As published in Journey Latin America’s Papagaio magazine.
Guest post by Lisa Goldapple, a regular contributor to The Real Argentina.
The panic caused by a London pub’s “last orders” bell is something Britain knows all too well. While we’re downing drinks like there’s no manaña, Buenos Aires rests easy in the knowledge that they are just getting started. The extraordinary lateness of the scene in the Argentine capital means that nocturnal adventures can take you from rooftop terrace to dive bar to swanky lounge – all in one evening. Your body clock will shut down before the bars do. Here are my top five bars in the city that never sleeps, throws up, or has bad lighting (with a few more of my favourites thrown in for good measure, as this is all about excess, after all). So get a quick disco nap in, because this is going to be a long night.
1. BEST FOR SEXY COCKTAILS
This impressive bar really is one in a ‘Milion’. Bizarre typo aside, the romantic, early 20th century mansion is extraordinary. Sashay in through the French doors, climb the elegant staircase, and enjoy the fact that this place has more quirks than just a missing ‘L’. Above the bar hangs an iconic, kitsch portrait of a self-stabbing, large-lipped legend who looks down on you with a Mona Lisa twisted smile (oddly, this turned out to be my neighbour, Hector, the owner of a local empanadería). Try not to act like a tourist or Milion virgin by hiding your surprise when a black cat happily sips from a martini glass on the bar.
If this is your kind of place, you’ll also love hanging with the sommelier set at Gran Bar Danzón, the world-class martinis at Doppelgänger, and the white marble courtyard and mirrored toilets of Palermo hotspot, Isabel’s.
2. BEST TANGO BAR
BAR LO DE ROBERTO, Almagro
This is the Buenos Aires you see in National Geographic photos. Literally.
Bar Lo de Roberto is a late night tango dive bar that’s unique and very Argentine. It’s snug, inviting, and has an old dude who has been regaling aficionados with mournful songs of lost love and horses for over 30 years. Go just before midnight to grab one of the few tables, or you’ll be crushing your head through the windows on the pavement alongside porteño students and the odd alternative tourist. The dusty bottles and lyrics sheets adorning the crumbling walls will make you feel bohemian, you’ll get to hear tango classics and the concertina-esque bandoneón, plus it’s got a smoking den out back. What more do you want?
For more guitars and a dance, head round the corner to the cavernous La Catedral, a hip milonga (tango dance hall) with a twist, to continue your alternative tango experience and beard-count.
3. BEST FOR PUB VIBES
GIBRALTAR, San Telmo
It’s always gutting when you love the onda in a place – and then get banned. Sadly, this is exactly what happened to me at Gibraltar. All I’ll say is that it involved a little too much Tanqueray and my drink garnish messing with Argentine plumbing.
Gibraltar has everything you’d want from an English pub and more – draught beer, a pool room, an indie playlist and a smoking patio – plus a crazy late license and far more attractive locals. Fish and chips sit on the menu alongside Thai jungle curries – a rarity in a country that can’t take spicy food. I’ve easily lost a good seven or so hours here on a Sunday.
The same guys who run Gibraltar have two more places – Palermo’s Bangalore and Shanghai Dragon, complete with microbrews and tasty Indian and Chinese menus. Together they form the holy trinity of Buenos Aires pubs.
4. BEST CLANDESTINE HIDEAWAY
Frank’s is not-so-secret, but we’ll excuse it for being the best of the NY-style speakeasy bars in Buenos Aires. Apparently you need to know the password/phone number to enter through the faux-telephone booth entrance (read: gimmick), but I swear I’ve never known it and I’ve not had a problem getting in. Once inside, the 2-floor DJ bar opens up – the chandelier is impressive and the barmen have suspenders (braces, not stockings).
If you get off on the hidden element, then check out the secret smoking back-lit back room at Ocho7Ocho – as well as its collection of whiskeys. A friend admitted frequenting the main bar for a year never realising what lay within. A friend. Not me, obviously.
5. BEST FOR AL FRESCO ACTION
Buenos Aires summers are hot and sticky, so there’s nothing better than flailing about like you just don’t care in the open air. Carnal’s terrace is the place. While I love listening to their reggae playlists, perched on a barstool in the often oddly empty ground-floor bar, really it’s all about snagging a sofa on the all-white rooftop. It’s unpretentious and a great place to flirt, as its popularity means you’re forced to get up close and personal with fashionable Argentine strangers. Most are heading on to lose themselves at Niceto, the electronic boliche (nightclub) opposite.
Carnal and Niceto are on Avenida Niceto Vega, AKA Buenos Aires’ ‘Sunrise Strip’. Here you can hop from terrace to terrace, depending on your music preference. It’s worth also mentioning the ever-popular Congo for its outdoor bar and picturesque cobblestone courtyard, and Unico, because if you’re out in Palermo you will end up boozing on this roadside corner at 6am at some point.