The rain continued to pour as I groggily woke up and dealt with the punishment I had inflicted upon my poor body over the past few days. I was in no mood to venture out into the rain so I pulled up the great site I had used many times during my last stay, BuenosAireDelivery. I knew I needed to take a break from all of my meat consumption so I scoured the site for anything vegetarian that looked decent. In Buenos Aires, this is easier said than done but I finally found a place that seemed to be what I wanted.
The restaurant listed a tortilla (in Latin America, this means usually an omelet or a quiche) with roasted carrots, chard, onions and potatoes. I selected that along with a rice and white cheese empanada that sounded good. About 10 minutes after ordering, I hadn’t received the email confirmation that is usually sent right away so I used the site’s online chat to inquire as to the status. It was then that I realized I had forgotten (suppressed?) the somewhat maddening process of trying to order for delivery in Buenos Aires. Most places will list dishes that they in fact do not have at the moment and that causes the order to be cancelled. Thankfully in this case, it was just the empanada so I switched it to a four-cheese one and the order went through.
About 45 minutes later, the intercom rang and since I couldn’t figure out how to buzz in the delivery guy, I just went downstairs to get my meal from him that way. The tortilla was nothing special but it was filling and at least somewhat healthy so it was a winner in that sense. The four cheese empanada was very good and combined with a couple of pieces of my bread from last night, overall it was a simple but satisfying lunch.
I was still pretty tired and couldn’t quite muster up the energy to catch up on the blog so I instead lounged on the couch and watched some TV. After the required siesta, I showered and got gussied up for my big evening. Although where I was going was about 2km away, I thought it best to reserve my energy and took the short cab ride just past Plaza Armenia to my destination – Nicky NY Sushi.
The restaurant, however, was just the excuse to get to the main goal of the evening, the private Harrison Speakeasy, which had recently been cited as one of the best bars in the world. There were only 2 ways to get in – either be a member or go with a member; or make a reservation at the sushi restaurant it is behind and when done say “I want to see the wine cellar.” I had discovered that latter method randomly in the comments section of an article about the speakeasy, and I had confirmed with the bartender at Rey de Copas that indeed was the correct way to do it.
I made my way past the velvet rope and the unsmiling model-type hostess in a kimono to a nice table that overlooked the small kitchen in the middle of the restaurant. Wanting to eat light, I chose some salmon nigiri and a “crazy crab” roll, which turned out to be better than expected. I noticed on the menu that entry to the bodega required at least $250 pesos per person, which I had just hit with those 2 items plus a glass of Torrontes.
After I paid the bill, I leaned in and said that I would like to see the wine cellar. My server nodded and told me to wait a moment. Soon that same unsmiling hostess appeared and ushered me across the restaurant and through a set of curtains. Sure enough, in front of me was indeed a small wine cellar and she began to explain that Nicky Harrison was the son of a famous gangster who had opened up one of the first speakeasies there because he didn’t want to stop drinking during Prohibition. After the story, she escorted me through a fake panel at the back of the cellar to another room, which had a large vault door.
She said we were now in a time machine and now about to be transported back to the Roaring 20s of New York and Nicky’s private speakeasy. Since during that time there were no modern cameras or cell phones, the use of those for photos was prohibited (clever way of saying no photos.) and she opened the vault to reveal a small patio, which had a few people on it smoking, and led me into the quite spectacular main room. Ragtime music quietly played in the background and the dark wood room was dimly lit by candlelight on the tables. This must have cost a small fortune to design as it truly did feel like I was on the set of Boardwalk Empire.
I took a seat at the bar and was soon handed a copy of a newspaper which had the large headline – NICKY HARRISON ARRESTED AND SPEAKEASY SHUT DOWN BY NEW YORK POLICE – along with what appeared to be legit news stories from that same date. Inside the next page was a list of the drinks – all versions of drinks that would have been served during that time. Santiago, the bartender nearest me asked what I would like, and I selected the Smoke Old Fashioned. He said that was an excellent choice as it featured Bacardi 8, one of his favorite rums.
