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Buenos Aires Travel Guide

Bar Crawl Through Buenos Aires’ Dazzling Speakeasies

Argentines are known for their penchant for nightlife, but the happening speakeasies in Buenos Aires best embody its creativity and glamour—that is, if you know where to look.

When most restaurant kitchens are preparing to close in the liveliest of cities across the US, Argentines are getting ready to leave their homes, most likely running late for dinner reservations beginning at 10 p.m.

I’ve lived in Barcelona before, so I wasn’t completely surprised by the nightlife culture in Buenos Aires, known as the Paris of South America. Still, as a proud New Yorker, I am always taken aback by the realization my city is sleepier than its reputation promises. What I found most unexpected was discovering the thriving speakeasy scene in Buenos Aires. Though these “bares ocultos” are anything but shrouded in secrecy, they’ve materialized as some of the most popular bars in the city.

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I wouldn’t notice Frank’s, tucked away on an ordinary block at Arévalo 1445, if I didn’t immediately recognize the bouncer, who is always dressed more dapper than anyone waiting to enter the club. He’s the handsome gatekeeper to a splendid evening, and you will find the passcode to enter via the bar’s Instagram or Facebook, which earns you a numeric code to get through the secret passageway inside.

I walk through a hallway, opening a set of doors that leads to a phone booth in the distance. Making my way to it, there’s a vintage convertible with a shutter falling down on it. As instructed, I pick up the phone and dial five, unlocking entry into one of the most seductively elegant bars in Buenos Aires. The oversized chandeliers cast intimate lighting over an atmosphere of 1920s glamour, decorated with red velvet couches, a polished wooden bar top, flocked wallpaper, and bartenders worthy of serving James Bond. You don’t need reservations if you’re just getting drinks at the bar, which is what my friends and I do. A grand staircase leads to a mezzanine lounge overlooking the space, perfect for an Instagram backdrop.

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Almost every Porteño friend (BA local) recommended I go to Arévalo 2030 and party at Uptown. The sign cheekily pays homage to New York, reading “Uptown & the Bronx.” It’s next to La Mar, one of the city’s most reputable seafood establishments. Coming to Uptown after Frank’s gives you the bragging right of hitting two of the World’s 50 Best Bars on the same night. On Saturday nights, the line to enter often stretches down the block. I did a *chef’s kiss* upon gazing at the impressive attention to detail. “If you see something, say something,” imprinted on the stairs, an iconic NYC public transport campaign.

The stairway does not lead to an entrance but to a station corridor. You must walk through a subway cart worthy of a Manhattan movie set, though polished for selfies with velvet seating. The cart door slides open to a grandiose bar that might as well be in the Meatpacking District. Cocktails are themed around the subway map. The menu offers food from all over the world, channeling the melting pot of culture in the Big Apple.

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Victoria Brown

You wouldn’t notice Victoria Brown at Costa Rica 4827, camouflaged by a café and cake shop during the day. However, as I enter an alleyway-like space, a woman sits in front of a podium with a list. She asks my group for reservations, which I’ve learned is the only way to go out anywhere in Buenos Aires, especially during the weekend. Spontaneity hasn’t been my friend here. She leads us through heavy doors, then through stage curtains. The space is undeniably fabulous, but the most unique aspect is the army of barrel light fixtures dangling from the ceiling.

There’s a palpable presence of couples here. Definitely a local date night spot. Every time I’ve come, grown adults are making out like horny teenagers. Regardless, it’s a fun spot to drink and chill with friends, especially to begin the night. I order a roll of sushi that tastes good by Argentine standards. Although there are better spots for a rowdy Saturday night, the ambiance empowers good company and tipsy conversations.

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Arriving at Malabia 1764, I’m disappointed by the seamlessness of entering Harrison, as typical as going inside any other bar. It’s underneath Nicky Harrison, a highly sought-after sushi restaurant. In the Prohibition Era, the Harrison family owned a fish market in Manhattan, and their son operated a speakeasy at the rear. Nicky Harrison replicates that by having a “speakeasy” below them, but knowing the history is as much of a speakeasy experience as you get. The interior design nods to the Victorian era but could be any dimly-lit stylish bar.

I’d suggest this place to someone breaking their speakeasy virginity, but a “bares oculto” aficionado like myself isn’t impressed. It feels lazy, and besides, isn’t a recognizable theme half the fun? Or at least some sort of experience upon entering besides pushing doors open. However, this might just be me because now you can lay claim to making it to three of the World’s 50 Best Bars in a weekend. They won me over with their food and elevated cocktails. Their mushroom dumplings reclaimed the excitement that left my body.

