Top 10 bars in Buenos Aires
Once you’ve reset your body clock in tune with Argentina’s party capital, Vicky Baker directs you to the best places to enjoy a taste of its legendary nightlife.
Away from the main drag of the ever-sprawling Palermo district and on the edge of up-and-coming Villa Crespo, this former speakeasy has recently gone above board. By night, burly doormen give the only indication of what lies behind the heavy wooden door, and yet even an out-of-towner can’t fail to find it (Ocho7Ocho – ie 878 – is its street number). Inside, exposed bricks form part of a stylishly “unfinished” décor that is typical of many of the city’s recent renovation projects. The main attraction, however, is the dazzling back-lit bar, offering an already legendary collection of whiskys.
· Thames 878 (between Loyola and Aguirre), Villa Crespo; +54 11 4773 1098
Home to gentrified houses, designer boutiques and the grandest cemetery known to man, Recoleta is one of the city’s most affluent areas. For a taste of the highlife, make a beeline for this romantic, converted mansion. There’s little better than sweeping down its grand, marble staircase with a cocktail in hand. Although many of the city’s bars only warm up in the early hours, this place manages to draw a select crowd throughout the afternoon and early evening, with happy hour running until 9pm.
· milionargentina.com.ar Parana 1048 (between Marcelo T de Alvear and Santa Fe), Recoleta; +54 11 4815 9925
There’s no need for something as frightfully tacky as a sign when you have a reputation like Congo’s. Tucked away beside the railway tracks and in the shadows of a garish nightclub, this venue is distinguishable solely by the legions of devotees queuing outside its plain, brown door. However, in typical Buenos Aires style, the modest frontage leads to an expansive interior with enormous outside space. Retaining original features (including an old tree protruding through the roof), it is one of the best spots in town on a sticky summer’s evening.
· Honduras 5329 (between Godoy Cruz and Juan B Justo), Palermo Hollywood; +54 11 4833 5857
“Arrive early” is the often-heard advice for this similarly popular watering hole in Palermo. However, it’s quite possible you’ll arrive through its hallowed doors to find the street-level bar practically empty. Don’t be fooled: in summer, it’s all about the rooftop terrace, which is consistently packed with style-conscious locals. When it’s time to move on, either take the easy option (the Niceto nightclub, directly opposite), or get some recommendations from Carnal’s fingers-on-the-pulse crowd. With so little room to manoeuvre on the terrace, intimacy is unavoidable and you’re bound to have made friends.
· carnalbar.com.ar Niceto Vega 5511 (and Humbolt), Palermo Hollywood; +54 11 4772 7582;
5. La Cigale
La Cigale is a reassuringly down-to-earth antidote to the new breed of design bars cropping up all over the city. With simple fairy lights decorating its black walls and a notable lack of pretension, it has become something of a Buenos Aires institution. Alongside hosting local DJs and live bands, it’s best known for its mid-week parties, when you’ll find it packed with an over-sexed crowd of locals, expats and travellers. Be prepared to queue for the renowned French night on Tuesday.
· 25 de Mayo 722 (between Viamonte and Córdoba), Microcentro; +54 11 4312 8275
6. Bar Seddon
When the crowds of Sunday bargain hunters at San Telmo’s popular antiques market prove too much, duck in here to hide out among the cabinets of old china, wax-covered candlesticks and portraits of old tango crooners. Seddon makes a good daytime stop for a cheeky beer or glass of Malbec. Or, if you’re suffering from the night before, start by lining your stomach with a submarino (a chocolate baton stirred into a tall glass of warm milk).
· Defensa 695 (and Chile), San Telmo; +54 11 4342 3700
If you want to enjoy BA nightlife to the full, your body clock will need to adapt – quickly. This is a city where people think nothing of dining just before midnight, where bars don’t get going until the early hours and where clubs often run until 7am and beyond. If you can handle the pace, join the locals for sunrise (or a post-dawn nightcap) at Miloca. If you’ve come this far on your BA baptism of fire, then bypass the darkened interiors and head straight up the skinny spiral staircase to the fully exposed rooftop bar, where you can end your night in the full glare of the Argentinian sun.
· www.miloca.com.ar Niceto Vega 5189 (between Thames and Uriarte), Palermo Hollywood; +54 11 4775 5427
8. Los Cardones
There aren’t many places that make you feel a long way from home and completely welcome at the same time, but this seems to strike the right balance. In the spirit of folk revival, patrons are encouraged to help themselves to a collection of instruments kept behind the bar and burst into song as they please. Naturally, the results are varying, with no night ending up the same. On some occasions the bar will be filled with understated little groups, strumming guitars quietly to themselves; at others times, a particularly talented performer might command the attention of the whole room. Either way, a campfire-style singalong in the middle of a busy metropolis is something you don’t find every day.
· Borges 2180, Palermo Viejo; +54 11 4777 1112
9. El Federal
This old-fashioned joint in San Telmo is ideal for an afternoon cerveza and a picada (a plate of cheese and cold meats served on a wooden board). Inside, you’ll find walls lined with dusty old bottles, an enviable antique coffee machine and old wooden tables with initials carved into the surface. It’s been pulling in the punters since 1864 and is still going strong.
· Carlos Calvo 599 (and Peru), San Telmo; +54 11 4300 4313
Imagine a whole place decorated with acrylic flowery wallpaper in clashing colours, and you’re halfway there. This massive bar, with rows upon rows of kitschly decorated tables, is hugely popular at weekends. You’ll find an innocent, fun-loving and very social vibe here, plus a whole bookcase of oversized boardgames. Quirky touches include bathroom washbasins standing on old sewing machines and a menu presented on colourful cue cards. The food itself definitely needs some help, but you can’t knock the atmosphere.
· Honduras 5733 (between Bonpland and Carranza), Palermo Hollywood; +54 11 4772 0845