Drinking the Argentine Way

For some incomprehensible reason, young Argentines don’t find it particularly attractive to get blindingly drunk and fall flat off a bar stool. Argentines are a cosmopolitan bunch — sipping beer in streetside cafes, savouring wine by the glass in upscale bars, or nursing a coke in a nightclub looking sexy until sunrise.

Yet, in the same way that foreigners in the UK are often stumped by the British system of buying rounds of drinks for your friends, there are also some quirks in the Argentinian drinking culture, and key to this understanding is context. So here are a few rules to adhere to when drinking in Argentina.

h3. Quilmes, please. Grande

Quilmes Beer Argentina
Image courtesy of Applesister via Flickr

Quilmes is ubiquitous in Argentina, and was somewhat of a national icon (that was until the Brazilians bought it – but we don’t like to talk about that). This light lager is the beer of choice, and is nearly always served in a litre-sized bottle with peanuts or palitos, crispy salty snacks. To grossly generalize (there is going to be a lot of that in this piece), you’ll find the average Quilmes drinker sporting a mullet, with a Rolling Stones tattoo and a Boca Juniors shirt sitting on the street at 4am. That said, on a warm day as the asado heats up, its just about drinkable, and lets face it, the competition is worse.

Best consumed: Sitting on the curb before the big game.

h3. Vino, con hielo

You know you have ordered a dodgy one when the waiter comes to your table and asks ‘¿Quieres hielo?’, ‘Do you want ice?’. You are in Argentina. The home of Malbec and some of the finest wines in the world right? Well, yes. And no. For every fine varietal, there are a dozen bottles that are, well, rubbish. But we are not wine snobs here (are we?). In fact, we almost enjoy drinking a cheap bottle of plonk (really cheap, loaded with ice and even soda if it is really bad) at our local parrilla as much as tasting the finest bottle at an indulgent upscale restaurant.

Best consumed: In a cheap neighborhood parrilla.

h3. Fernet con cola

Fernet Branca and Coca Cola
Image courtesy of Jake Sutton via Flickr

Showing off in Italy once, I ordered a Fernet Branca with coke. If there was a crakly record playing it would have skidded off the turntable. Instead the waiter just laughed and then flatly refused to put coke in it – in Italy, the customer is rarely right, if ever. So, holding my nose, I knocked back this incredibly bitter drink. In Argentina, it is almost a national beverage, but drank as one part Fernet with eight parts coke, and its still the bitterest drink you’ve ever tasted. That said, it has strangely attractive qualities. Like mate, you’ll hate it at first, and then you’ll be ordering it at every nightclub bar in BA.

Best consumed: In a sweaty bar as the sun comes up.

h3. Shaken, not stirred

Cocktails are big in Buenos Aires, and they have been since the 1920s, when Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world (well, some people were). Such is the culture of cocktails that even today, discerning drinkers will follow great mixologists when they are headhunted to another bar. Some of the best cocktail bars are 878 (Thames 878, Palermo, 4773 1098) – you have to knock on the door and look cool, Milión (Paraná 1048, Barrio Norte, www.milion.com.ar) and Home Hotel (Honduras 5860, Palermo, www.homebuenosaires.com).

Best consumed: In your hippest outfit to start the night off.

h3. Un café con leche

cafe con leche

It is often quite disturbing for visitors to see so many people simply enjoying a cup of coffee in a corner café throughout the night, and actually having fun! Buenos Aires has a vibrant café culture, as opposed to a drinking one. A great night out for many porteños is mainlining caffeine and discussing the works of Jorge Luis Borges in relation to Peronism. Cafés can be found on most corners downtown around Corrientes and Cordoba, and many are open, and busy, 24 hours a day.

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Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson is a freelance writer and photographer, and lived in Buenos Aires for five years eating too much meat, going hoarse at football games and thoroughly failing to learn a step of tango. He edited Time Out’s Buenos Aires guidebook and has contributed words and photos to a variety of publications about Argentina for Four Four Two, The Wire, CNN Traveller, Real Travel, Adventure Travel and the Observer among others. He now spends his days drinking imported mate and planning his return journey.
Daniel Neilson

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3 responses to “Drinking the Argentine Way

  1. Fedelegaz says:

    aguante el fernettt locoooo

  2. Fedelegaz says:

    aguante el fernettt locoooo

  3. Pico says:

    Muerte a la Quilmes!

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