The Man with the Gleaming Gun. Graf Zeppelin brewpub, Buenos Aires, 2007.
After 30 years of travelling to search out interesting beer and visiting more bars, brewpubs and other licensed (or not...) premises than I can remember, I now look back and smile about some of them and cringe about others; some conjure memories for things apart from beer whilst others were so unmemorable I only recall visiting when I nostalgically go through old photos on the PC or happen upon an entry in my beer database (yes, I'm that sad and don't trust Untappd!)...
So, here's an extract from my years of beery travels; I've visited 5 continents, over 40 countries and countless cities and have drunk nearly 30,000 unique beers so you don't have to; I'm nice like that
Buenos Aires is a fascinating city full of contrasts; in five minutes you can go from immaculately-lawned mansions complete with tennis courts and associated polo pitches to abject squalor with people living in shacks slung together with corrugated metal and plastic sheeting, literally on the railway lines. The city centre, by day like many other capitals with it’s hordes of suited drones and bustling shoppers, transforms by night into the realm of the cartoneros (those people living on the railway tracks) who go through the rubbish left out in search of recyclables which they take away on ramshackle home-made trolleys to who knows where… there are even special trains laid on for them to take their trolleys on to wherever they go.
A city of contrasts, indeed, but one which I truly love and is as engaging, fascinating and downright edgy as any I’ve been to and, despite having visited twice now, one I still yearn to return to and remember gazing back longingly over my shoulder at the twinkling grid of orange streetlights receding into the night after my last visit in 2007, vowing to return… which I will do one day, Bacchus willing, and was hoping to in 2020 until Covid 19 put paid to that.
The city had a brief craft beer explosion in 2005/6 and, although a lot of the brewpubs which flowered briefly then closed (I visited many and ran up against quite a few bolted doors) there is, or was before Covid, an incredible beer scene in the city with some excellent beer being made there and many quirky, sociable bars in which to drink them, although the physical scale of the city is an obstacle; I still remember, as we descended towards the airport for the first time during our 2006 visit, passing over mile after mile of grid-like suburbs and realising just what an enormous city Buenos Aires is.
During my first visit I drank way more beers than I imagined and found some stone-cold classics amongst these brews and so, when I visited for the second time, I had a list of places which were either new since the last trip or ones I’d run out of time to visit during the previous visit but was determined to score this time. Our first visit (24 hours late thanks to British Airways) was Santiago in Chile, then a quick hop over the Andes to Argentina where, the following day, we were driven round all day by the brewers from Murray's brewery and treated to amazing hospitality, visited places we'd never have reached under our own steam, and encountered nothing but warmth and friendship.
After a lie-in the following morning it was time to hit the brewpubs on my list; amongst these was a brewpub ( as far as I could tell it was a brewpub) out in the western suburb of Palomar, the “garden city” (Ciudad Jardín) of Buenos Aires which, fortuitously, has multiple rail connections. We (me and old friend Jim) ambled across Retiro park past the Malvinas monument, taking in the spring sunshine, to the scruffiest of the three San Martín stations; there are three in a row, going from a King's Cross facsimile to a corrugated shed, and our train went from the scabby one!
The train passes through the leafy suburb of Palermo with it’s expensive shops and trappings of opulence but, just a mile or so further out, the landscape changes suddenly and the sidings and lineside are covered in the shanty towns of that lower class of Buenos Aires’ society – the cartoneros – who scratch a living from collecting cardboard, paper, plastic, glass or anything which they can sell for a few pesos. Okay, so they’re not as dangerous-looking as the slums I saw in Johannesburg, but it’s still a little unnerving to see the transition from wealthy Palermo with it’s polo pitches and tennis courts to wood and plastic shacks on the railway in such a short space of time, and begs the question as to whether a slight redistribution of wealth might be worth a go?
We alighted at El Palomar and milled around in the chaos outside the station trying to find the correct bus stop; I had some information as to which bus we should catch in the general direction of the pub and, no sooner had we found the stop, than one bearing the correct number pulled up. We boarded and I attempted to convey to the driver, in my best Spanish, where we wanted to go but he was having none of it and was adamant the bus went nowhere near our destination so we reluctantly got off again; this wasn't a great start to the day!
Road signs appeared to have been deemed unnecessary in El Palomar, so I tried to make sense of the map I’d printed which had appeared perfect back home but now, over 6,000 miles away with no signs to help, it’s deficiencies were glaringly obvious; I realised that without a pointer in the right direction we might end up completely lost, although at least it seemed to be a reasonably non-dodgy area of the city meaning wherever we ended up should at least be safe.
From our current location I scanned our options; across the road was an imposing archway – looking rather like Admiralty arch in London – which concealed what seemed to be some kind of recreation field complete with groups of running men - but, however much I scanned around for signs or landmarks, there was nothing useful anywhere to be seen. So, with no better options available, we headed over to the arch to see if we could get some directions to the brewpub.