Everyone knows that the life of a city is defined by its bars and cafés and in Buenos Aires that’s especially true. Cafés are part of the DNA of the city, like football, tango, the obelisk and the Teatro Colón.
Anyone visiting the city will inevitably end up in one of the more than 80 notable bars of Buenos Aires scattered around its many neighborhoods. They have been designated as “notable” because of their history and legacy which in several cases has also seen them named part of the Heritage of Humanity; historic buildings that stand out for their stunning architecture and the mark they have made on the urban fabric.
They have hosted many important cultural figures and events in the past and still do today.
Among the oldest are the Café Tortoni, which was famously frequented by writers such as Alfonsina Storni, Silvina Ocampo, and Jorge Luis Borges and the musicians Tita Merello, Martha Argerich, and Carlos Gardel; and La Biela, in the heart of Recoleta, where famous race car drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio would meet. Another essential old café is Confiterías Las Violetas, in Almagro, which is a classic destination for tea.
In recent times, several notable bars of Buenos Aires have been refurbished, restoring them to their former glory after years of neglect and are attracting a whole new generation of regulars, tourists and young people rediscovering their heritage.
These buildings are often excellent examples of what Buenos Aires was in its heyday: the boiserie on the walls, the marble floors and columns, the original stained glass and the period furniture are all vivid evocations of another time. Many were also legendary tango venues that hosted big bands and some of that mystique still remains.
Below, we name four notable bars of Buenos Aires close to the Plaza de Mayo, Congress and the Obelisk, so you can go on a mini tour and breathe in the atmosphere of another age.
Three notable bars of Buenos Aires
Confitería La Ideal
On 384 Calle Suipacha, this Buenos Aires icon reopened its doors after an almost 6 year refurbishment program overseen by the same architectural studio that restored the Teatro Colón and the cafeteria La Puerto Rico, among other iconic Buenos Aires buildings.
Founded in 1912 by a Spanish trader, La Ideal was always a trend setter. No other confitería in the city had its own building or offered a comparable service, resulting in the café serving several Presidents in the Casa Rosada, among other notable figures.
A favorite meeting place for cultural figures across the decades, it is now restored to its former splendor with a menu that respects the history of the place while also offering several modern options. In addition to tea, they serve lunch, dinner and a range of vermouths for the evenings.
Essential features to take note of include the amazing dome and fully restored stained glass. Of course, the classic tea is always a good option and in addition to excellent pastries, they serve traditional sandwiches de miga (which, legend has it, were invented by La Ideal and are now a ubiquitous part of the city’s cuisine).
La Puerto Rico
One of the oldest notable bars of Buenos Aires, founded in 1887, this bar and café has just renovated its original façade with the famous red lettering, and inner dining hall.
This traditional space at 416 Adolfo Alsina, offers a classical menu that pays tribute to the city’s customs: the specialty of the house are its specially toasted coffees, medialuna croissants, cremonas, palmeritas and cakes such as Rogel or the ricotta tart. However, what you really need to try are their famous toasted sandwich, a local favorite.
The renovation added a bar where classic cocktails are served and one can enjoy aperitifs and small plates. Those looking for a more substantial lunch or dinner will find traditional dishes such as milanesas, bife de chorizo, pasta and more.
Keep an eye out for events at La Puerto Rico, they host tango nights, guest singers and a milonga.
Famous for their churros with hot chocolate, this old bar on Av. Corrientes 1453, between the most famous theaters and the Obelisk, has recovered its former glory.
New tables with marble tops echo the original furniture while previously the neon sign offered “Chocolate with churros, submarino, sandwiches and Toddies”; but now simply reads “Chocolate with churros”. The current owners assure us that the original recipe hasn’t been touched and they use Fénix and Colonial chocolate, two famous old brands in Argentina.
Here, you’ll still find the famous original wooden bar with its glass bells to protect the sandwiches and medialunas, the carved mirrors and the large shelves covered in bottles of all kinds. However much things might change, the essence of La Giralda will remain.
To finish, it’s worth noting that another iconic building – in front of the National Congress – is also taking a similar path to the establishments mentioned above. The Confitería El Molino (1815 Rivadavia), which opened in 1917 and was declared a Historic Monument 80 years later, is getting ready for its grand reopening although for the moment guided tours are available. Visit the City government’s website for full information.
Buenos Aires and the living legend of its cafés.