In the midnight hour

GUY WILKINSON
Last updated 09:09 19/11/2013

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There's a different set of rules when it comes to going out in Buenos Aires.

First of all, don't even think about heading out before 11pm. With a siesta culture not unlike Spain's, most bars are dead until the small hours.

Second, embrace the unexpected: there are all kinds of bars here, from swanky speakeasy joints to sophisticated cocktail lounges or retro rockabilly dives. Here's our guide to some of the best.

FRANK'S

There's only one way into this slick speakeasy-style bar: via a code (issued upon making a reservation) punched into a phone booth. When the secret door slides open, you'll enter another world, one where plush velvet drapes, crystal chandeliers, paisley carpets and low lighting set the ultimate lounge-lizard scene.

Table service is friendly and efficient and the cocktail list is extensive. I try the "Old Fashioned", and yes, I'll admit it, "The Journalist"; both outstanding.

Music oscillates between cool soul and Motown classics to dubious guilty pleasures from the likes of Barry White.

APPEALS TO The hipster, the urbane socialite, the model.

DETAILS Arevalo 1445, +1 5411 4777 6541, franks-bar.com.

MUNDO BIZARRO

"Seeing red" takes on a whole new meaning at this place: it's the colour scheme throughout, from the lighting and couches to the booths and even the paint job.

More of an unpretentious, rock'n'roll hangout, Bizarro is all about rockabilly music and retro stylings emulating American 1940s and '50s drinking dens.

Chow down on no-nonsense Americana bar snacks like hot dogs and hamburgers while checking out B-movie classics projected onto the walls. Much more a late-night venue, Bizarro doesn't kick off until around 1am, but it's also a cool spot to drop in for a relaxed drink earlier on.

APPEALS TO The rockabilly hellcat, the retro fan, the tattooed arty crowd.

DETAILS Serrano 1222, + 1 5411 4773 1967, mundobizarrobar.com.

FLORERIA ATLANTICO

Established by legends of the Buenos Aires nightlife scene, Renato "Tato" Giovannoni and Julian Diaz, this subterranean watering hole is accessed via a fridge door inside a florist.

While searching for a basement location (supposedly a rarity in BA), the owners learned of the neighbourhood's colourful shipping and migrant history and were sufficiently intrigued to theme the bar around it.

Consequently, the walls are adorned with cool murals of sea monsters and mermaids. They've also split the cocktail list into sections from various migrant countries including France, Spain, England, Italy and Poland.

Gin mixes are among the specialties - they make their own mate-infused creation on site - and late night snacks came in the form of spicy chicken wings, octopus with eggs and fried green tomatoes with chorizo.

It ranked among my favourites.

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APPEALS TO The cocktail connoisseur, the discerning local or visitor.

DETAILS Arroyo 872, + 1 5411 4313 6093, see facebook.com/floreriaatlantico.

GRAN BAR DANZON

Exposed breezeblock walls, a long narrow bar and low ceilings create a relaxed New York warehouse feel here, one of the few places to draw a crowd earlier on (it was half full by 9pm).

Our bartender suggests we trust him with our cocktail selection rather than order off the menu. Taking his advice, the gamble pays off; our drinks, a Domo Arigato and mint julep, are among the finest we sample. Food emphasis is on sushi while the music is a mix of DJs and regular live jazz nights.

APPEALS TO The city slicker, the Latin American Carrie Bradshaw.

DETAILS Libertad y Santa F Capital Federal, +1 5411 4811 1108, granbardanzon.com.ar.

POST STREET BAR

In some corners, plastering every inch of a bar's wall space in graffiti might seem horribly contrived, but given this establishment backs onto a gallery, Hollywood in Cambodia, run by actual street artists, we'll let it slide.

Located in the heart of the trendy Palermo Hollywood district, it's a great option after perusing the shops; there's an informal, friendly feel that's less ostentatious than other bars.

Aside from the unusual decor, the gallery out back sells art prints and hosts regular stencil workshops and exhibits.

Inside the bar there are foosball tables, pull down screens for watching the national game and free pizzas on Thursdays.

The gallery's rooftop also warrants exploration.

APPEALS TO The street artist, the rebel, the casual beer enthusiast.

DETAILS Thames 1885, poststreetbar.com.

THE OAK BAR

Winston Churchill himself could not have designed a better venue for a nightcap. Ensconced in the plush Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt - a restored palace no less - the Oak Bar has an intimate club style ambience that's perfect for a pre-dinner drink or late night knockoff. Intricately carved 17th-century oak-panelled walls surround a wood-burning fire, wingback leather chairs and cabinets filled with cut crystal liquor decanters and fine Cuban cigars. Views overlook the tranquil palace lawns (there's a small outdoor terrace too) and the wine list comprises anything from stunning local malbecs to exotic varieties from Europe. It's also the only hotel bar in Buenos Aires where smoking cigars is permitted.

APPEALS TO The cravat-sporting, cigar-chuffing dandy.

DETAILS Avenida Alvear 1661, +1 5411 5171 1350, buenosaires.park.hyatt.com.

BAR 878

Entered via a set of grand antique wooden doors on the edge of the up-and-coming Villa Crespo district, 878 is a wonderfully laidback spot that's an after-hours favourite with local chefs and barmen. A former carpentry workshop and speakeasy turned legit, it has the feel of an unfinished renovation but in a cool way.

Exposed brick walls and leather couches surround a backlit bar stocked with the kind of single malt selection to have a whisky aficionado going all giddy.

A separate lounge out back facilitates cigar smokers while much lauded tapas dishes include richly stuffed squid, crab and shrimp croquettes, and seasonal mushrooms with mozzarella, eggs and truffle oil.

APPEALS TO The foodie, the ironic moustache-wearing guy with a sleeve tattoo.

DETAILS Thames 878, +1 5411 4773 1098, 878bar.com.ar.

The writer was a guest of Park Hyatt Buenos Aires.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE Aerolineas Argentinas has a fare to Buenos Aires; see aerolineas.com.ar

STAYING THERE Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires is a stylish, 5-star, 142-room hotel in the French heritage Recoleta district. Rooms start from US$540 ($645). Phone +1 54 11 5171 1234, Avenida Alvear 1661, see buenosaires.park.hyatt.com.

MORE INFORMATION destinoargentina.com.ar.

- FFX Aus

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