New bars and restaurants seem to open and close in Palermo all the time. It’s hard to find new places to be genuinely excited about in the area, as owners sometimes seem to think that a good location means they don’t have to put much effort to attract the crowds.
The newly opened bar/restaurant Rey de Copas is a welcome exception to this rule. Located a stone’s throw from Plaza Serrano, the owners haven’t used the prime location or the beautiful setting (a typical old house) as an excuse to neglect the essentials: food, drinks, and decor.
Rey de Copas opened in September, the brainchild of business partners Sebastián Páez Vilaró and Pablo Blanco. While Blanco already owned a bar in the area, it was the first foray into the industry for Páez. The son of renowned Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró and an artist himself, his influence is visible in the atmosphere of the place.
The spaces within Rey de Copas are well delimited, both in terms of layout and style. The restaurant is at the front of the house. Distributed in two rooms, it has a formal decor with well-dressed tables and antique furniture, though a couple of modern pieces of artwork on the wall keep it from being boring.
At the back, and separated from the restaurant by a cute courtyard, is the star of Rey de Copas: the bar. Set in a spacious, uncluttered room, the low tables and lounges are laid out in a way that encourages interaction between the patrons. The decor is eclectic: from Bolivian masks, to Venetian puppets, to Tibetan dolls and French horns, they all hail from Páez’s personal collection. The metal artwork, including the imposing piece behind the bar, was made by Páez himself, and a couple of his father’s works grace the walls.
The management of the bar area has been entrusted to bartending consultants Carlo Contini and Juan de la Cruz Policella, from Drink Lovers. They define the bar as a tavern: “a place where you can eat well, and drink well.” This seemingly simple concept hides, in fact, painstaking planning and attention to detail.
The drinks’ menu, much like in a restaurant, is seasonal. While the staples remain available year round (French cognac, a variety of whiskies, tequila, grappa, etc.), the cocktail list will vary depending on climate and availability of ingredients. Currently, the focus is on refreshing summer drinks. Stand outs of the drinks menu are the many different twists of the classic gin & tonic and the cocktails, such as Negroni, aged for two weeks in an oak barrel.
As well as creating the cocktails and tending to the bar (the beautiful bar, made out of railway sleepers and antique French mosaics, deserves its own separate review), the Drink Lovers organise special themed nights. So far they’ve held Cuban nights in October and porteño nights in November, with guest bartenders and selected cocktails on special at $35. For December, they are planning an early evening ‘Vermouth hour’, an homage to the classic Argentine tradition of enjoying a late afternoon vermouth and picada, complete with old-school soda bottles and accessible prices.
Both the courtyard and the picadas are the link between the bar and the restaurant. The basic tapas menu served at the bar is supervised by French-Argentine chef Alex Sourou, of Les Anciens Combattants fame, who is also in charge of the restaurant.
The restaurant menu is very short, with only four options each for entree, main and dessert, and is still a work in progress. Faithful to his French roots, Sourou started with a sophisticated proposal that was, however, somewhat exotic to the local palate. Asked by the owners to tone it down, the chef is currently experimenting with local, fresh ingredients to put together a simpler menu with enough room for one or two out-of-the-ordinary options, always within the realm of Mediterranean cuisine. The instructions were clear and consistent with the overall concept of Rey de Copas: avoid being pretentious.
Rey de Copas is a well-rounded experience, with the bar and the restaurant both deserving of the customer’s time. While the bar concept seems to be more firmly established, the restaurant is promising and it’s worth waiting to see its evolution – cocktail in hand, of course.
Rey de Copas, Gorriti 5176. Tel. 2068-5220. Open Tue-Sat 8pm-4am. ‘Vermouth hour’ on Thur 5-8pm.
Cocktails cost between $45 and $60. Restaurant: mains $60-$90. www.facebook.com/reydecopasbar