Buenos Aires Bars: El Britanico

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James came to Buenos Aires, as he does whenever he has time (and money) available, and called me. He is a soccer and beer fan, as you may imagine for a good English man, so I arranged our activities around that. Going to some bars, and going to see River Plate and a Racing Club soccer match was my plan. The matches were great, and afterwards he asked to go to some “notable” Buenos Aires bars. Notable is denomination that some bars have in Buenos Aires declaring them as historical or cultural landmarks. It also applies to older historical buildings, outstading architectural design.

Without knowing which one to visit (there are 51 bars with such designation) we started to raid several of them. We finished our bar-hopping with a visit to “El Británico” (The Englishman). El Británico is located in San Telmo, and it is one of the nicest bars I’ve ever been to. The way that it is run by its owners, both of them born in Galicia, Spain, is unique in the world. As you enter you see a mix of people ranging from businessmen to bohemian writers, all amidst a variety of old objects and crockery. The lights, dimmed by the bar’s heavy smoke, the sounds (there’s no music in the place), the intimacy that you get at your table, the big windows, and the gestures of every one there made it the best choice we could’ve hoped to make that day.

We ordered two coffees and Trillo, our waiter, threw the two cups on our table. He didn’t speak a word both when he took our order, and when he delivered it. That’s part of the place’s particular magic. I remembered that in that very bar, Ernesto Sábato wrote “The Tunnel,” one of my favorite books. I called Trillo, who ambled over slowly with a “why do you dare to bother me” look. I asked him, “Which is the table where Sábato wrote The Tunnel?” At that moment his face changed; suddenly he was the nicest guy in the bar, and he told us all kinds of anecdotes about Sábato and other famous writers and painters who had regularly visited the bar.

We drank our coffee and took some pictures without knowing the reason: El Britanico, after all this years, was about to be closed. Now I understand perfectly why he didn’t talk about the present and why he was so excited about the past.

It’s closing time for El Britanico, we are losing something unique in the world, and there are no words, despite my effort, to describe it.

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