Ever been to Venezuela? Wanna go? It’s on the corner of Guatemala and Jorge Luis Borges.
In a place where a modern setting meets old-world food, where Palermo Soho meets el Hatillo, where traditional mestiza music meets ground-breaking Djs, Caracas Bar is a pulsing beat of criollo culture tucked deep in the heart of Buenos Aires. So named for the capital city, the bar, like cousins/owners Felix Ovalles and Yayo Andrade, is Venezuelan by birth. When they teamed up with Argentine amigo Emmanuel Marassi in 2009, all the disparate ingredients came together – equal parts art museum, late-night dance club, fine-dining restaurant, and bar, with a dash of Venezuelan meets porteño flavor – to establish a truly unique niche of Buenos Aires nightlife.
While the ambiance whispers of Caribbean beaches, it also, like Caracas, cuts with a razor-sharp modern edge – hot blue bar tops, a mirrored ceiling, and colorful geometric paintings graffitied onto the walls. The upstairs open-air terrace has loungable couches where you can puff smoke at the stars or wander through this week’s art exhibit, sipping and swirling a glass of fine wine to absorb Carolina Juskoff’s latest. Every other Tuesday (and on weekends), the upstairs transforms into an art exhibit of a different form – a crowded dance floor for featured DJs like Andii 16, Gorian Gray, and Villa Diamante. And since owners Felix and Yayo have backgrounds (and degrees) in music production, the room is sure to spin with the best in the underground and avant-garde.
The concrete edifice and red curtain door belie the cultural amalgamation that lies inside – lush hanging plants and a wall-sized black and white photo of Cerro Ávila are enough to make you think you might have stumbled into the wrong country code. “Caracas has a different inspiration, a different rhythm,” owner Felix explains. “That’s why coming into this bar is a different experience.” The Caribbean “calor humano,” as he calls it, permeates from the smiling eyes of the bartenders, the smell of something delicious frying, and the markedly mestiza beat that will immediately make your leg start bouncing.
If what you’re wanting is authentic Venezuelan cuisine, you came to the right (and one of the only) places to find it in Buenos Aires. Traditional recipes like tequeños (fried white cheese sticks) and tostones (crispy green plantains garnished with guacamole), commonly sold with napkins on the streets and beaches of Venezuela, have been classed-up and converted, by way of culinary expertise, into gourmet dishes. But the best part? You still get to eat everything with your hands – hamburguesas (but better), arepas (try the reina papeada), and cachapas – no need for a fork, although you will probably want a few extra napkins to wipe off what is running down your lips. And in case you want to keep it sexy, there is the aphrodisiacal 7 Potencias, an amuse bouche of coastal fruit, shrimp, scallops, and octopus soaked in vinaigrette (and personal favorite of Felix, for reasons he would only smile about).
Can’t decide what to wash it down with? When in Venezuela… drink rum. And lots of it. They have one of the finest imported collections in all of Buenos Aires. Premiums like the Santa Teresa Grand Reserve are sure to make any cocktail killer but even the white Pampero Blanco is good enough to drink on ice. They have specialty cocktails like the Mojito Caracas with rum, Cointreau, lime, and mint syrup, and, of course, all the regulars like Fernet and Coke. And they didn’t forget about the beer drinkers. Four types on tap, all from artisan brewing company Jah Bier that makes beer exclusively for Caracas Bar. While the prices are comparable to any Palermo Soho bar, the difference is in the details – in the care and quality, via tiny fresh-sliced garnishes and chilled glasses, the handpicked regional ingredients and decorative plates – that demonstrates the creative pride they have in their product. And, true to that Caribbean charisma, they do it all with big white smiles.
When you finally slide back out the red curtain door and onto familiar streets, slightly weightless from that goodbye shot of Aguardiente, you may notice a small grin that has crept across your mouth – knowing somewhere in your heart and taste-buds that you just traveled hundreds of miles in one night to put your finger on the cultural pulse of Caracas. And your feet will keep on dancing down the sidewalk.
by Kate Elgee
Photos by Elizabeth Gottwald