Buenos Aires’ nightlife is legendary. What else could you expect from a country where dinner rarely starts before 10pm? In some neighborhoods, finding a good sports bar, classy cocktail lounge, atmospheric old cafe or upscale wine bar is as easy as walking down the street. And dancers will be in heaven, as BA boasts spectacular nightclubs showcasing top-drawer DJs.
What to Drink
Mate & Its Ritual
Mate (mah-teh) is Argentina's unofficial national beverage. More than a simple drink such as tea or coffee, mate is more like an elaborate ritual shared among family and friends.
There's an informal etiquette to preparing and drinking mate. The cebador (server) fills the gourd with yerba, then pours in very hot water. Each participant drinks the gourd dry, then the cebador refills it and hands it to the next person. Germaphobes beware: the bombilla (a silvery straw with built-in filter), used to sip the mate, is shared by everyone.
An invitation to drink mate is a cultural treat you shouldn’t turn down, though it’s definitely an acquired taste. The tea is grassy, bitter and very hot; adding sugar can help. Saying ‘gracias’ is a sign you want to stop drinking. And remember not to hold the mate too long before passing it on – it's not a microphone.
Because it is such a personal ritual, not many restaurants offer mate on the menu – but a few do, so try it if you can.
By now you’ve probably heard: Argentine wines are world-class. Most famous is malbec, that dark, robust plum-flavored wine that has solidly stomped the region of Mendoza on every oenophile’s map (the Mendoza region produces 60% of the country’s wine). But Argentina has other fine varietals that are very worthy of a sip or three – fresh torrontés (a dry white), fruity bonarda and earthy pinot noir.
So which to try? They say there’s a perfect Argentine wine for every occasion and a good vinoteca (wine boutique) will help you find it. In Palermo, try Lo de Joaquín Alberdi, in San Telmo there's Vinotango. Aldo's Vinoteca is a restaurant and wine store with some 600 different labels in stock, to drink in or take away.
Supermarket selections are usually adequate, though you miss out on the tailored advice. Among the mainstay brands are Norton, Trapiche, Zuccardi and Santa Julia, with different lines that cater to every price range. Spend a bit more to try the elegant Rutini (from Bodega La Rural), Nicasia or Luigi Bosca.
For wine tastings, inquire at Pain et Vin, a casual wine and bread shop. Bar du Marché is a low-key bistro offering 50 wines by the glass, while Gran Bar Danzón is an upscale lounge-restaurant that also has a good selection of wines by the glass.
Contact sommelier Sorrel Moseley-Williams for private tastings and customized tours of local wine bars; she writes about local wines on her blog www.comewinewith.me and organizes a monthly pop-up wine event, Come Wine With Us.
Many puertas cerradas (closed-door restaurants) offer fine wines with their meals; Casa Coupage, run by an Argentine sommelier, is especially wine-oriented.
Beer, Coffee & Water
If Argentina has a national beer, it’s Quilmes. Order a porrón and you’ll get a half-liter bottle, or a chopp and you’ll get a frosty mug of draft.
Argentines love their café con leche (coffee with milk). An espresso with a drop of milk is a café cortado. Black and herbal teas are also commonly available.
In Buenos Aires, the agua de la canilla (tap water) is drinkable. In restaurants, however, most people order bottled mineral water – ask for agua con gas (with bubbles) or agua sin gas (without). In older, more traditional restaurants, carbonated water in a spritzer bottle (un sifón de soda) is great for drinking, though Argentines often mix it with cheap wine.
Where to Drink
Cafes are an integral part of porteño life, and you shouldn’t miss popping into one of these beloved hangouts for an afternoon break. Many cafes are old classics that have been around for more than a hundred years, and undoubtedly will take you back in time. Others are contemporary or bohemian joints with sidewalk tables – perfect spots to take a load off while sightseeing or to delve into Borges’ short stories at a corner table.
Most cafes serve all meals and everything in between (including a late-night snack).
Bars abound in every neighborhood of Buenos Aires, and they come in all shapes, sizes and styles. You can choose from sports bars, cocktail lounges, Irish pubs, microbreweries, local holes-in-the-wall and more. Many of the city’s upscale restaurants and hotels also have lively bars worth a visit.
Most bars serve beer, hard alcohol and wine, plus coffee and juice. Some make cocktails, and many offer a fair range of finger foods or even main dishes. Microbreweries and beer bars have taken off in the last few years, and you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to the hoppy stuff.
Younger travelers and backpackers looking to barhop in a group should check out Buenos Aires Pub Crawl.
Buenos Aires is famous for its boliches (nightclubs). Every weekend – and even on some weeknights – the city’s clubs come alive with beautiful people moving to electronic and house music. Some of the most impressive nightlife hot spots are located in grandiose restored theaters, warehouses or factories – or perched on the banks of the Río de la Plata where party-goers can watch the sun rise over the water as the festivities wind down. Clubs are spread out over the city, with main clusters in Palermo and on the Costanera Norte.
Need to Know
Bars Vary widely depending on location and clientele, but most are usually open from the evening into the early-morning hours.
Cafes Usually from around 6am or 7am to 2am or 3am.
Clubs From 2am to dawn.
All clubs have bouncers. Dress well – smart casual is good enough at most clubs. You can also sign up in advance via online reservation forms that some clubs keep; this sometimes gets you in more easily and/or offers discounts.
Many newspapers have entertainment supplements published on Friday. Also check www.vuenosairez.com (in Spanish) and www.thebubble.com (in English) for current happenings.
Electronica in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires might be known for its tango, but there is something else to keep you dancing until dawn in this late-night city that generally looks to Europe for its trends. Since 1990 the electronic-music scene of BA has grown to become a major force in the music world. Touting some of the world’s best venues and biggest crowds, Buenos Aires is listed by many DJs as a favorite place to play.
One of the most internationally acclaimed homegrown DJs is Hernán Cattáneo, who began his professional career in the early '90s playing the commercial clubs of the time, such as El Cielo and Cinema. Several years later he secured a residency for the Clubland night at Pachá, where legend has it he was discovered and whisked off to international stardom by UK legend Paul Oakenfold. The success of Cattaneo and Pachá marked the beginning of a new era, when electronica emerged into mainstream pop culture.
House music (referred to as ‘punchi, punchi’ because of the relentless kick drum) is no longer the only option. You’ll find a variety of sounds thanks to early diversification within Argentina’s veteran underground DJ collective, DJ UNION, composed of Carla Tintoré, Dr Trincado and Diego Ro-k. Notoriously wild parties such as the Age of Communication and Ave Porco helped pave the way to a diverse underground tradition, which you can experience at clubs such as Cocoliche.
The original DJ collectives and electronica parties have paved the way for another generation of musical stylings: whether it’s progressive house, breakbeat, techno, IDM, deep house, drum and bass or even experimental cumbia (Columbian music), Buenos Aires has it.
The Local Scene
Porteños rarely imbibe to the point of drunkenness – it's just not cool – but they do like to go out drinking, especially in groups, and always stay up late. Walk into any corner bar or cafe in the city and you’ll see groups of friends or families sitting around a table, sipping tiny white cups of espresso or splitting a bottle of Quilmes (a popular local beer). More fashionable bars, pubs and breweries draw more of a mixed crowd of party-going tourists, with style-conscious men trying to impress their dates or girlfriends celebrating a special occasion.
How to handle the late-night scene like a porteño? If you're going out clubbing (some clubs open at 2am), take a nap after dinner and go easy on the booze – it will help you avoid conking out too early.