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The Cafes of Buenos Aires

By Verónica Lampón, author of the blog Vamos a pasear?, special collaboration for Violeta Deyapa

Maybe it's because Argentinians love to gather, socialize and are big on friendship (Borges once said: "friendship is the great Argentine feeling"). Maybe it's because it is known as the 'Paris of the south' and has always been fond of imitating its ways. It could be because the city never sleeps so it needs its fair share of coffee.

The truth is that in Buenos Aires "cafés" in addition to being a staple of the urban landscape like in any other big city they are also a space of cultural identity.

If you were to ask a porteño about what places to see in Buenos Aires he would most probably mention a "notable" café: "You have got to go to the Café Tortoni" (in all likelihood the oldest coffee house in the city) or probably he would say: "a beer at the sidewalk tables of El Banderin is a must! ".

Our feeling of ownership towards these cafés is such that the City Government passed a law in 1998 known as the Notable Bars Bill stating that any bar, billiards or coffeehouse would qualify as Notable Bar when it had cultural or historical relevance to the city.

Since then the list of cafés has grown from 54 to 73. It's probably too many places to visit in a week but definitely worth giving it a try. At least a few of them.

Here' s the whole list (at least those that remain open since a few have closed down lately) and some comments about my personal favorites.

ALMAGRO

12 de Octubre (Bar de Roberto)

Bulnes 331
One of the most traditional cafés. Ambience is b-i-z-z-a-r-e. Old bottles and soda siphons. Around midnight expect tango singing and hats being passed around by artists.

Café el Banderin
Guardia Vieja 3601, Almagro
elbanderin.com.ar/
In one of the quietest neighborhoods, El Banderín is decorated with sports pennants from every imaginable football club, pictures of football players and a dog roaming around the premises. Mario, the bar's soul, still waits tables. The place is ideal for drinking beer on the sidewalk tables watching people go by the bicycle lane on warm afternoons.

Las Violetas
Av. Rivadavia 3899, Almagro
www.lasvioletas.com
Every late afternoon you'll see the line of people waiting to get in, but I'm pretty sure they're not there just for the coffee. The tea time snack known as "merienda", with its scones, cake and other kinds of finger foods are famous all over the country.

DOWNTOWN

Confiteria Hotel Castelar
Av. de Mayo 1152, Monserrat
www.castelarhotel.com.ar
Av Montes de Oca 1700, Barracas

This is the hotel where Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca stayed and it is a faithful keeper of the city's Spanish traditions. Gin & Tonic is served at the bar as well as many other drinks at affordable prices.

Confiteria Ideal
Suipacha 384, San Nicolás
www.confiteriaideal.com
One of the oldest cafés in town, both its architecture and waiters belong to the last century, the Ideal comes to life every day with its milonga classes and shows at night. One of the few places in the city where you can dance the Tango while there's still daylight.

Confiteria Le Caravelle
Lavalle 726, San Nicolás

Bar Saint Moritz
Esmeralda 894, Retiro

Bar Iberia
Avenida de Mayo 1196
Non-descript from the outside in spite of being one of the most typical corners of the city. Great sandwiches and Executive's menus at noon on weekdays.

La Academia
Av. Callao 368
Pizza, empanadas and inexpensive beer in addition to pool tables that are active all night long with a motley crew of insomniacs, drunks and friends hanging out.

The Brighton
Sarmiento 645, San Nicolás
If there's one English bar in the city, this is it. It's also a restaurant and if you go there for lunch or after-office hours expect an explosion of activity.

Barbaro
Tres Sargentos 415, Retiro
www.barbarobar.com.ar
This is another one of those that get crowded during the after-office hours. You can find art exhibitions and every now and then, live music.

Boston City
Florida 165, San Nicolás
Right in the middle of downtown on a pedestrian street, the Boston is a good place for a quick coffee and to mingle with porteños in their suits who are either going to or getting away from their offices.

Cafe Los Galgos
Av, Callao 501, San Nicolas
Great for coffee in the morning or even a last one late in the afternoon and you can read the newspaper while feeling time hasn't passed by.

