13:39 GMT // 14 Aug 2013
Buenos Aires is a strange and wonderful place for cocktails. The city has a rich history and relationship with Italy, and so do its drinks. Sweet vermouth, various amari, Campari, and Cynar are everywhere, often combined together in cocktails. Cynar Juleps are on nearly every cocktail menu, often in a Julep section, yet most Juleps here include citrus. The city's everyday drink is Fernet-Branca (they have their own distillery; the only one outside of Milan, which creates a liqueur with a subtly different flavour to the European version), mixed with Coke. It is a rich and bitter world in Argentina.
While the menus at various cocktail bars in Buenos Aires are pretty distinct from those in most parts of the world, they fairly closely resemble each other, in that most of the bars reviewed here offer a menu with a similar group of classic cocktails. More varied than the menus are the types of bars in which the drinks are served: grand speakeasy-inspired spaces, neighborhood bars, scene-y restaurants, and everything in between. Unlike most cities, you won't so much need to pick your drinking destination based on the types of drinks you want to consume, but on the atmosphere of the bar in which you want to enjoy a good drink.
Address: Posadas 1086/88, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Hotel Bar
The Pony Line lounge is sleek and chic, and themed to reflect the polo lifestyle with light brown woods, tan chests as end tables, and leather straps as accents across the ceilings and backs of chairs. It's made modern with silver columns and back-bar, along with a selection of gorgeous stirring vessels and bar tools, along with dramatic and varied stemware for the drinkers.
The cocktail menu is lengthy and includes both vodka drinks as crowd pleasers and some very original and elaborate creations, many of which include eight or so ingredients. One drink contains two kinds of rum, chardonnay, apricot brandy, jasmine tea, and citrus. Another is served in its own yerba mate cup with separate mini-pitcher. The energy of the room isn't exactly bursting, but the drinks are great, the room is sexy, and the staff are as professional and polished as the hotel in which this bar is located. 4.5/5
Address: Libertad 1161, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Restaurant Bar
After walking up one flight of stairs from the street, you are greeted at Gran Bar Danzon by pumping house music and people lounging on couches and higher chairs at the bar. With cinder block walls, rows of flavoured vodka behind the bar, and disco lighting illuminating the otherwise dark venue, it may take your eyes a while to adjust and realize that half the room is actually a restaurant in the space where you'd expect the dancefloor to be.
Cocktails here are more like you'd find in a beach bar in Miami or Ibiza, with frozen Daiquiris,Lychee Martinis, and sub-sections of the menu for Caipirinhas, Mojitos, and a few Champagne drinks. Not surprisingly, they're also served a touch on the sweet side. The ultra-lounge-like atmosphere is lovely though, making this a good place to pop in and kill some time without over-thinking drinks. 3/5
Address: Avenida Alvear 1661, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Hotel Bar
In your Downton Abbey fantasy, this is the room to which you and the other men retire for cigars and brandy after dinner. The walls are lined with 17th century carved wooden panels imported from Normandy, the bar is filled with club chair seating, a fireplace warms the room, gentlemen puff on stogies, and it's all very genteel. A small balcony overlooks the terraced courtyard gardens of the hotel, which can be a relief when the smoke gets too thick inside. Service is welcoming if not the most efficient, but this is a bar for people in no hurry.
The menu has a fair list of Scotch whisky (in a country where distribution is challenging to say the least), and the other hotel bar staples of cognac, champagne, and port. Cocktails on the menu are a bit random, with a combination of traditional Argentinean aperitifs (like Cynar with Sprite), Martinis (including one with Jim Beam, Southern Comfort, Dubonnet, and Angostura), frozen drinks, classic cocktails, sparkling cocktails, and seasonal specials like a drink with honey and mustard that looks worse but tastes better than it sounds. The list could certainly use some editing, but the atmosphere in the room goes a long way toward making this spot a charmer. 3.5/5
Address: Arroyo 872, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Cocktail Bar/Restaurant
This speakeasy bar/restaurant is accessed through an industrial freezer door inside a small flower/wine shop on a quiet residential street. Down a set of stairs, you find yourself at one end of a long room with distressed ceilings and walls that are covered in pencil drawings of sea monsters. It's like a very hip bomb shelter filled with a young, fashionable, and energetic crowd. To the left is the bar that stretches the length of the room, with a grill at the far end pumping out a meaty smoke that pervades the air. Tables and chairs line the other side of the room, with plenty of room for standing in between.
