities of Phileas Fogg’s round-the-world travels, plus an absinthe tasting menu. Worth sampling is the Jazmin Blanco from Bombay, a concoction of honey, lemon, cardamom, gin and jasmine tea. If you get peckish, tuck into the gourmet hotdogs, which come with toppings such as goat cheese and caramelized onions.
878 (Thames 878, Villa Crespo). This onetime speakeasy, set in a refurbished textile factory, presents a cozy environment with mood lighting and downtempo soul music. The cocktail menu is huge (at least 50 choices). House classics include the Sani y Mary, watermelon gin and bloody mary mix. There’s a superb selection of single malts, too. The weekday happy hour (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) on vermouth-based drinks is worth stopping by for. Food takes on a contemporary twist on traditional porteño fare.
Florería Atlántico (Arroyo 872, Retiro). If you want something chic and disguised, head to this spot. First you need to find the flower-cum-wine shop, then look for an industrial freezer door, which opens to a staircase to this cocktail haven. It’s the brainchild of 878 owner and renowned Argentine mixologist Renato “Tato” Giovannoni. The drink menu is inspired by Argentine immigration, and there’s a page dedicated to the big players, such as Italy, Spain and France. Be sure to sample the refreshing house-distilled gin, which contains yerba mate, eucalyptus and mint. Food-wise, you can choose from tapas, grilled meats, octopus and a host of innovative dishes.
The Harrison Speakeasy (Palermo Soho). Past an irrelevant door at the rear of Nicky New York Sushi is one of the most revered speakeasies in B.A. It’s the creation of the owners of Franks and emulates a 1920s-style Prohibition-era bar. The bartenders turn out in dapper attire, always happy to talk you through what you’re about to drink. The Union Pacific (vodka, bitters, Earl Grey tea, ginger syrup and lemon peel) is a tantalizing combination. You might need to use your best networking skills to get the password.
Leitmotiv (Cabrera 5696, Palermo Hollywood). This is a top spot to mix with the in-crowd without the worry of passwords and secret doors. A good-looking staff mixes fancy, exquisitely presented drinks for even better-looking clientele. On hot summer nights, partiers spill out onto the rooftop terrace and mingle while live DJs provide the beats. Inside, artwork adorns the bar’s walls, some of it the work of the bartenders themselves.
Doppelgänger Bar (Juan de Garay 500, San Telmo). San Telmo’s best cocktail joint is for serious booze connoisseurs. There’s no beer, no wine and no soft drinks, just spirits and plenty of them. The menu honors classic gin, vermouth and vodka drinks then gives them a twist by adding native flavors. The martinis are strong enough to peel paint from a wall while the Silver Streak (gin, Jäger and lemon twist) will make you think twice about ever again drinking Jägermeister as a shot. Drop in early during the week for happy hour.
Victoria Brown (Costa Rica 4827, Palermo Soho). By day this is a cafe and bakery, but come 8 p.m. the rear door opens to reveal a mural of HRH Queen Victoria and a bar that can be described as a fusion of industrial revolution and contemporary chic. Although disguised, Victoria Brown welcomes all, no password required (look for the door that resembles an abandoned storefront).
BASA Basement Bar (Basavilbaso 1328, Retiro). The big windows of this Retiro bar give away the idea here: to see and be seen. Swagger down the steps and take a seat at the bar, which offers both classic and uncommon drinks. Happy hour begins at 7 p.m. every day and features discounts on classics such as Moscow Mules, Negronis and selected spirits. Music lovers should drop in on Wednesday, when a DJ spins vinyl B-sides. Weekends get smooth after 10 p.m., with DJs spinning funk, soul and R&B. Lamb burgers, falafel and ribs are but a few of the dishes available to help you soak up the drinks. There’re also more than 180 wines to choose from.
Gran Bar Danzón (Libertad 1161, Recoleta). This lounge bar looks, and feels, like it’s been plucked straight out of Ibiza or Miami. Upon climbing a flight of stairs, you’ll be greeted by house music beats, disco balls and a cool clientele posing on couches or sitting at the bar on high stools. For drinks, think caipirinhas, mojitos, daiquiris, martinis and Champagne-based cocktails. Check out the limitless collection of flavored vodka.
Pony Line (Posadas 1086, Retiro). The cocktail bar inside the Four Seasons Hotel is a slick affair, decked out in light wood and leather furniture to represent Argentina’s polo heritage. Staff are sophisticated and professional, but the bar leaves something to be desired where ambience is concerned. Nevertheless, the cocktail menu is extensive and elaborate. One such offering blends rum, Chardonnay, apricot brandy and jasmine tea.
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