From the outside, El Boliche de Bessonart looks almost derelict. Its flaking stone walls jut out from the corner of a dark, dusty street a little way from San Antionio de Areco’s cobbled central plaza. I dawdle awkwardly by the door before finally venturing in.
Inside, the no-nonsense tavern has that kind of rustic pizazz that trendy hangouts can only dream of replicating. Time-worn scuffed paint reveals the roseate brick behind and the floor is bare and tiled. There are wrought-iron chairs, wicker stools and a long oak counter backed by old liquor bottles caked in dust. I like how the black-and-white photos covering the walls all hang a little off-centre and that soft chacarera music plays in the background to lighten the mood.
I score a table at the back of the room and the barwoman brings me a glass brimming with red wine and a basket of monkey nuts. She tells me the bar is more than 200 years old and has been preserved as a historic vestige. A handful of couples and groups of friends scattered around the room eye me with a mix of suspicion and sympathy. ‘I’m fine,’ I want to tell them. ‘Content to sit and drink. And eat monkey nuts.’
My attention is held by three gauchos standing at the bar. I’ve only read about these archetypal Argentine cowboys that live on remote ranches and pass their time on horseback exploring the vast, flat pasturelands of the pampas. Now, in the gaucho heartland of San Antonio, I get to see them in the flesh.
The men exude a raw, no messin’ machismo. Shirts tucked, sleeves rolled, their hands hang heavy on the pockets of their low-slung jeans buckled with sturdy leather belts. One sports a scraggy mullet, another a flat cap that resembles a misshapen beret but is in fact part of the traditional gaucho costume. They slouch and squint and glug beer and exchange few words.
A couple walk in. You can tell they are tourists, like me, with their bright
t-shirts and shiny cameras. “We’re from Buenos Aires,” the guy tells me while his girlfriend is at the bar. When she goes to the bathroom he hastily scribbles down his number and passes it to me. I gawp in only slight disbelief. Typical Argentine chamuyero – charmer.
Drink drained, and with a lap full of nut shells, it’s time for me to leave. My head may be clouded by Malbec, but I’m pretty sure this is my favourite ever bar. And in my next life I hope I come back as a gaucho.
San Atonio de Areco is two hours from Buenos Aires. For recommendations on what to do in the capital read my post here.