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