Cafe Mar Azul
Tucuman 1700, San Nicolas

36 Billares
Av. de Mayo 1265, Monserrat
www.los36billares.com.ar
Plenty of pool tables, Tango shows and inexpensive menus at lunch time. One of the classics on Avenida de Mayo, a place for listening to Tango music and and eating great local food.

Cafe Retiro
Ramos Mejía (Est. Retiro Ex. ferrocarril Mitre) 1358, Retiro
Amazingly well kept, it's inside the main train terminal for the Bartolome Mitre line. Upon entering all the outside noises seem to disappear. White mantelpieces, three glasses on the table, ready for a formal meal or, if you wish, polished wooden tables for a cup of coffee.

Café Tortoni
Av. de Mayo 825
www.cafetortoni.com.ar
A classic among classics, the Tortoni café has one of the most beautiful architectures in the city. Highly popular with tourists, the Tortoni became famous in the early 1900s because it was the first bar to offer tables on the sidewalk. Prices are rather steep nowadays and the pizza is on the rubbery side and this leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It's as if they have taken tourists for granted and forgot all about the porteños.
But all this aside, the Tortoni is as famous as Buenos Aires. It's a must in your tour, at least to get a photo.
There are tango shows every night.

Claridge Hotel
Tucumán 535, San Nicolás
www.claridge.com.ar
Radiance and tradition are the words that can very well define the café in this 5 star hotel.

El Gato Negro (The Black Cat)
Av. Corrientes 1669, San Nicolás
Here's a bar where you can find coffees, teas and varieties of pepper from all over the world. Top choice among lawyers.

London City
Av. de Mayo 599, Monserrat

Florida Garden
Florida 899, Retiro

La Giralda
Av. Corrientes 1453, San Nicolás
One of the best things that can happen to you in life: Hot cocoa with churros in winter.

La Puerto Rico
Adolfo Alsina 416, Monserrat
www.lapuertoricocafe.com.ar
There seems to be a bit of confusion at this bar: on one hand they roast their own coffee (and have been doing so since the 1800s) which leads to their claim as the best coffee in Buenos Aires. On the other hand, they have Tango, Flamenco shows as well other types of singers in addition to a restaurant.
The soot-covered walls are in need of paint and the ceiling fans are rather past their prime, all of which makes La Puerto Rico a kind of Tortoni without the "tuning".

CHACARITA

8 esquinas
Av. Forest 1186, Chacarita

Bar Palacio
Av. Federico Lacroze 3901, Chacarita

LA BOCA

Bar El Estaño 1880
Aristóbulo Del Valle 1100, La Boca
www.elestanio1880.com
Arguably one of the most charming bars in La Boca. Decorated with paintings of renowned local artists.

Bar La Buena Medida
Suárez 101, La Boca

Café Roma
Olavarría 409, La Boca

La Perla
Don Pedro de Mendoza 1899, La Boca
At the corner of Caminito and Don Pedro de Mendoza, it has the influence of Italian immigrants written all over it. In spite of being rather dark inside it is a great haven if you're trying to get away from all the souvenir shops.

SAN TELMO

Bar Británico
Av. Brasil 399, San Telmo
This was one of the first bars in the city to remain open 24 hours. The clientele's peculiar and it's located right across from beautiful Parque Lezama. Great for hanging out and reading the newspaper in the morning or having a beer when the night is over (say…6AM-ish)

Bar El Federal
Carlos Calvo 595, San Telmo

Great place for picadas and draft beer. The same owner bought Café de Cao and Café Margot…and although I get the feeling that this could be the McDonald's of the Notable Cafés, it still has character, good beer and delicious tortillas (Spanish omelette, not the Mexican type of tortilla…)

Bar Seddon
Defensa 695, San Telmo
With its perfect location in San Telmo, bar Seddon is alive night and day. During the day its big windows open to the main street and at night the ambience is set by lit candles melting on vintage bottles.

Bar Sur
Estados Unidos 299
www.bar-sur.com.ar

Bar Plaza Dorrego
Defensa 1098, San Telmo
One of the most traditional bars located at one of the most famous corners in San Telmo, across from the Antiques market square. It is a bit pricey but also one of the nicest. Old vintage tables, worn out by years of service with waiters as old as its tables and coffee as good as always.

