Bar Británico is an iconic bar in San Telmo, with a number of films like ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ and ‘Tetro’ (the latest Francis Ford Coppola film) having scenes shot in the bar in the quest of authenticity.
The bar opened in 1928, and became home to many artists and journalists, with Clarín’s headquarters just a few blocks away. Back then, Buenos Aires was still in development and the bar was surrounded by fields. When it opened, the bar was called la Cosechera (the Barn) and was actually a general store with a counter where people could have a drink.
Its prosperity soon came with the construction of the railways built by the British. Many workers were staying in the nearby Constitución neighbourhood and the store changed into a bar defined as “británico” due to the affluence of the British clientele. The bar has kept the name, except during the Malvinas/Falklands war when it was called ‘El Tanico’.
Rare are places with so much history behind them, which is what makes the bar so famous. Vacated from 2006 to 2007, the bar was totally destroyed when Agustín Sousa decided to refurbish it. “I had to refurbish the place for eight months, and managed to save the original mirrors on the walls” says the manager. The mirrors certainly bring a lot of authenticity into the ambience of the bar. However, more recent additions like the counter and the partitions between tables contrast with them, looking a bit too bright and new. Older ceiling lamps could have made you believe they had witnessed 80 years of clientele, including the likes of Borges. Unfortunately the ones in place make you feel like you’re in a North American bar.
The menu is similar. The large choice and servings will make large stomachs happy, but my personal opinion on the menu will join the one I have about the ambience. While the quantity is not lacking, such a famous place could do with tastier food, ‘average’ being the word that springs to mind. I was surprised when Agustín told me his menu’s favourites were “empanadas and coffee”. With such a large choice you would expect a more original selection. A visit to the toilets at the end of my meal completed my dissatisfaction – it is hard to believe they are only three years old.
Bar Británico is unfortunately definitively not a ‘must see’ of Buenos Aires. If you are looking for food at unusual hours then it is worth remembering the address as the bar is open 24 hours a day (except on Monday). Otherwise, I would recommend having just a coffee there, before going to chill in the nearby Parque Lezama. There are much better places in San Telmo.