Frank’s, Buenos Aires

Frank’s is a speakeasy in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires and is the bar about which I’d heard the most prior to our arrival and during our stay. After so much hype (including mention in The New York Times), I had very high expectations.

Though there’s a sign on the wall for it, it’s quite difficult to get into. When we first arrived, we could see no door to open to let us in – and we were so confused that we decided we should keep looking and took a full walk around the block. Fortunately, when we came back, we saw the door open and immediately pounced upon the couple exiting to ask if this was Frank’s. Step one complete. Step two is harder; Frank’s takes the speakeasy theme very seriously. A bouncer met us at the door and asked us for the password – they post a different one on their Facebook page each day. That day, the “password” was a quote: “you return in every cocktail that I drink” (in Spanish, of course). We fumbled to remember the right words, but eventually the bouncer let us into a dimly lit entryway with a phone booth on the opposite wall. Step three is to enter the phonebooth and figure out which button to press to open the secret false wall that lets you into the actual bar. It’s quite a process!

I give Frank’s full marks for creativity and atmosphere based on all of that. Unfortunately, that’s the end of my praise. This is a bar that, aside from the whole password/phonebooth thing, is actually supposed to have really good cocktails. Bolstered by my success at sweettalking the guys at Rey de Copas, I approached the bar (following a greeting by a very attractive bartender on the other side) and said that I needed recommendations about what to order. Now, to contextualize this interaction: there is a board behind the bar that lists about five drinks, but (here’s a sign that I’m no longer in my 20’s) I didn’t have my contacts in and couldn’t read the very small text particularly well, so there was a practical reason for asking for a recommendation aside from the fact that it’s just more fun and a good way to make friends with bartenders.

This guy was having none of it. One would think I’d asked the most trite question possible. He asked what I liked; I hedged a bit and said I like things that are sweet or bitter, with a particular preference for vodka or whiskey-based drinks. He seemed put out by this and said nothing further; he proceeded to make me a cocktail with a darkly colored Martini liquor in it and… wait for it… beer. BEER! There was something fruity too so that the final effect was something pinkish. This bartender was a total snob, not friendly at all, and didn’t even bother to make me something with either of my two preferred base liquors! Mary more wisely ordered from the menu and ended up with a very pretty drink. But here’s the clincher: our two drinks together were 400 Argentine pesos – which is 30 American dollars. To put this in perspective, most of our meals up to this point (other than the feast preceding this drink) ran about 350 pesos for the two of us. I’m talking about meals with steak and wine costing less than these two drinks. Mary’s drink was delicious but gone in a second because it was small, and mine wasn’t worth finishing. We didn’t stay for another round and left feeling affronted on a number of levels.

Don’t go to Frank’s!!!

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Rey de Copas, Buenos Aires

FullSizeRender.jpgThis was my favorite bar in Buenos Aires, and we happened upon it thanks to a recommendation from a bartender at another great place called Olsen (which I heartily recommend if you like martinis and are interested in vodka flights paired with Scandinavian hors d’oeuvres, served in a beautifully lit garden; the martini pictured on the home page is from there). We asked the bartender at Olsen where he would go for a good drink, and Rey de Copas was his first recommendation. He even gave us their business card, which is printed on a playing card!

My friend Mary and I walked into Rey de Copas around 11 p.m. on a weeknight during the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which turned out to be great because we sat alone at the bar and had four or five bartenders mostly to ourselves (though there were other customers seated elsewhere in the spacious place). We had barely sat down before the bartenders handed us a welcome cocktail served in a champagne flute. (I don’t remember if we ended up being charged for this, but I liked this place so much that I’m going to say we weren’t.) Their cocktail list was shorter (only a page), but they get very high marks for creative ingredients and combinations. I honestly didn’t recognize half the ingredients listed, and this wasn’t a language issue – I just had never heard of most of these things!

I ended up ordering the Kahlo, which involves a combination of tequila and mezcal (I was feeling adventurous…) as the base liquors and then a mixture of Golden Age Maraschino liqueur, amaretto, orange juice, lime juice, cinnamon, and salt. It was delicious and strong as hell. Mary ordered something that I no longer see on the menu, but it involved ginger and was beautifully made.

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Later on, we had my favorite kind of interaction with the bartenders. I told our favorite, a guy whose name we sadly never learned but who we will always remember as the cute Uruguayan guy in the red shirt, that we wanted to give him the honor of exercising his considerable skills to make us bespoke cocktails. We asked specifically for things using local ingredients or representing the best of Argentina. He was very amused and quite willing to oblige us.

I have no idea what either of us ultimately ended up with, but both were great. All I can recall (it is worth noting that we never managed to eat dinner that night, so I felt these drinks more than usual) is that it had a distinct herbal flavor. I think now that it might have contained some fernet, which is Argentina’s national liquor and is not unlike Jagermeister in taste. I’m not at all a fan of Jager, but if my drink did indeed contain fernet, it worked quite well with everything else in it. Here it is:

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Rey de Copas gets top marks for everything. The interior (which sadly I neglected to photograph) is colorful and covered in interesting antiques, so it would be a great place to check out alone because you’d have plenty to look at while waiting for your drink if you couldn’t talk to the person next to you. The drinks were great and reasonably priced. It was mostly locals (we did hear one group of English speakers), and we were so pleased that the bartenders were so willing to talk to us. It was, in short, the Calbar of Buenos Aires – and I can offer no higher praise than that!