Right across the street from El Hipopótamo is another San Telmo institution, the Bar Británico. Named for the nationality of its patrons, rather than the owner (who was Spanish) it has sat on the corner of Defensa and Brasil since 1928. Originally a corner store, the locals (who were mainly British railway workers and First World War veterans) would buy coffee and food and then hang around to drink and eat it, converting it from shop to cafe.
Run by a trio of Gallegos (Spaniards from Galicia) from 1960 until 2006, El Británico gained a reputation as a friendly and atmospheric hangout in San Telmo, open 24 hours a day. As no Notable Bar is complete without a literary connection it is said that Ernesto Sabato wrote part of his novel ‘Sobre Héroes y Tumbas’ at the window seat.
In 1982, faced with a wave of anti-British sentiment, the owners covered the first 3 letters of the bar’s name to avoid controversy and the “Bar Tánico” survived intact until a few years later when it was safe to uncover the unpopular Bri once again.
It underwent refurbishment in 2006, following the death of the last of the 3 owners and reopened in 2007 under new management. As far as possible all the original fixtures have been kept intact but some say that El Británico has lost its character.
On the day I visited I found it to have little less warmth than El Hipopótamo across the street, it’s smaller and brighter which may mean, that on a late winter’s afternoon it lacks a homeliness that can be found opposite. However I love the fact that it has by and large kept its character, down to the squat toilet in the gents nestling next to a more modern convenience. Due to their location it’s hard not to want to pick a favourite and ultimately, of the two I think El Británico is my favourite although it’s a close-run thing. Of course, the name clinches it.
Bar Británico: Brasil 399
Colectivos: 62, 29, 22
This page is part of a series examining the Notable Bars of Buenos Aires.