In a country where Malbec is king and Torrontés is queen, cocktails sometimes take a back seat to wine in Argentina’s party capital. Despite the rich history of classic porteño cantinas, only in the past decade have bars in Buenos Aires begun to pay homage to the art of creating the perfect mixed drink. In recent years the bar scene has undergone a major transformation with inventive cocktails replacing pedestrian drinks, the emergence of fully stocked bars catering to the seasoned spirit drinker, and skilled bartenders emerging as celebrated mixologists.
We went behind the barra to chat up some of the city’s rising star bartenders and get the inside scoop on their favorite signature cocktails. So put down the Fernet and coke, ditch the Speed and vodka and dump out your cuba libre, because here’s the lowdown on five of the best cocktail bars in Buenos Aires.
At 878, a trendy speakeasy pioneering the underground drinking scene, bartenders are at their most skilled designing innovative cocktails on the fly – just tell them what you like, and they’ll have the perfect drink to match. Taking on the role of Buenos Aires cocktail whisperer, Badhir Maluf has a decade of experience working behind the bar, using a sixth sense to concoct a variety of alcoholic wonders.
El Hombre Sandia
By Badhir Maluf
1.3 oz Tanqueray gin
1.7 oz watermelon
5 salvia leaves
Juice from ½ a lime
½ oz simple syrup
Crush the watermelon; muddle the salvia and then the liquid ingredients. Shake and serve in a cocktail glass that has been perfumed with Pernod. Garnish with watermelon peel.
“Until the customer is happy, I won’t stop,” says Maluf, while shaking up El Hombre Sandia (the Watermelon Man), a summertime specialty. Maluf starts by carving one-eighth of a watermelon, chopping the fruit into bite-sized pieces and muddling it away in a glass. He then blends it with gin, fresh lime juice and salvia, before pouring the resulting contents into a glass that has been perfumed with pernod, a type of anise. It’s the ideal drink to accompany warm weather: super fresh, bright, clean and fruity – pure refreshment in a glass.
If you are lucky enough to score an invite to this private social clubhouse, make your way straight to the backyard garden, featuring a fully stocked ivy-lined bar overlooking a hypnotic electric-blue infinity pool. Located in a utopian summertime oasis, this immaculate space brews up a slew of heavenly dulcet cocktails. With more than 25 years experience working in the spirits business, Belgium-born veteran mixologist Pite van den Bossche (also creator of the cocktail menu at Green Bamboo and now closed puerta cerrada bar DUDUi) masterminds the The Clubhouse’s specialty drink list.
The Basil Baby
By Pite van den Bossche
4 scoops of lime
2 scoops of sugar
8 basil leaves
½ oz apple juice
1 oz white rum
Add all the ingredients together and blend away. Pour blend in an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with basil leaves.
With his signature handlebar ‘fingerstache’ tattoo intact, Pite whips up a summer favorite: the Basil Baby, an energizing herby blend of basil, lime juice and rum. Pite also gave us a sneak peek into his fruit-packed experiment, made for the berry lover, and adorned with an Eden-esque dangling of red fruits.
The only bar in South America to make the cut on the prestigious list of the World’s 50 Best Bars 2012, ranking at number 36, this prohibition-era, password protected, speakeasy transports patrons back to the flapper sub-culture of the Roaring Twenties. Some of Buenos Aires’ best bartenders are slinging drinks at Frank’s mahogany bar; although they were probably born in the 1980s, they are decked out and dapper in bow ties, suspenders and sport the old school mustached Cantinero look.
By Sebastián Garcia
2 oz vodka Zubrowka scoops of lime
1 ½ oz green tea
½ oz lime juice
1 oz ml ginger syrup
1 bourbon soaked cherry
Pour vodka, lime juice and ginger syrup into an ice filled glass. Brew organic green tea to add to the mix. Shake contents and pour into a highball glass. Serve with a bourbon-soaked cherry.
It’s like art in motion watching head bartender Sebastián García and his team of handsome tenders flip, shake, stir and twist — with moves that even Tom Cruise’s stunt double in Cocktail couldn’t master. He begins by preparing the Bison TT, served in a tall highball glass with Zubrowka vodka, green tea, lime juice and ginger syrup – it’s exactly what you want in a cocktail: cool, refreshing and alcoholic. Then, he adds a whole other dimension to the drink, adding a classic bourbon-soaked cherry. Impossible to choose just one cocktail, García also prepared a few other favorites like the Cynar Julep made with Cynar, grapefruit juice and fresh mint and the Mielita made with rum, organic honey, lemon juice and grapefruit peel oil.