El Querandí
Perú 302, Monserrat
www.querandi.com.ar
In addition to a restaurant and well supplied wine cellar, there's live Tango shows.

El Hipopótamo
Brasil 401, San Telmo
Probably the dirtiest restrooms in town are found in this place although I must say it is a fun place to grab a beer at the corner of Parque Lezama, across the street from Bar Británico.

La Coruña
Bolívar 982, San Telmo

La Embajada
Santiago del Estero 88, Monserrat

La Poesía
Chile 502, San Telmo
Same owners as Café Margot (in Boedo), El Federal (San Telmo) and Bar de Cao (San Cristobal). Similar menu and service. Piano players on Fridays.

SAN CRISTOBAL, BALVANERA & BOEDO

Bar Carlitos
Carlos Calvo 2607, San Cristóbal

Bar de Cao

Av. Independencia 2400, San Cristobal

Miramar
Sarandí 1190, San Cristóbal

Bar La Perla de Once
Av. Rivadavia y Av. Jujuy, Balvanera

Café de los Angelitos
Av. Rivadavia 2100, Balvanera
www.cafedelosangelitos.com
Has a great restaurant and every night there's one of the city's best Tango shows in the theatre located in the rear part of the premises.

Café Margot
Boedo 857, Boedo
Same owners as El Federal and La Poesía. Café Margot has the same excellent picadas and beer. Not expensive and on warm days there are tables on the sidewalk.

Homero Manzi Corner

Av. San Juan 3601, Boedo
www.esquinahomeromanzi.com.ar
A well known corner of Buenos Aires where Tango songwriter Homero Manzi used to spend his afternoons writing. In addition to being acafé, it's a restaurant with Tango shows. Probably one of the most traditional bars and where most Argentinians go.

RECOLETA

Hotel Alvear's bar
Av. Alvear 1891, Recoleta
www.alvearpalace.com
This is definitely the fanciest café in town. You'll find it inside one of the most expensive hotels of Buenos Aires (rooms go for about 1000 US$ a night) and a simple cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) is well worth the visit and you might get a sense of how social classes work in Buenos Aires.
It used to be the meeting spot of the powerful landlords of the late 1800s, when Argentina was one of the richest countries of the world.

La Biela
Av. Quintana 600, Recoleta
www.labiela.com
A place to see and to be seen at. The most traditional corner of Recoleta. Prices are steep and the restroom a mess. La Biela is still the neighbors' favorite hangout.

Modena Design
Av. Pte. Figueroa Alcorta 2270

Clasica y Moderna
Av. Callao 892, Recoleta
www.clasicaymoderna.com
A bookstore, a concert hall, a café and a restaurant. Classica & Moderna is all of that, very classic in its style, decor and menu. And quite modern when it comes to its bookstore and its assorted roster of artists.

OTHERS

Café de García
Sanabria 3302, Villa Devoto
www.cafedegarcia.com.ar

Café de la esquina
Av. Del Libertador 6196, Belgrano

Café de la U
Av. Triunvirato 4801, Villa Urquiza

Café Don Juan
Camarones 2702, Villa Devoto

Cafe Nostalgia
Soler 3599, Palermo

Caffe Tabac
Av. Del Libertador 2300, Palermo

Capisci
Vuelta de Obligado 2072, Belgrano
www.capisci.com.ar
Every Saturday night, after dinner, this is where I want to go. Located in the Belgrano neighborhood in front of the Cathedral and the main square, if watching people go by is your thing there's no other place like this.

Bar Oviedo
Av. Lisandro de la Torre 2407, Mataderos

El Coleccionista
Av. Rivadavia 4929, Caballito

El faro
Av. de Los Constituyentes 4099, Parque Chás

El Preferido de Palermo
Jorge Luis Borges 2108, Palermo

La farmacia bar café
Av. Directorio 2400, Flores

La Flor de Barracas
Suárez 2095, Barracas

La Nueva Andaluza
Camarones 1412, La Paternal

Los laureles
Gral. Iriarte 2290, Barracas

Olimpo
Irigoyen 1491, Villa Luro
 

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