BA’s best bar­rio bars

Don’t be se­duced by the new hip­ster pop-ups. Chris Moss vis­its the cor­ner bars that sur­vive – just – in the bar­rios, serv­ing up his­tory, tango and real Buenos Aires life

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Last month, as part of Buenos Aires’ an­nual Día del Café No­table, a two­day fes­ti­val called Feca – back­slang for “cafe” – saw tast­ings, barista train­ing ses­sions and themed tours take over the cap­i­tal’s bares no­ta­bles. Th­ese cor­ner bar-cafes are the quin­tes­sen­tial Buenos Aires in­sti­tu­tion – any­thing from 50 to 160 years old, they have ar­chi­tec­tural value, and have been the sites of key cul­tural mo­ments.

This year Feca paid trib­ute to Tor­toni, which is cel­e­brat­ing its 160th birth­day. Tor­toni is a beauty, for sure, but it’s also mobbed by tourists, and I wanted to un­earth some of the less fa­mous cafes.

I took a bus to La Flor de Bar­ra­cas, a beau­ti­ful, early 20th-cen­tury cafe just west of touristy San Telmo, to meet man­ager Car­los Can­tini, an eru­dite cof­fee afi­cionado.

“I think the spe­cial thing about our bars is down to tango,” he ex­plained. “This was a city once full of sin­gle men, mainly im­mi­grants, shar­ing rooms. In the bar they could learn Span­ish as well as lun­fardo [the lo­cal slang], meet women, and dance.”

The bares no­ta­bles are re­doubts of au­then­tic porteño (Buenos Aires) life, as well as nos­tal­gia-per­fumed spa­ces in which to re­flect, peo­ple watch, fall in love. Vis­it­ing them will typ­i­cally take you to bar­rios well away from the madeover hon­ey­pots of Palermo, Reco­leta and down­town. Go on the bus, sam­ple na­tive aper­i­tifs and di­ges­tifs like Amargo Obrero, Hes­perid­ina and Legui, and chat to the own­ers. They’ll be de­lighted to meet you.

With its checker­board floor, high 1 ceil­ings, and flow­ery fileteado sig­nage (pic­tured be­low right), this is a beau­ti­ful cor­ner cafe, formerly called the Tri­anon. Past pun­ters in­clude boxer José María “el Mono” Gat­ica and so­cial­ist politi­cian Al­fredo Pala­cios. Ap­par­ently, pres­i­dent Juan Perón used to drop by to pick up a turkey es­cabeche sand­wich, the house spe­cial­ity, still made to a se­cret recipe.

Boedo – both the bar­rio and street – have deep tango as­so­ci­a­tions: Homero Manzi’s beau­ti­ful song Sur opens with the lines, “San Juan and Boedo, and the whole sky… the cor­ner of the black­smith, mud and pampa”. The bar’s cur­rent name, Mar­got – adopted in 1993 – hon­ours a cel­e­brated tango by Cele­do­nio Flo­res, about a girl who sells her soul for the high life. The smaller back room has air­con and there’s a ter­raced area on the street. Lo­cal sights Sculp­ture trail at San Juan and In­de­pen­den­cia; Boedo and San Juan – the cor­ner men­tioned in the song.

• Avenida Boedo 857, los­no­ta­bles.com.ar

For­eign vis­i­tor num­bers to Monte 2 Cas­tro, a tran­quil, low-slung, mid­dle- class bar­rio 13km west of the city cen­tre, must be no more than 10 a year. Cafe Olimpo, named af­ter a foot­ball club that used to play on waste ground op­po­site – when BA was a ta­pes­try of sin­gle-storey houses and fields – is an airy, brightly lit joint that pays homage not to tango or foot­ball, but to car me­chan­ics. At least, its walls are adorned with old regis­tra­tion plates, gears, hub­caps and head­lights. Owner-man­agers Gus­tavo and Ho­ra­cio say they started do­ing food a cou­ple of years ago to keep the place open. Tango turns twice a month and reg­u­lar bar­be­cues draw in lo­cals, many of whom are fans of Vélez Sars­field, a once-mi­nor foot­ball club that now rou­tinely wins leagues and cups. Lo­cal sights Vélez Sars­field’s and All Boys’ foot­ball sta­di­ums.

• Irigoyen 1491, on Face­book

La Flor de Bar­ra­cas, Bar­ra­cas 3 (est 1907)

Man­aged by cafe ad­dict and aca­demic Car­los Can­tini and his fam­ily, this is a lovely spot in the neigh­bour­hood that pro­vided the moody back­drops for Pino Solanas’s mag­i­cal-re­al­ism tango film Sur.