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La Calle Bar

Don’t be fooled by the smell of La Guarrita’s legendary pizza; what lies beyond Niceto Vega 4942 embodies the soul of where it all started, New York’s Lower East Side. Of course, I help myself to a slice before venturing inside La Calle, the latest bars to join the speakeasy circuit. I’m enamored by the warehouse sized-ceilings covered in graffiti and the raw, unabashed grunge and masculinity. I feel like I’m not supposed to be here, which makes me want to be here. La Calle Bar channels metal rock dive bar vibes with the sensation that the place might get raided at any moment.

But where the industrial-style watering hole knows it shouldn’t be too cool for school is the menu, offering dishes like T-Bone steak, chicken kebab, and pork Milanese. Certainly not items found in an abandoned warehouse. Not to mention the top-shelf bottle service and cocktails; an unglamorous aesthetic doesn’t mean cheap liquor. My friends and I appreciate the juxtaposition and the overall happening sense of the crowd it draws. You won’t find your mother here, though the party ends closer to her bedtime, at 2 a.m.

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Florería Atlántico

Wine enthusiasts will rejoice pulling up at Arroyo 872, Florería Atlántico, first to discover a shop of curated wines (Buenos Aires boasts some of the best) and beautiful bouquets; however, beyond the shop, I’m even more impressed by its basement.

There’s a no-frills Porteño touch to the space while maintaining a mystique for visitors. The bar derived its inspiration from the turn-of-the-century immigrant bars in the area. The cast iron grill on display reminds me of one of the best parts of Argentine culture: Asados (BBQs). You will not go wrong eating here, including the frog legs.

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Bar 878

Once upon a time, the operations at Bar 878, located at Thames 878, ran exactly like a speakeasy. The setting didn’t cater to influencers or visitors but to Argentines in the know looking for a good time. Its success over more than 15 years has garnered it a reputation as one of the most chill spots in the city, but it has kept its aura amid popularity. The entrance is hardly noticeable.

I appreciate their Vermouth hour, scoring two drinks for about $5. Cocktail aficionados will appreciate that Bar 878 makes its own liquors or collaborates with local companies. Be sure to take a bottle as a souvenir. At this point, it’s easier to ask which Buenos Aires speakeasies haven’t made it to the World’s Best 50 list.

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J.W. Bradley

I’m glad I didn’t miss the train going to J.W. Bradley at Godoy Cruz 1875— the Orient Express theme is everything; you even have to take a faux train ride (history lesson of the bar included) to enter. I’m infatuated by the massive vintage clock on the ceiling; it’s ticking for boozy speakeasy excellence. The bar’s name radiates in bright grandiose letters above the bar.

The salmon burger is the standout from their menu. During the weekend, the entire venue becomes a party at 11 p.m. (so eat early), attracting large groups. It’s not exactly a date night spot, but if you’re looking for a lively atmosphere to bump shoulders and mingle, this is the speakeasy to be.

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Arriving at AIRPORT Bar, located at Cabello 3601, a flight attendant checks me in, and I’m already intrigued. An elevator to a staircase leads to the first floor of the speakeasy, where they turned one of the most hated concepts in travel into one of the most sought-after new bars in Buenos Aires.

It’s impossible not to be impressed by a colossal warplane Aero-45 Apodado Skoda, sitting pretty like no big deal. The architect of the bar found the plane in a camp in the Sierra de la Ventana, previously owned by a collector. I’m able to enter and sit inside, perhaps pretending to own it. Kardashians are truly just like us! That’s a simulation of luxury I can get behind. There are even views of clouds printed on the windows.

Food comes out in trays like those served in an airplane (the quality, thankfully, is that of fine dining), and the seats are like recliners. Of course, there’s even a VIP area that embodies the first-class section.

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Bagatelle Buenos Aires

Rules were meant to be broken when it comes to fun, so I’m including Bagatelle Buenos Aires on this list. Even though the famed restaurant chain doesn’t identify as a speakeasy, it carries the essence and transformational magic in the best ways. At its core, the restaurant is your typical swanky fine dining establishment, with candlelit, white tablecloth tables and myriad artwork crowding the walls. It’s like being in a luxury 5-star hotel; the atmosphere and cuisine channel French Mediterranean indulgence.

As the night approaches midnight, the energy and music noticeably escalate – dare I say the waiters are getting rowdier? There’s an occasional flickering of lights, and patrons start celebratory clapping, and I don’t know what the anticipation is; perhaps, dessert? I heard the creme brulee is a big deal. Soon, bottles of sparkling champagne are in the air, and the staff gets on top of the tufted booths and starts dancing. At what point did this transform into a nightclub? That’s the creative beauty intertwined with speakeasies and travel: expect the unexpected.