Traditional cafés and bars have long been a staple of authentic Buenos Aires life. Many retain the grandeur of the 'golden age' of the first half of the 20th century when a wave of European immigrants began to shape the culture of the Argentine capital. They're known as bares notables (historic cafes and bars), and since 1998 about 70 such establishments have been listed as National Heritage sites.
But off the tourist trail, there's another side to Buenos Aires' cafe culture. No-frills spaces where the decor hasn't changed in years, staff know the regulars by name and the menu is simple but sufficient. A lot of these places don't have the same protections as bares notables and they're disappearing. In the past year alone, some 15 have closed and more are at risk, according to the photographer behind Bar de Viejes, an Instagram project that documents these bars and cafes and campaigns for their survival.
"Due to the economic and social crisis in Argentina, many of these bars closed or are in the process of doing so and with them the living history of generations disappears," the photographer, who asks to remain anonymous, tells Lonely Planet. Many are also run by elderly people who are no longer in a position to continue working, and in some cases, their children don't want to inherit the business. "Then the places are lost," Bar de Viejes explains, "or are sold to businesses that have no interest in heritage or cultural identity."
The photographer says they're campaigning to curb the closure of these bars and raise awareness about their social, heritage and cultural importance, especially among the younger generations of Porteños. "If the community in general and especially the youngest, had greater awareness about the cultural and heritage value of these bars, then they would find more creative ways to inhabit them and continue their legacies respectfully."
By raising awareness of these places, the project shows visitors another way of touring and engaging with the city, "a peripheral vision of Buenos Aires, a kind of side B," they tell Lonely Planet. They're also in touch with the people behind similar online projects in Italy and Spain to set up an "international network of old bars."
More than just an Instagram account, Bar de Viejes says it's a "political project", an act of urban resistance that seeks to fight against gentrification. It stems from the fear that these traditional places, so characteristic of Buenos Aires, are being replaced by generic or "instagramable" businesses that strip the city of individuality. "I believe that we need to become aware of this advanced process of "cultural colonisation" that sweeps away small businesses and local identities," says Bar de Viejes. "Already 15 old bars closed in Buenos Aires in the last year and were replaced by large coffee chains that you could find in any other metropolis in the world."
"The old bar speaks of a form of resistance to this fast and technocractic world," says Bar de Viejes. "It is like an analog wasteland in the digital age; a place that continues to incorporate community and neighbourhood."