Yes, I can already hear the English getting excited. Beer in a bucket? You mean there is something bigger than a pint, a stein, a yard of ale? We can get it by the bucket? No, what I am referring to is the unexpected custom of your bow-tied waiter courteously placing the litre bottle of beer that you (plural) are consuming on a hot summer evening in an ice bucket at your table, as though it were fine champagne. Its something normally only seen on the terraces of old style cafes, establishments that have survived the ups and downs of the economic cycles, that realize intuitively that a beer “entre amigos” has as much dignity (if not the same remunerative value) as a bottle of Cristal at the Hotel du Cap. It is also a relatively new ceremony, according to my Argentine friends first noticed after the last crash, maybe as a sign of respect for their regular customers who were having to downsize their offerings to Bacchus? Whatever the reason, it certainly lends a sense of occasion to that after-work beer as well as obviating the necessity to guzzle it before it warms.
You don’t find many drinking factories in Buenos Aires. While the young are imbibing more than their forefathers, a night out can last 10 hours so they pace themselves. It can be disconcerting for an Englishman, especially with ulterior motives, to go out with a girl that can make a glass of wine last 3 hours…or worse, who is content with water. You have to keep checking yourself before your visions of a good evening out diverge irreconcilably. But you are normally sitting on a warm terrace, have the benefit of laid back (or for a Brit awaiting his first beverage painfully slow) service and can still puff away on your preferred source of nicotine without drawing horrified looks from your neighbours (note: if allergic to smoke you need to get a table inside, in airconditioned comfort. The Argentines still love to smoke). And of course you don’t have to deal with that unpleasant “I know they changed the licensing laws but this pub is going to kick us out at eleven and I may still be thirsty” voice that all Englishmen have genetically programmed in the back of their minds.
Yes, there are upmarket bars here with cocktail mixologists that are too cool for school and overdressed “chetas” (the self proclaimed posh girls) that make you (me) feel painfully underdressed. But everything else is still open so you have a choice! And of course there are clubs with face (age?) checks, who strangely haven’t worked out that some of us non trendies probably have more spending power than their buff, perfectly coiffeured clientele. But get this, the government has got it all in hand. It is going to ban VIP areas in nightclubs for being discriminatory. I kid you not! They took my complaint my complaint seriously. It looks as though it will become law ( http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1529966-buscan-prohibir-los-sectores-vip-en-los-boliches-bonaerenses ).
So at 2.00 in the morning on a Thursday night you may find the mass of humanity wandering the streets a little odd at first but when you seat yourself at a neighbourhood cafe to enjoy “un pequeño ultimo” (just because you can) surrounded by infants and grandparents and everything in between, you realise you are “como la gente” (roughly just a normal person, albeit a normal Argentine). No need to be a big shot here to enjoy as much night life as you have stamina for! And the aded bonus, I have never had to check my skin colour in the morning for that orange tinge that might indicate I stood too close in an overpriced nightclub (ok it was really a sushi bar – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6179074.stm) to some Ukrainian aluminium billionaire, whose competitors were trying to knock him off with a plutonium enriched bellini.
It’s true, a 40 peso bottle of beer still buys you a place at the best table!