I’ve had a few locals in my time. Fond memories of triumphantly accessing The Castle as an underage drinker. Monday night pool sessions upstairs at the King’s Head on Albert Road. Warm summer nights overlooking the harbour at The Still & West, boat engines throbbing in the distance.
Then, in my student days in London, frequenting Soho’s John Snow for its veritably economic pints, followed by the extremely good fortune to move to the very same street where it was located – not on the premises, sadly. Then the after-work pubs, such as the Crown on Berwick Street and the Glassblower in Farringdon. The pints drunk, the pool balls missed, the wonky dart throwing.
Now I am studying wine in my attempt to become a professional drinker – and as my mate El Westie says, it’s better to be a known drunk than an anonymous alcoholic – every glass sniffed is a lesson, meaning there is little room for IPA or lagers in my world. Until a week ago, when the weather turned and I started to long for a Sunday lunch by the fireside, idly watching a bit of sport on the telly in some pub or other, pork scratchings to hand, a warming pint in the other.
What have you got for me, Buenos Aires? First off, San Telmo holds a strong hand in the classic British style that I’m lusting over, which also translates in German and Polish. The Gibraltar, Breoghan Brew Bar, Untertürkheim, Achtung and Krakow are all doing pub in their own way.
The Gibraltar is a cosy stalwart and one of the originals on the pub scene. Serving up Antares beer among others, it’s loved by many for having a decent pool table in the backroom and a varied menu running the gamut of curry to fish and chips and fancy wraps. One regular, sports journalist Sam Kelly, likes it for its genuine English pub atmosphere.
“I can go on my own and get talking to people I may or may not already know, which is a lot less likely in other bars here in my experience, which tend to be a bit more sit-down-on-your-own-table-with-your-own-group-of-mates type places,” he says. Good info if you’re new in town. The music maestro casts his net wide, from Van Morrison to the Stones. Happy hour runs from 6pm until 10pm, and my tip is the nicely spiced green Thai curry with ample chicken and beans for 60 pesos. This joint gets rammed when an important match is on, despite the tiny telly.
A newer kid giving the Gib a run for its money is Broeghan, a micro-brewery in a pub that has stepped up its game of late. Its food menu includes ace burgers and kebabs, however, it’s the beer that needs to do the talking. Self-confessed “beer cook” and owner Ramiro Rodriguez and his brother Nicolás have run Broeghan for a few years, although Ramiro first turned his hand to beer-making in 2002, after the financial crisis.
“I was made redundant but I bought the tools I needed to start making beer at my mum’s house with the redundancy payout,” he recalls.
More than a decade on, Broeghan – with wooden booths, plenty of bar-fly space and a sofa to boot – sells six draft beers, including stout and brown ale – the latter recently received an honourable mention at the South Beer Cup craft beer competition.
Brewing on site means Ramiro is totally in charge of what he makes, and he has a capacity of 2,500 litres. “I’m making a gastro ale at the moment, which will be slightly more aged than our other beers, and ready mid-June.” You heard it here first.
Meanwhile, done your finest lederhosen at Untertürkheim, renowned for its Bavarian treats such as sausages, smoked ham and cheese and chucrut, naturally. Also home to the infamous three-litre glass fit for giants, let your cup spilleth over with a Kraken Scottish Strong red beer – my tip is to select a low-gas brew to ensure every last drop is consumed. I’ll never forget the first time I saw that mammoth glass carefully being carried past to the next table. El Westie and I looked at each other and said as one: “We need to get that next time.”
There are plenty of public houses downtown, although few with a really intimate feel to them. The vast Kilkenny Irish Pub is an obvious choice for a pint and has live music most nights, though it’s more of a pulling joint rather than a substitute home for ale connoisseurs. And there’s nothing much Irish about it, bar the name. I hold this joint responsible for my worst hangover in Buenos Aires, mainly due to the happy hours that alternate throughout an evening. First one beer, then vodka specials, then cocktails. And all this on a Monday night. You’ve been warned.
Other watering-holes in Microcentro include Temple Bar – whose happy hour takes in 180 minutes from 6pm to 9pm and offers an array of European beers such as Trappe and Leffe as well as local craft beers (there’s also a Recoleta one) – and the also unconvincingly named Irish pub Downtown Matías, a chain that stretches across the northern suburbs. Again, famed for its after-office happy hours, DTM goes big on Paddy’s Day, Halloween and any other holy day you can think of.
Heading towards bar-tastic Palermo, pubs have slowly made the turf their own, in particular Bangalore & Co and the Shanghai Dragon, which share owners with San Telmo’s Gib. Respectively offering Indian and Chinese menus, the latter has a fun nook with a view for eating in, offers vats of G&T on happy hour and warmer months see revellers fill the street and cluster up on the wooden benches outside.
The Dragon, meanwhile, is noted for its back section and sinkable armchairs, and remarkably, its carpet. Don’t see many of those around these parts. Pints and cocktails are well priced – a generous Cynar and grapefruit juice is just 30 pesos, although the double-queuing system of pay first then get your drink is annoying. Again, the party spills out on the street and the crowd is 20 to 30 something without being irritatingly hipster.
One off-radar joint that should be bleeping frantically is Wherever. A lengthy wooden bar long enough for a football team to dance on, owners Leonardo and Nico take huge pride in their 160-plus whiskey collection. Although less intimate than other pubs, without any nooks or crannies of which to speak, whiskey tastings are the norm on Thursdays here – and draw quite a crowd of single malt fans. One of extremely particular note is The Century of Malt by Chivas, a whisky made from 100 malts from 100 different Scottish distilleries. According to Leonardo, there are around 80 distilleries still in existence, therefore that product no longer exists – “but Wherever has a bottle!” Music is also splendid, with Britpop from down the ages top choice, keeping homesick expats from vomiting in anxiety.
Other mentions around Palermo include O’Sullivans on the corner of Borges and El Salvador where Borges might have once supped at a chilled Guinness (or not) and Dubliners, where green is also the colour of choice and whose happy hour runs until 10pm.
Slightly off the beaten track is The Oldest. A classic English-style gem on the Colegiales-Belgrano frontier, its dainty love benches street-side are deceptive. Within, lies quite the rocking pub that takes its whiskies and cocktails seriously. Beer towels and a time-at-the-bar bell simply enhance the ambience, and those glorious nooks to sit in. My tip is wait until the weather warms up for an outdoor table – the street is buzzing come spring.
Meanwhile, another pub whose moody lighting enhances the wooden, well, everything, is Van Koning in Las Cañitas. Orange on the outside and orange on the inside given that this pub celebrates all things Dutch, grab a bench and feel right at home. Dark and perfectly dingy, happiness is rife on food and drinks, with specials offering up to 50 percent off.
Further out of town, respectively in Martínez and San Isidro, you’ll find Cunningham and Fernet. Cunningly located next to the signal box at the train station, Cunningham must have pulled in some fair trade of railway workers back in the day. In 2013, its leather booths and vintage framed photos give it an air of authenticity, and it also is an affiliate of the Irish way of drinking.
Fernet, meanwhile, aesthetically is all pub but produces a startling cocktail menu courtesy of top bartender and owner Esteban Iglesias. Walk in through the low front door, and be greeted various items of the memorabilia related to the aperitif. Old-school memorabilia such as scales and soda syphons add to the atmosphere, and the chatty staff will keep bar flies amused.
If you indulge in a cocktail de autor, try the number seven – Bitter Martini, Amaro Averna, mint bitter, tamarind syrup, ginger, fizzy grapefruit and orange blossom – but be sure you know how to get home.
Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on June 3, 2013.