Food was al­ways the strength of La Flor, and the pas­tas don’t dis­ap­point. The shelves be­hind the bar heave with an­cient brandy bot­tles and the pa­tio is per­fect for a pri­vate lunch or a smoke. Mi­grants from Haiti and Sene­gal live up­stairs, mak­ing this the sort of mi­lieu the bar’s ear­li­est cus­tomers would recog­nise: it opened at the peak of mass im­mi­gra­tion to Ar­gentina.

Go to La Flor for a long lunch, or to en­joy one of its reg­u­lar arts work­shops. Lo­cal sights El Aguila cof­fee and choco­late ware­house, Calle Dar­quier (used in Solanas’s Sur), mo­saics on houses in Calle Lanín, Chau Che Clú for tango mi­lon­gas and live mu­sic.

• Suárez 2095, laflorde­bar­ra­cas.com

La Far­ma­cia, Flo­res (est 1910)

This old phar­macy is the pride of 4 Flo­res, formerly a district where wealthy porteños built their sum­mer houses, and the place where Jorge Mario Ber­goglio – aka Pope Fran­cis – was born and grew up. Turned into a bar in 2000, the in­te­rior is all old pho­tos and dim light­ing; among the medicine bot­tles is a de­cent stock of ver­mouths, di­ges­tifs and other tip­ples.

Lo­cal sights San Jose de Flo­res Basil­ica; 531 Mem­bril­lar, the house where the pope grew up; Hu­racán’s foot­ball sta­dium.

• Avenida Direc­to­rio 2400, on Face­book

El Fed­eral, San Telmo (est 1864)

Thanks to its an­tiq­uity, cen­tral 5 lo­ca­tion, im­pos­ing bar (with beau­ti­ful stained-glass arch) and joy­ously clut­tered in­te­rior, this is one of the bares no­ta­bles most vis­ited by tourists as well as lo­cals, who’ll en­joy a pi­cada (a wooden plat­ter of cheese and meats) with a jug of cler­icó (Ar­gen­tinian punch). The venue has been a brothel, a dive bar for gau­chos and a gen­eral store; ex­ca­va­tions un­earthed ca­dav­ers of those who died in yel­low fever out­breaks in 1871-2. Among its many VIP clients was Roberto Goyeneche, ar­guably the great­est tango singer of the post­war era.

Lo­cal sights Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art, Plaza

Colec­tivi­dades fi­esta each spring; and the birth­place of na­tional icon Li­onel Messi. The colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture, mu­sic scene and cafe cul­ture make it a mag­net for back­pack­ers, and this friendly hos­tel has dorms in a turn-of-the-20th-cen­tury red brick house not far from the lively Paraná river­front.

• Dorm beds from £8 B&B, on Face­book

Cór­doba prov­ince in cen­tral Ar­gentina is where peo­ple from Buenos Aires come to un­wind, drawn by hikes in the wilder­ness of the Al­tas Sier­ras and the im­pres­sive colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture of the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal. This small bou­tique ho­tel is a stone’s throw from Cór­doba’s his­toric district and city cen­tre. With con­tem­po­rary decor, a spa and rooftop swim­ming pool, the Azur Real is a steal in terms of com­fort, and a handy base for ex­plor­ing the high coun­try.

B&B, azur­re­al­ho­tel.com

ho­tel, and is decked out in the club’s blue and yel­low, from the tiling in the in­door pool, to rugs and bi­cy­cles. Art­work and mem­o­ra­bilia fea­ture key mo­ments in Boca’s his­tory and golden boy Diego Maradona is in a prom­i­nent po­si­tion on the ho­tel’s doors. Dou­bles can sleep three.

• Dou­ble from £86 B&B, hotel­bo­ca­ju­niors.com

Ho­tel Saint Ge­orge Puerto Iguazú

Trop­i­cal and eco­log­i­cal vibes align at this child-friendly re­sort-style ho­tel in the town of Puerto Iguazú, where guests are of­fered a chance to cal­cu­late the car­bon foot­print of their stay. It’s op­po­site the bus sta­tion, for easy low-im­pact trips to the fa­mous water­falls that strad­dle the bor­der with Brazil. Af­ter a steamy day at th­ese nat­u­ral won­ders of the world, guests can cool down in the out­door swim­ming pool and Jacuzzi. There’s also a games room and ded­i­cated fam­ily zone.

• Dou­ble from around £70 B&B, ho­tel­saint­ge­orge.com

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