He first took out a beautifully etched glass and lit some vanilla tobacco on fire, cupping the glass over it, which quickly filled with smoke. Next he combined the Bacardi 8, some red vermouth and Angostura bitters into a pitcher and stirred it for a couple of minutes. He lifted up the glass and poured the drink into it. He finished it with a twist of orange and presented it to me with a flourish. It was a very delicious mix of slight smoke, bitter and sweet – a really good cocktail.
As I chatted with him, I found out it was actually his first day here but he had been bartending for 7 years, most recently at another popular speakeasy. He spoke excellent English but I would occasionally switch back to Spanish when he got busy. A very cool dude originally from Venezuela who had been here 7 years, he was a charming host and clearly had the chops to be there.
About an hour later, I told him to make me his favorite rum drink, and he smiled as he said OK. I said once again that I didn’t want anything too sweet but other than that, have at it. He got to work with all matters of fancy moves and ingredients, which I tried to check off along the way. While this was going on, I noticed that another bartender had lit something on fire on top of what looked like a model train. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, a waitress picked up the tray and started yelling “WOO WOOO! WOO WOOO!” as she delivered what I found out was the Union Pacific 2 person drink to a table near me.
It was now past midnight and the rest of the room had started to fill up more – a mix of what clearly looked like to be members along with a few like myself who had done the dinner route. I chatted with a nice couple next to me at the bar, who were regulars. The middle bartender had just handed the male of the couple the largest tumbler I had ever seen with a giant ice cube – his gigantic version of an old fashioned, which was 3 drinks in one. He let me taste it and yep, it was indeed that. Pretty crazy.
Soon after, Santiago handed me the drink – a Manhattan but made with the same Bacardi 8 from the last drink instead of the traditional bourbon – served in another piece of stunning antique glassware. I was surprised how much it tasted like a traditional Manhattan but without the usual back of the throat burn associated with the bourbon in the original version.
A few minutes later, 2 guys approached the bar. One seemed to affiliated with it somehow as everyone was greeting him as he inspected the bartenders. It turned out he was one of the owners, here to check out the new guy along with his head bartender. A round of drinks suddenly appeared and I was handed one as well – not exactly sure what it was, but it was quite good. The owner soon left but the main bartender stayed, Martin, so I started chatting with him. I explained how in Los Angeles there were several bars like this and how much it reminded me of The Varnish there. He hadn’t heard of it but said he would definitely check it out.
It was now just past 1AM, so I decided to get one last drink and challenged Santiago, like I had the other Santiago at Rey de Copas, to make something smokey but not what I had originally. He nodded and pulled out a bag of what looked like some sort of chilis and laced the bottom of the pitcher with those. Next he added some Cynar, an artichoke liqueur which has become popular lately, along with some red vermouth, Campari and finally some Bacardi 8. He stirred all of this together and then strained out what he now told me were smoked red chili flakes, and handed me the drink, again in a truly stunning piece of antique glassware.
He said it was called Negrito Diablito – and it was something he had created during a short stint at Rey de Copas, with the twist being using Cynar instead of the usual bitters and rum instead of gin. This was a serious cocktail. The smoke chili flakes added a small note of heat and the Cynar had just the right amount of bitter without overwhelming the rest. I nursed it for quite awhile since I knew it would be last one plus it packed quite a punch.
About an hour later, he said it was last call, very early by Buenos Aires standards, but given I had been there since 10PM, that was A-OK with me. I said my goodbyes and headed down the alley to back entrance of the restaurant, and out onto the street. It’s nights like this why I love traveling alone as it makes it a lot easier for magic like that to happen and enjoy life to its fullest. Tomorrow (or rather later that day) would be the last of multi-course dinners extravaganzas so it was time for some ZZZs.