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Welcome, all you boozers, to the latest edition of I Need a Drink. On this occasion, we visited a bar so classic they could play it on Radio Aspen. We went to a 878 feeling thirsty, found our normal spot at the bar and let the night play itself out.
The 8 used to be a speakeasy, but an open one, without a password or any hoops to jump through to get in; just an oldish wooden door in the best classic porteño style on Thames street, whose only marker was the address number plaque that gives the bar its name. You could enter without any fuss, since it never had a dress code or memberships or exclusivity. It was always for everyone.
The place has peculiar decor: pots hanging from the ceiling, a bar made from cement and a wall of uneven bricks visible in the back. Rustic, industrial and bohemian, but very elegant at the same time. We were there a few hours and every song they played made me smile and bob my head. This time, my friend Pali came with me along with, of course, my photographer and date Catalunia, who upon arriving said: “It reminds me of an old train station, like a terminal.” If only all the trains led there. Or at least one that passes right by my house.
At the 878 they have their own gin, whiskey, vodka, brandy, aguardiente and line of bitters. “The 8 seeks to be sustainable without brands. Be independent,” chief bartender Juan Cruz Oviedo tells us. “We look for producers as fanatical as us about controlling the quality of their product and the experience of their clients,” Juanchi tells us as his face lights up, demonstrating that crazy passion for his products and profession.
With that in mind, 878 has started a project called “A granel” (in bulk). The idea is that you come with your empty bottle (if you don’t have one, they’ll give you a recycled one from the bar) and fill it with any of their drinks. This way, you can access great local products without going through middlemen, and enjoy the quality of a bar at home. The drinks are made in-house or in collaboration with local producers, some well-known, like Sur Gin, with whom they make the delicious Margen Sur Gin. Others prefer to remain anonymous, like the producer of Brandy Nacional 7 P.L., who I could only obtain the initials of. Whoever you are, P.L., your brandy is impeccable.
I had gone with the idea of having a drink that I love from this bar, but Cata got ahead of me and ordered a Gimlet de pera. A work of art made with Margen Sur and fresh pears. Simple remakes of simple classics with sublime results. The exact amount of pear to create a drink that’s exquisite and light. “You get a really fresh aroma,” she commented. It’s not too strong, but at the same time has a lot of flavor. “I feel like it passes over your whole tongue and weeeee.” Whatever she meant by that.
When Pali saw how much fun Cata was having, she didn’t want to miss out and decided to go with the great Russian roulette of the cocktail world: “Make me whatever you want,” she told Mariano Nuñez. A while later, he brought a drink that not only wasn’t on the menu, but didn’t even have a name. A mix of La Fuerza Primavera vermouth, an Ancho Reyes liquor, a house bitter and a bit of salt, it was an incredible cocktail. “I LOVE IT,” Pali shouted, in a way that almost made me fall off my stool. A drink of great complexity and delicacy, a beautiful creation that they let us dub Dirty Midas, because of its golden hue and salinity. May it live on and not be lost in oblivion.
My turn to choose arrived and, chatting with Juanchi, we arrived at Sazerac. Right away he prepared me a little remix with the bar’s supplies: a Brandy 7, a house bitter and a spoonful of syrup scented with lemon peel. I was delighted by the Sazerac 7. For those who don’t know, this cocktail is very strong, weird and hard to get right. But, as I anticipated, the execution was impeccable. I didn’t expect less from a team of bartenders that I like more and more each time I go. Their ingredients don’t fail to surprise me, they’re incredibly tasty.
Since I felt like I was talking more nonsense than I usually do, we ordered something to munch on so we could then continue with another round. Right away they brought over their legendary spinach buñuelos. Everyone who has tried them most likely still dreams about them. They have a flawless presentation and out-of-this-world texture, they’re a bit crispy on the outside and they come apart when you bite into them. They’re definitely a great reason to go back.
At Juan’s recommendation, we also ordered the ChipáCrespo filled with onion and cheese. “It’s a mix between a chipáand a fugazza,” Juanchi perfectly described it. Tasty, abundant portion and very of the barrio, even with its fine presentation.
While we were at it, we took advantage of the chance to ask Juanchi some questions about his taste.
Where does Juanchi go to drink on a day off?
What’s your favorite drink to make?
I always loved making the Old Fashioned, but when I started at the 878, it was one of the most popular drinks at the bar, so I started to grow fond of the Dry Martini. Still, I’ll always enjoy preparing the Old Fashioned and that whole ritual.
What’s your favorite cocktail to drink?
That’s always changing but right now, for the time being, the Paper Plane. It has a mix of complex citric flavors that I’m crazy about.
STOP EVERYTHING. We share a love: the Paper Plane. That drink is my passion and, no surprise, I ordered one. He prepared it with lots of love, Whiskey Barricada 43 (the house whiskey), Averna, Aperol and lemon. I enjoyed every minute that I had with that drink. The garnish is unique and appeals to my (not-so-inner) child. It has a very complex and balanced flavor, unlike many others. For those who don’t know it, it’s definitely a very good option to try.
The moment of truth has arrived. The moment in which dreams become reality and bars, recommendations. The candidate will receive from 1 to 5 La Las in each of the five areas that, for me, are essential for a good bar.
Service: 5 La Las
Bartenders with good vibes, lots of knowledge and a desire to help you have a good time.
Ambiance: 4.5 La Las
Good music, nice uniforms and simple, but cool, decor.
Cocktails: 5 La Las
Based on reimagined classics, where they always honor their predecessors.
Experience: 4.5 La Las
It’s a classic bar, but not old. Very current and technological, but it remembers where it came from.
Returnability: 5 La Las
It’s a great neighborhood bar to go to regularly, make friends with the bartenders and chat for hours until it’s closing time and they have to kick you out.
Congrats 878, you pass with honors and become a strong recommendation of this column. I really had a lot of fun and I consider it a great bar to go to with friends, in groups of five or six, for a romantic date or just to wet your whistle and chat with the staff.
We finished a night full of laughs with a shot of Negroni made by Sarco to honor the end of #NegroniWeek.
Address: Thames 878, Villa Crespo
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday from 19:00 to 2:00. Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 19:00 to 3:00