The cocktail menu is divided into drinks by country - Italy, France, England, America, Spain - plus drinks by the pitcher. Some of the drinks are made with the house gin, distilled by the bar's owner and containing yerba mate, eucalyptus, and mint. Cocktails are generally good but somewhat inconsistent in execution - forgivable for now, as the bar was just two-months-old during our visit. 4/5
Address: Basavilbaso 1328, Buenos Aires, Argentina
BASA is another basement drinking venue just two weeks old at the time of our review, but with its big windows visible from street level, it's not another speakeasy. In fact, the whole place has a very Los Angeles-like see-and-be-seen feel to it, with a central staircase from which to make one's entrance, a big open room, and even movie set-style lighting fixtures.
While many menus in Buenos Aires list the same set of classic cocktails, here they offer less-well-known ones like the Stone Fence Sour and Sherry Fix in addition to modern classics like the Penicillin and Basil Gimlet. There are also a couple of bottled cocktails for two or more people. We enjoyed the bitter Elegante, made with gin, Cynar, sherry, port, and orange bitters. 3.5/5
Address: San Martín 986, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Neighborhood Bar/Restaurant
Warm and welcoming despite its white walls, Dill & Drinks is a tiny neighbourhood bistro located in Buenos Aires' downtown. No bigger than the average boutique shop, the space has a few tables up front, with a bar running vertically down the second half of the narrow room. The décor has traces of late-1950s modern design with starburst lamps, office-style chairs, and even groovy dill window decals.
The restaurant is open all day and serves a selection of tapas in the afternoon and a changing nightly dinner, and frankly it looks like the kind of bar that would only offer simple drinks and beer; not a solid cocktail programme. They do, and in fact even offer cocktail classes here. The menu lists mostly classics including a Cognac Sazerac and an Old Pal, but bartenders prefer to talk customers through an order based on their preferences and the availability of seasonal ingredients instead. Drinks are made with great care (such as stirring ice in mixing glasses to cool them before use), but the strongest feature of the bar is its staff, whose eager-to-please attitude makes a visit here feel like stopping into your neighborhood watering hole. 3.5/5
Address: Parana 1048, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Cocktail Bar
Milion is a high-energy cocktail bar, restaurant, and art gallery, all set inside a mansion. Up one flight of stairs from the entrance is where most of the action is: turn right and you're in a casual dining room; left and you're in the (jam-packed) bar area. Beyond the bar are doors to a small balcony, and beyond that a set of stairs down to the back lawn where the party continues. Up the next two flights are several rooms displaying modern artwork and additional small rooms for drinking, though most rooms are open only on certain nights. Milion feels like a nightclub, and its patrons are dressed up in jet-set wear like they're going to one.
The majority of the drinks here are served from the one small, glowing bar in its little room, with bustling bartenders behind it cranking out cocktails for drinkers in this room and for the entire outside as well. Though the volume of patrons dissuades people from ordering complicated drinks from the menu (and the bartenders from handing out the menu in the first place), we were able to get delicious cocktails efficiently, including a refreshing blended cocktail with yerba mate and Fernet-Branca that took the edge off an overheated night. 3.5/5
Address: Thames 878, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Cocktail Bar
The former speakeasy 878 ("ocho siete ocho" in the local lingo) is rather easy to find given that its name is its address and in front of the big wooden door at that address stands a bouncer. Inside, the main room is quite dark, with candles on tables for people choosing to dine. Separated by big arches (the place is a former textiles factory) is the bar area, with a metal bar-top brightened with a few cracks of light shining up through it. With a down-tempo soundtrack and plenty of room to crowd the bar, you know this venue is built to tackle volume.
