Bar Seddon, one of the 54 bares notables of Buenos Aires, is the quintessential San Telmo bar. The bar’s essence epitomizes the neighbourhood’s bohemian character: the cobble stone streets, the 19th century architecture and the countless antique shops.
The bar is set up in an old 19th century pharmacy and still sports the old black and white checkered floor. From the floor to the red brick ceiling, all the decor in between has a refined vintage flavour. The original cabinets from the pharmacy now stock medicine of the alcoholic variety. The bar itself was a counter top at the National Bank in a different lifetime. On top of the bar sits a bulky old cash register, the kind with the (greatly satisfying) pull-down crank to pop open the drawer, and big typewriter style buttons. Art nouveau style, bevelled mirrors wrap around a particularly cosy corner. A dignified old clock from a railroad station gives the time.
Not that too many people who visit are preoccupied with the time. Bar Seddon isn’t a place for “power lunches”; it’s a place for sharing a picada with close friends and carrying on long winded and wine-fuelled chats. The hospitable service extends from the warm disposition of the Seddon family, who own and manage the bar. When I interviewed them, I was fortunate enough to speak with members of three different generations of the family: Giorgina Renau, her daughter Pamela, and grandson Matías.
The bar’s essence stems from the original family business, an antique shop that was situated next to the Galerías Pacífico on Calle San Martín. The store was run by John Seddon, a painter and collector of fine old nicknacks, and his wife Giorgina, a sculptor. Unfortunately, the building that they were renting was owned by the Argentine Railroad company, who booted out all of the tenants in the late ’70s. John Seddon decided to get out of the antique business. He opened up a shop a couple of blocks down from the original and sold almost half of his collection. His children stopped him before he went any further; they had a better idea: open up a bar and use the antiques as decorations.
The original Bar Seddon was opened in 1980, on Calle 25 Mayo between Córdoba and Viamonte. It was truly a family business. Each member offered their own particular touch. Giorgina filled the bar with sculptures, including many goddesses and busts that sat on top of the bar. Pamela and her sister helped decorate, and their brother helped with construction and finances.
John Seddon was a close friend of the influential group of painters, Grupo Espartaco, and he hung many of their paintings, along with his own, on the walls. The Seddons intended the bar to be expressly intimate and low key. They hung beautiful old wrought iron candelabras from the ceiling, kept the lights dimmed and placed candles at each table. The bar became a downtown favourite. From the beginning, the Seddons made a point of maintaining close relationships with their clientele, and they gained a loyal circle of regular customers.
The bar also became a destination for national celebrities like Ricardo Darin, Julio Bocca and Nacha Guevara. Numerous movie scenes were filmed in the bar, including one by the director of the last year’s Oscar-winning ‘El Secreto de Sus Ojos’, Juan José Campanella. U2 even dropped in for dinner and some drinks after playing a gig in town.
But a familiar and nasty fate fell upon the original Barr Seddon. As though a recurring nightmare, the owners of the building that the Seddons were renting sold it, and the new owners intended to demolish it. By this time, 2000, Bar Seddon had already been declared a bar notable by the city government, and the Seddons appealed to the government to help preserve the bar. They gathered signatures from their clientele, and presented an extensive petition against the demolition. Pamela laughs when she recalls notes that some of the customers scribbled under their signatures “this is where I met my wife!” and “this is where I had my wedding!” But the protests were ignored by the city government, and the Seddons were forced to leave.
The next year, however, would bring a touch of fortune to the Seddons. In 2001, as the country’s economy worsened, real estate prices dropped and the Seddons were able to purchase the old pharmacy at the corner of Chile and Defensa. Pamela points out that San Telmo, “was nothing like it is today”, and they were able to purchase the building at a very good price. Their good fortune continued after the dust of the economic collapse had settled and tourists started pouring into the city - tourists who took a particular liking to the classical architecture and bohemian charm of San Telmo.
The Seddons set up the new bar to be as close a replica of the old one as they could manage. They also wisely chose to implement some changes to cater to the foreigners’ tastes. They kept the kitchen open until 4am in order to provide all those tipsy tourists with the Argentine meat that they demanded. They offered tango classes during the week, and concerts during the weekend.
Today, the tango classes and concerts have stopped, but the bar still plays excellent music, and projects music videos on a large screen. The late night hours continue, and the bar also opens in the morning and offers tasty brunch options. The menu includes Argentine standbys, such as picadas, milanesas, pastas, pizza, burgers and of course, the most popular item on many menus, bife de chorizo (sirloin steak). The prices are on the cheaper end for the area, the quality is great, and the portions are abundant.