San Telmo’s pride and joy in the form of a cocktail bar, Doppelgänger has transformed itself into a drink haven for true aficionados of a good cocktail. There’s no mucking around at this bar, serious drinkers should head straight to the marble bar and get down to business. They don’t serve beer, wine or any soft drinks — ‘This is not for everyone,’ slogan has become their official motto, making it clear that this bar is all about the cocktails and high quality alcohol, designed by and made for those who like to drink, and drink well.
By Guillermo Blumenkamp
Prepared by Luis Miranda
1 ½ oz Jägermeister
½ oz Viognier Tardío
¼ Kirsch cherry licor
¼ oz Branca Mint
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
½ oz lime
Muddle ginger with Kirsch cherry licor, brown sugar and lime slices. Add Branca menta, Jägermeister and sweet wine Viognier Tardío. Shake and serve in an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a lime peel.
Master drink makers Guillermo Blumenkamp and Luis Miranda are always on the prowl inventing new drinks. While Doppel devotes a whole menu just to martinis, they offer an extensive drink list that includes over 70 traditional and authentic recipes. Each aspect of the cocktail experience is well-calculated and thought out to perfection, up to every last ice cube. The Berghof is one of Blumenkamp’s many creations, which, he explains, plays homage to the sanatorium from Thomas Mann’s book The Magic Mountain, “a place where one eats and drinks in an exuberant manner, just like this trago (drink in Spanish).” Each ingredient on its own has quite a uniquely bold flavor, but together becomes a magically complex, intense yet surprisingly light, fresh and delightful summer drink. In another one of his latest sentimental creations, My Beloved Shit, Guillermo packs the ultimate blend of gin, sherry, Mandarine Napoleón, Punt e Mes, Maraschino and lemon juice, served with two pickled onions – comprised of, you guessed it, all his beloved shit.
Gran Bar Danzon
An OG in the Buenos Aires bar world, making a name for itself as one of the most influential bars in the decade of the Argentine cocktail reawakening, Gran Bar Danzon’s long elegant bar, plush furniture, dim sexy lighting and talented bartenders make this a winning Recoleta drinking spot.
By Ciro Tarquini
3 ½ oz Martini Rosso
½ Mandarin orange
1 ½ tablespoon sugar
1 oz orange vodka
1 oz ml grapefruit juice
Handful fresh mint
Muddle the mandarin, mint and sugar in a cocktail shaker. Add Martini, vodka, grapefruit juice and ice. Shake and pour into a metallic glass filled crushed ice. Decorate with mint, powdered sugar and raspberries.
While head bartender Ciro Tarquini can usually be caught sipping on a Negroni, he welcomes the warm weather season with a Torino Julep, a signature cocktail at Gran Bar Danzon where he blends Martini Rosso, half a mandarin orange, sugar, orange vodka and grapefruit juice in a glass heaping with ice and garnished with fresh mint and raspberries — a visually stimulating drink that transports you sipping poolside on a beach getaway. Other bar specialties include the Red Hot Caipi, an inventive take on the Brazilian favorite with vodka, lime, passion fruit, Cinzano Rosso, red fruits and Tabasco sauce.
The Old and New Kids On The Block
Opened in 1997, Mundo Bizarro is one of the original mack daddies in the casa del cocktail Buenos Aires bar scene. It combines a menu of classic cocktails with avant-garde creations, in a space that is reminiscent of Count Dracula’s sex den (if he converted it into an American diner). Milion is another classic Buenos Aires bar favorite, housed in an enchanting five-story Belle Époque mansion that dates back to the turn of the century.
Relatively new to the Buenos Aires cocktail scene, the Spanish-style tapas bar Bernata is making a name for itself with it’s gin and tonics created by Argentine cocktailing legend Renato Tato Giovannoni. A few blocks away at the immaculately designed French-Moroccan style bar and lounge Rey de Copas, skilled bartenders serve up a daily special punch. Hands down the best bar to see city views, Hotel Pulitzer’s Sky Bar’s drink list was created by drink designer Inés de los Santos, one of the cities best bartenders and author of the book Tragos: Guía Básica de Coctelería.
Where do you go for the best cocktails in Buenos Aires? Tell us in the comments below.