The menu has around sixty cocktails on offer, split into sections including Juleps and 'Dry and Intense' drinks, which are served with generous pours in large glassware. The back-bar also offers one of the best spirits selections in town for those wanting to try some new and local booze brands. Bartenders seem very focused on their craft and very engaged with customers, talking them through the menu options without rush or pretense. For a while 878 was the big game in town and it seems those systems are still in place even while newer spots threaten to usurp some of this bar's well-deserved spotlight. 4/5
Address: Arévalo 1445, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Cocktail Bar
Most speakeasy bars require a lot of rigmarole to enter into a tiny, low-ceilinged space no bigger than a basement and quieter than a library, but Frank's most definitely bucks the norm. Located in a somewhat dodgy part of a busier neighborhood, Frank's has the usual bouncer out front asking for the password (to gain the password, go to the Facebook page (https://twitter.com/Franks_Bar) and use the "Valida La Contrasena" tab. It's complicated.) The bouncer then tells you a 4-digit number to push into the pay phone at the end of the foyer, which unlocks the door next to it. You walk down a dark hallway with some seating on the side, past the bathrooms, and then the venue suddenly opens wide to a grand, two-storey room. This main area has a long bar to one side, ornate plush seating around the space, and a large balcony with more seating and its own, smaller bar. The striped wallpaper makes everything look even taller: it's an unexpected, impressive sight.
Also atypical of a speakeasy is that there is no need for speaking easy, and you may need to raise your voice to be heard over the DJ upstairs or the standing crowd crushing the bar below. Both drinks and snack foods are hit-or-miss, but staff's enthusiasm about making them helps them go down easier. Frank's is not so much a cocktail geek bar, but a high-energy cocktail nightspot to visit after you've got your geek on earlier in the night. 3.5/5
Address: Uriarte 1664, Buenos Aires, Argentina
It's rare to find a cocktail menu entirely written in English in Buenos Aires (many aren't translated at all) but this is just one small reinforcement at Isabel that this is a bar/club designed for the international jet set and wealthy locals. The crowd early on wears designer suits and later transforms into a clubbier clientele dressed to impress. The space matches with mirrored surfaces everywhere, a pretty fantastic lighting system overhead, and big central booths designed to show off their occupants rather than keep them hidden away (though there are private rooms for that, naturally).
For such a clubby space, it's a surprise to find many original cocktails on the menu including ingredients like honey wasabi, Malbec syrup, and cinnamon foam, though as typical most drinks here are classics with a couple of club classics (Lychee Martini; Apple Martini) rounding out the selection. Drinks are on the expensive side (but the same price as at Frank's) and match the ambience, which is what you should come for anyway. 3.5/5
Gorriti 5176, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Restaurant Bar
One of the owners of Rey de Copas is an artist, and it shows: the restaurant and bar is decorated in an international bohemian style, with elements of Moroccan, Mexican, Cuban and other design and craft. One wall is festooned with 17 vintage trumpets and other brass instruments, another displays animal face masks, and elsewhere hangs a collection of somewhat creepy marionettes. The bar itself is made from carved wood with inlaid blue tiles, and the back-bar display is a gargantuan Egyptian-looking copper piece with a huge golden eye in the centre. It sets the mood for experimenting with new things.
This is the only bar in which we noticed barrel-aged cocktails in Buenos Aires, though there was a fun tropical theme running through the cocktail menu in general. (The Zombie was garnished with a row of candy false teeth.) Cocktails were rather mild in flavour profile rather than polarizing, but everything sampled was tasty nonetheless. 3.5/5
Address: Avda. Alvear 1891, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Type: Hotel Bar
In contrast to the Pony Line bar at the Four Seasons, the lobby bar at this insanely posh hotel relies on its looks while its personality pales in comparison. The space is gorgeous, with two-storey marble walls with grand mirrors, club chairs, and a beautiful back-bar cabinet on which is displayed a gleaming vintage coffee machine. But it's all downhill from there. The staff are stuffy and slow, the bar snacks are stale Pringles, and the drinks are both comically expensive and rather dated. The cocktail menu lists cocktails including a Long Island Iced Tea, a Cuba Libre, and a Brandy Alexander, and all sold at the same price. 2/5