Toast to a By­gone Bar

Don­key’s Bar was an out­post wa­ter­ing hole en route to great fish­ing By Jim Klug

Anglers Journal - - FIRST LIGHT -

There is no town in Ar­gentina that epit­o­mizes the char­ac­ter and soul of Patag­o­nia quite like the sleepy town of R’o Pico — a small, fron­tier set­tle­ment of a thou­sand or so peo­ple, per­fectly si­t­u­ated in the mid­dle of the best trout fish­ing in South Amer­ica. With the feel and at­mos­phere of a town pulled from the set of an old Spaghetti Western, R’o Pico is the kind of place that is quickly for­got­ten in the rearview mir­ror at 90 kilo­me­ters an hour on the way to the river. In the mid­dle of the town sits a de­crepit, one-level brick-and-wood build­ing that for years served as the town’s one and only wa­ter­ing hole. The pro­pri­etor of the small bar was Bautista Donghy, a 60-some­thing gau­cho who looked as if he had been care­fully screened and then sent over by Cen­tral Cast­ing. With a huge, bushy mus­tache, a well-worn gau­cho sweater and dark, in­tense eyes that im­me­di­ately gave the im­pres­sion that this was a man who had seen a lot of life, Donghy was the es­tab­lish­ment’s full-time bouncer, bar­tender, tele­vi­sion re­mote con­trol and sole em­ployee. As the pro­nun­ci­a­tions of “Donghy” and “don­key” were eas­ily blurred by the av­er­age gringo guide or an­gler, the busi­ness be­came af­fec­tion­ately known far and wide as “Don­key’s Bar.” To re­fer to Don­key’s as a full-ser­vice bar or tav­ern was a mas­sive over­state­ment, as the bar it­self was quite lit­er­ally the front room of Don­key’s home in R’o Pico. With a bare ce­ment floor, one old tele­vi­sion con­stantly tuned to fuzzy Ar­gen­tine soc­cer and a wood stove that was en­tirely too small to heat a closet (much less a bar), the room was a no-frills drink­ing space fa­vored by a hand­ful of lo­cal gau­chos and es­tan­cia work­ers. There were no posters, pho­tos or art­work adorn­ing the walls, a dec­o­rat­ing choice that gave no­tice in a very ob­vi­ous way that this was a place with one ba­sic and pri­mary pur­pose. If you wanted to drink, you were free to pull up a chair and get down to busi­ness. Don­key op­er­ated his bar for years, run­ning it deeper and deeper into the ground the longer he stayed in “busi­ness.” Even­tu­ally, Don­key’s wife came to the ob­vi­ous con­clu­sion that he was much bet­ter at so­cial­iz­ing, serv­ing and con­sum­ing beers than he was at ba­sic book­keep­ing and ac­count­ing. The bar was los­ing too much money and was even­tu­ally shut down, much to the dis­may of R’o Pi­coites who quickly found them­selves without a lo­cal drink­ing es­tab­lish­ment and gath­er­ing place. To­day, many years later, the boarded-up bar looks like nu­mer­ous other run­down and for­got­ten build­ings that line the dusty streets of R’o Pico. The cig­a­rette smoke, the mu­sic, and the laugh­ter and cheers of soc­cer fans and over-served lo­cals have long since faded, and the small out­post bar ex­ists only as a mem­ory for a hand­ful of guides, gau­chos and trav­el­ing an­glers. Those who do re­mem­ber Don­key’s Bar, how­ever, will likely view it as a re­minder that the rea­sons we fish are not al­ways tied to what we find on the wa­ter. The founder and di­rec­tor of Yel­low Dog Fly­fish­ing Ad­ven­tures, Jim Klug has fished Patag­o­nia for more than 20 years.

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