The Best Barman in Buenos Aires

by St. John Frizell


At the Claridge Hotel in Buenos Aires´ bustling business district, a silver plaque brought home as a trophy from an international cocktail competition in the 1940s is mounted directly on the bar. Through 60 years of rubbing by the elbows of tourists and well-to-do porteños (Buenos Aires natives), the words on the plaque have faded away—and so has the cocktail culture that was prevalent in this city until the 1970s. But behind the bar, Oscar Chabres stands ready for its return.

The slim, handsome Chabres approaches the craft of the barman with a dedication rarely seen in Buenos Aires (or, for that matter, in the States). Even at the trendiest cafes and restobars, cocktail menus in this city rarely contain more than variations of the Cuba Libre, the destornillador (Screwdriver) and speed y vodka—the energy drink concoction that fuels nightclubbers everywhere.

As distinguished and understated as the Claridge Hotel itself, Chabres moves with uncommon grace and elegance when making cocktails, whether classics like the Pisco Sour, or his own creations, like the Crimax (pronounced “cree-max”). Drinks containing citrus juice are shaken in a cobbler shaker; most others, like the Crimax, are stirred over ice in tall glass beakers with a long, twisted bar spoon. All drinks are assembled on the bar itself in an elegant performance meant to be observed by the bar´s guests.

Chabres learned his trade from Euquino Gallo, a retired master considered a living legend among Buenos Aires barmen, with frequent referrals to Jerry Thomas´s “How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant´s Companion,” the classic recipe book for bartenders originally published in 1862. Now he teaches a mixology class himself, on weekends in his own home, to young adults who can´t find work in Argentina´s depressed economy. While most bartending schools in Buenos Aires offer to teach the trade in eight lessons, Chabres´ class takes six months. With a new generation of barmen trained by Chabres on the way, Buenos Aires will be bringing home a lot more silver plaques in the future.


after Oscar Chabres

Crisp, dry and glacier-cold, the Crimax is the perfect aperitif before the inevitable Argentine beefsteak dinner.

1 1/2 oz. Bacardi 8-Year

1/2 oz. Martini & Rossi Bianco vermouth

1/3 oz. Cointreau

Angostura bitters

Maraschino cherry

Add three dashes of Angostura to chilled cocktail glass and swirl to coat inside of glass. To a chilled glass beaker filled with ice, add rum, vermouth and Cointreau. Stir until very well chilled and strain into glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.



St. John Frizell            writer