Argentine bars wear many faces, and the Richmond in downtown Buenos Aires is simultaneously a bar, a tearoom and a coffeehouse; a lair for lovers, lawyers, businessmen and tourists; and the city's best chess salon. It is one of the premier people-watching spots in town, but beware: It is easier at the Richmond to observe ranchers swapping cows and incautious patzers gobbling poisoned prawns than it is to engage a sweet young thing in astrological inanity.
Drinks are expertly crafted, but only battalions of white-coated waiters ever approach the bar. Everyone else lazes theatrically in leather armchairs at tables for two or four, except the chess and billiards players, who are banished to a raucous basement.
Gentlemen without neckties have been admitted to the Richmond's wood-and-chandelier precincts since 1946, but even today, waiters such as Julio Guiterrez, who has trudged pineapple fizzes since 1937, are not always quick to serve the thirsty who arrive improperly dressed.
Mixed drinks cost about $1.50, a beer is about $1, and all drinks are accompanied by ingredientes --Argentina's answer to the free lunch. Accompanying a frosted gin and tonic or a crisp Bloody Mary is a compartmentalized tray of cheese, olives, meat balls, tripe, ham, potato salad, peanuts and whatever else has been found in the kitchen.
At the Richmond, it is possible to loaf away the morning over a cup of coffee or to lunch on the best steak sandwich for miles ( especial de lomo ). The slack time between lunch and the cocktail hour is when true adventurers have tea with masitas --exquisitely sinful pastries that come 10 to the plate. All but the most resolute gourmands quickly learn that the full plate is a suggestion, not a challenge. Unconsumed masitas are subtracted from the bill.
The Richmond. Calle Florida, 468.