Say Yes to a South American Speakeasy
The beauty of traveling really far away is to allow yourself a chance to taste, hear and smell something you never have before. So when I was in Buenos Aires a few weeks ago and a friend invited me to join her at a speakeasy, I was…underwhelmed. I lived in New York for a long time. I’ve entered bars through the phone booth and doors marked 'Employees Only.' I've lurked outside of the shady Chinatown doorways in search of hidden cocktail experiences only allowed to those in ‘the know.’ I’ve done the speakeasy thing.
But I go. The first rule of travel is to be open-minded and I may be a lot of things but I’m not a poor sport. So we find ourselves walking down a gorgeous street in Retiro, a neighborhood very near the Port of Buenos Aires and once one of the wealthiest areas in Buenos Aires, and I swear it feels like I’m in Paris.
When we get to our destination, we step into Floreria Atlantico, seemingly a gorgeous wine and flower shop that smells like fresh roses and eucalyptus. After waiting in line for the florist – she’s busy actually creating a bouquet for a couple who’s late to a dinner party – she takes our name, checks her iPad and silently opens a hulking refrigerator door behind her that leads down to a dark stairwell. Ahh, the speakeasy.
We walk down into a cave-like space, the walls adorned with murals of sea monsters and mermaids, and it’s impossible to ignore the nautical vibe happening. It’s 8PM – basically 3PM in Argentina since dinners here start around 10:30PM – so the bar is pretty quiet and I have a chance to explore the space a bit. Apparently, the inspiration for the bar came from the neighborhood itself and the nearby port that received waves of European immigrants during the 19th century. The owners turned an old basement into a space that looks like a weather beaten ship deck and the drawings of sea monsters were taken from ancient nautical charts from back when the Earth was believed to be flat, and the sea was pouring into an endless cascade with many strange beings on the way.
Owned by one of the city’s top mixologists, Renato Giovannoni, the cocktail menu is divided into chapters, named after the actual cultures that came to this port city from the New and Old Worlds - “Italia,” “España,” “Francia,” “Inglaterra,” and “Polonia.” It’s an alcoholic homage to the richness of immigration. The pages showcase the American bartenders who brought the culture of cocktails, the English with their gin, the Cubans with rum, the Peruvians and their pisco, the beer from Germany, the anise from the Turks and wines from the Italians, Spanish and French.
The cocktail list is inventive, as you’d expect, and I order a citrusy “Ginebra con Tónica y Algo Más” (gin, tonic and “something more”); one of their signature drinks featuring a house gin infused with eucalyptus, yerba mate, grapefruit and peppermint. I also have the Transatlantico Fizz, made with whisky, lemon syrup, soda, yerba mate bitters and egg whites: Buenos Aires in a glass.
Though certainly on the hipster list of spots to drink, this bar is not a seen-and-be-scene kind of place. People - either expats, clued-in tourists, or locals with deep pockets - are here for the cocktails and the chill vibe. If you score a table, this is a place where you might make a night of it. If not, a seat at the bar is good for a couple of drinks and a chat with the attractive bartenders in their matching striped nautical tees. This place is a must-see.