In Buenos Aires, ‘specialty coffee shops’ are springing up like purple jacarandás in September – but there are still spots where you can drink coffee with milk, read the paper, and fill up on an order of triples de miga sandwiches, a shot of Fernet, toast with dulce de leche, or all of them at the same time.
The bares notables (notable bars) are restaurants, cafés and bars considered to be part of the cultural heritage of the city, and thus protected by law. Their value lies in their history, design, local significance, or the shows they host. Each has its own story, and they have all shaped the history of their communities in some way: from Mar Azul (Tucumán 1700), where the Radical Party used to hold their political meetings, to Los Galgos (Callao 501), the favored watering hole of tango legends in the first half of the twentieth century, which reopened in 2015.
Whether you’re in Buenos Aires on holiday, or just craving the unmistakable ambience of watching the world go by as a waiter in traditional uniform serves your coffee, here’s your top guide to the local bares notables.
Bar El Federal – Carlos Calvo 599, San Telmo
If you’re in San Telmo, you shouldn’t miss El Federal. With its original 19th century decor and traditional wooden bar, El Federal serves exquisite picadas with vermouth, potato tortillas, and milanesa sandwiches, fried-egg fries, and vigilante (cheese and jelly) desserts.
Our recommendation: try its homemade pasta, especially on a chilly day.
El Banderín – Guardia Vieja 3601, Almagro
On a tree-lined corner in the middle of Abasto, El Banderín (Spanish for “the little flag”) is named after the football club flags lining its walls – over 500 in total. It’s a great spot to try one of the Spanish-inspired local sandwiches: prosciutto, cheese and butter, served in a crispy baguette, washed down with one of a plethora of local beers, vermouths and wines.
Unlike most of the notables, El Banderín also boasts a remarkably good vegan menu, featuring animal-free takes on the classics including seitan matambrito and milanesas – perfect for veggie visitors looking for meat-free takes on tradition.
When the sun sets, Abasto – an up-and-coming area straddling Almagro and Once – transforms from a busy workers’ district to a Bohemian, artsy area whose Jewish and Peruvian community roots bring together all the diversity of Buenos Aires. We recommend visiting El Banderín in the early evening, and taking a seat outside.
Confitería Las Violetas – Rivadavia 3899, Almagro
Buenos Aires is more than wonderful sandwiches and picadas. Among its golden chandeliers and Italian marble structures, Confitería Las Violetas, founded in 1884, offers titanic meriendas (afternoon meals) that include time-honored local favorites: medialunas with ham and cheese, toast with dulce de leche, tiramissú dessert, scones, alfajores, which can all be savored with a hot cocoa or a milkshake.
Las Violetas also serves lunch and dinner, and has a takeaway pastry shop, in case your stomach can’t bear to sample it all in one day.
Celta Bar – Sarmiento 1701, Balvanera
Located in the heart of Congreso, this 1950s bar has welcomed some of the most famous local tango, rock and jazz musicians of the past decades, including Walter and Javier Malosetti, Luis Salinas, Pipo Luque, Botafogo, Pepi Taveira. Today, it serves local traditional food like tortillas and milanesas, as well as picadas with a great variety of draft beer and wines.
They have wide wooden tables indoors as well as outdoor seating, perfect for meeting in a group.
Varela Varelita – Av. Raúl Scalabrini Ortíz 2102, Palermo
A true icon of resistance amid the dynamic modernity of Palermo, the Varela Varelita is the scene where the older neighbors of the area and the cool kids on the block meet over coffee with coloured foam drawings, a Cinzano Rosso or Fernet. Even today, Varela Varelita is the home of artists who gather to discuss film, students who make a stop to prepare for finals with a coffee, and actors and actresses who finish their long rehearsal days with a whisky before going to bed.
A must-go spot after a long walk across Palermo, or a great place to start off the day in case you’re in need of a café with medialunas (which you obviously are!)
La Academia – Av. Callao 368, Balvanera
Opened in 1930, La Academia is known for all-night gatherings: you can start early with a thick, Argentine-style pizza and a beer, play some snooker, ping-pong or metegol (table football), and go back to your table for some more beer or a couple of empanadas.
La Academia is open 24 hours, making it a reliable spot if you’re out late after watching a play in Calle Corrientes.