“Bar” means many things in Argentine Spanish. Until recently, if you asked a Buenos Aires local to direct you to the nearest one, you might have ended up in what might more easily be called a café, a diner, or even a hospital canteen. Still, just about very neighborhood here has its old-school bars—where the wine comes with a soda siphon, where the local news station Crónica plays on the mounted TV, and where everyone knows your name (or at least your poison).
More modern bars—places where one flirts with strangers over beer, cocktails and undiluted wine—didn’t actually arrive in the city until the late 1990s. But trail-blazing spots like Milión, Gran Bar Danzón and The Gibraltar quickly grew popular, and bartenders such as Renato “Tato” Giovannoni and Inés de los Santos became names to drop and follow (you can construct a good bar crawl simply by reading their resumés). And the bar scene here is still changing. The latest trend is the “rediscovery” of classic Argentine aperitifs from the early to mid-20th century, so expect to drink your weight in Cinzano and Campari.
Open since the last millennium, Milíon appears immortal and it’s easy to see why. Simply put, this is one of the world’s most beautiful bars, sprawling over three levels of a gorgeous old mansion and spilling out down a winding marble staircase to a garden lit by fairy lights. Drinks, service and food suggest a place coasting on its reputation. But what a reputation!
“We don’t sell beer, wine, speed”—this almost certainly means a local brand of energy drink— “or sodas…” declares the Twitter homepage of this groovy little bar in the heart of San Telmo. So what’s left? Around 100 different cocktails, running the gamut from classics to concoctions with jokey names (like the “Martínez,” which references a suburb of Buenos Aires) to traditional apéritifs like Hesperidina and tonic.
This hip new bar in Palermo Viejo is one of several dotted around town with a quasi-speakeasy vibe. Get past the “café” (it’s best to reserve ahead, particularly if you’re planning to eat) and you’ll enter a striking space of exposed brick and ductwork lined with grumpy-looking portraits of Queen Vic herself. The cocktails are superb.
This award-winning joint in Retiro is backed by a dream team, which includes both legendary barman “Tato” Giovannoni and Julián Díaz, owner of 878 (another must-visit). The space—a recycled cellar beneath an old florist shop—is handsome; the cocktail list, divided into countries, is an education to read and a pleasure to sample. A rotating crew of guest bartenders brings their own drinks; study the bar’s Twitter feed for details.
Summer nights in Buenos Aires have a sultry, narcotic quality even before you start knocking back the beers. If you can’t make it to the beach in January, this busy-yet-laid-back bar in Palermo Viejo might be the next best thing. Choose between the garden and the terrace; the latter is adorned by a vivid mural by street artist Mart.