The Café Notables of Buenos Aires

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Bar Seddon | Photo: Glauber Ribeiro CC

To become a café notable in Buenos Aires, the place has to have more than just an old face. These specially selected 54 establishments reflect exemplary architecture, a historical past and a contribution to the social heartbeat of a neighborhood. Of the thousands of bars in the city, these select ones are elevated to a no se que status, complete with a government sanction and a café notable sticker on the door.

The traits common to the café notables is that they ooze a feeling of history. And they create a sense of the local culture that is tangible. These bars are scattered around the city, but here are a few easy-to-find ones to get you started. The first four are within walking distance of each other in San Telmo. The final one is in Almagro, a middle-class barrio that isn’t on the tourist radar screen.

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Bar El Federal | Photo: Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires CC

Bar El Federal

Carlos Calva 599

In business since 1864, Quinten Crip—of the “after three years it doesn’t collect any more dust” fame—would have approved of the collection of bottles and tins on the top shelves behind the sunken bar.

The furniture is well-worn, there is a good collection of reading material and you don’t have to rush. This café notable is known for its picadas, lome and sandwiches. According to Analia—a helpful English-speaking waiter—tourists make up 80 percent of the trade. Even so, the place exudes a definite porteño feel.

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Bar Seddon | Photo: Glauber Ribeiro CC

Bar Seddon

Defensa 695, corner of Chile

Bar Seddon elicits a string of “s” adjectives: solid, social, stable. And if you want a noun, add submarion, a wand of chocolate stirred into warm milk. This bar attracts a mixture of regulars who have been coming here forever and those who found it in a guide book and promptly added it to their “must visit” list.

History hangs in the air. The wood and brick structure are covered with paintings and maps. The sculptures are by Giorgina Renau, the grandmother in the three generations of Seddons who have owned the business. The furniture—salvaged from the antique shop John Seddon dismantled in the 1980s—is massive. Think of a hardwood 1930s bank counter and you have the bar. The spirits are housed in glass-door pharmacy cupboards

Forget about grabbing a quick bite or ploughing through a power-lunch. This is an eat-drink-talk place, so plan on spending a couple of hours.


Defensa 1098

In response to my request for a card, the formally clad waiter picked up a nearby napkin and handed it to me. This melancholy, peanut-munching place boasts a bar area that has been signed by thousands. The place is popular with locals during the week, but totally tourist infested on the weekends. Long known as a people-watching place because of its proximity to Plaza Dorrego, this café is a great resting stop to imbibe and watch the world go by. And since it is open until 3 a.m., you can wait until the wee hours to arrive.

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Dorrego | Photo: Laura de Marco CC

La Poesia

Chile 502

There is something serious about this recently re-opened place that is left over from the 1980s. Unlike the hair-flicking-hip-wiggling-lip pouting culture of many of the bars in the area, this is a café to book a poetry reading or hatch a revolutionary plot.

According to Ariel, who has worked there virtually since it re-opened, it is the artistic ambience that is the attraction, “People come here to read, draw and write.”

The menu seems to go on forever. The food is good and the service is—shall we say—relaxed. But why would you want to wolf down the food?  Sit back—either inside or at a few tables outside—calm down and enjoy.

On Tuesday there is a piano and squeeze-box performance from 6 to 7 p.m. and a piano player is at the keyboard from 9 to 11 p.m. every evening.

El Banderin

Guardia Vieja 3601—esquina Billinghurst

Tucked away in Almagro, the El Banderin is frequented by locals with a mere a sprinkling of tourists. Dating back to 1923, this family-owned business is now in its third generation. Started by Justo Piesco, it then passed to Mario and, most recently, to his son, Silno.

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Bar El Federal | Photo: Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires CC

Inside, the walls are covered with sports memorabilia: pennants, photographs and even a signed jersey. The television is delightfully small for the ultimate sports bar in town.

Mario, even though he is now officially retired, continues to be in residence every day. “If the bar is open, I should be here.” He is a gracious host and on a first-name basis with many of the customers. The bar is closed on the weekends, because, accordingly to Mario, “family and friends are more important than money. And you should live to do more than work all the time.”

This article was written on behalf of Vaya Adventures.

Jody Hanson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel junkie who lived and worked in Buenos Aires, Argentina, before moving on to South East Asia. She has visited 99 countries, lived in eight and holds passports for three. She has yet to figure out if she lives to travel or travels to live. For more information, visit her site.


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