Buenos Aires: Faded Elegance, High Design

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If you see a stumbling drunk person here, chances are he’s not a porteño. Buenos Aires has a culture of restraint surrounding food and drink: The people are beautiful and they know it, so it’s a rare occasion when you’ll catch someone polluting his body.

But that doesn’t stop anyone from going out! Bars are open all day and all night here. Groups of twentysomethings are out in full force between 2 and 4 a.m. (when most hot spots are packed to capacity); older couples enjoy a quiet glass of wine until 1 a.m. or so; and people of all ages stop in for a coffee or a beer after lunch (4 to 8 p.m.). It’s not uncommon for a group of friends to share a table all night and only order one or two drinks (which might not even be alcoholic). Below are our top San Telmo bar picks, selected for their mix of interesting people, ambience, and good drinks. Expect to pay about $3 for a glass of wine and $2 for beer.

El Federal

Carlos Calvo 599 (corner of Perú)
4300-4313
Open Monday-Thursday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Friday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 a.m.

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Built in 1864, El Federal is a national historic landmark, and hasn’t been remodeled. The bar itself is oddly proportioned: Long and filled with holes, it’s at waist level if you’re standing. The floor behind the bar is lowered, and until you sit down, you’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland trying to get through that tiny door, what with the barkeeps looking so very short. With its old metal advertising posters, faded lamps overhead, and ancient yet generally charming waiters who may have been there since opening day, El Federal maintains the atmosphere of a BA long gone yet still visible in corners and cracks. Faded elegance is a big part of the city’s charm, not just for tourists, but also for the crowds of local artists who have embraced old places like El Federal.

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Gibraltar

Perú 895
4362-5310
Open daily 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Cash only

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One of the few authentically English bars in Buenos Aires, Gibraltar attracts a lively mix of expatriates and Argentines. A decent selection of beers and whiskeys can be found here, and the bar serves hot curries (spicy food is another rarity in BA), fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie. It gets especially crowded between midnight and 3 a.m., which is standard go-out time in Buenos Aires. Soccer’s always on the telly, and a dark-wood, library-esque setting contrasts with the see-and-be-seen scene in a nice, quirky way.

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La Divina Comedia

Defensa 683
4343-8342
Open daily 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Friday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 a.m.

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Porteños love exaggerated décor, like La Divina Comedia’s Virgil-inspired heaven-and-hell theme. The upstairs bar and dining room are painted in white and blue, and the downstairs has deep red walls, sexy lighting, and intimate booths that surround a black-and-white-checked dance floor packed until dawn on the weekends. Sunday mornings, the downstairs is taken over by local clothing designers selling their fashionable wares.

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Perro Andaluz

Bolívar 852
4361-3501
Open Wednesday-Sunday noon to 6 a.m.
Tango shows Thursday-Sunday at 10 p.m.

A dim front saloon that feels like a speakeasy plus a back room with live music make Perro Andaluz a great place to catch the local onda (“wave,” or better translated as “vibe”). The first Sunday of the month, musical jam sessions (tango, rock, and jazz, depending on the month) are organized by the government’s especially efficient department of tourism. Fridays are dedicated to jazz acts, and every Sunday night there are tango classes—call or just drop by to find out more about the music and class schedules.

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