Julián Díaz, co-owner of Bar 878 and Florería Atlántico, affirms that Argentina is changing. Plan South America caught up with the restaurateur to understand why the country is becoming increasingly introspective, and what that means for Argentine gastronomy…
By Carolina Beresford
What message are you trying to put across?
What really obsesses us is the notion of identity. A few years ago most of the bars and restaurants in Buenos Aires were copies of places abroad. It’s really been a problem for Argentina and Latin America – everything foreign has always been considered to be better. But this generation is fed up of always looking elsewhere, and I completely identify with that sentiment. Argentina is in a moment of development; we are searching for our own identity. That really keeps me motivated.
What aspect of working in gastronomy do you like most?
When I started, I loved working in the kitchen and the food side of it, but then I realised that what I liked was the whole package. I like the notion of restaurant as problem that has to be pieced together and solved. In French, I would be called a restaurateur: someone who does a bit of everything.
What is your objective with 878?
I want the city to have high standards, and the aim with 878 is to pave the way. Quality is not a trend; it’s an ethical position. Everything I do revolves around that idea. I like that 878 has a didactic quality about it; it’s a place where people can start drinking the classics. Most of the barmen now working in Buenos Aires learnt to drink at 878, just like I started at Danzon. 878 has the most established bar team in Buenos Aires; we want it to be an all time classic. Florería Atlántico, on the other hand, is much more interested in innovation and pushing the boundaries.
We love that one has to pass through a flower shop before reaching the bar at Florería Atlántico . What was the idea behind that?
We wanted it to be a hidden bar, to play with an element of surprise. Many people associate it with a speakeasy, but that’s not our idea and I don’t want people to catalogue Florería Atlántico in that way. The space is located in one of the most beautiful streets of Buenos Aires. A bar is a community – you can’t make it a business if you don’t consider what the community wants and needs. We wanted to contribute to the beauty of the area. A flower shop was the perfect solution: it’s visually attractive, and the idea of leaving the bar and buying flowers for someone appealed to us.
In what way do 878 and Florería Atlántico represent a national identity?
We focus on Argentine cuisine and work with local produce. While the aesthetic of 878 and Florería Atlántico is pretty neutral, the fact that everything is written in Spanish, that the drinks are local, and the proposed menu is Argentine, locates this bar firmly in Buenos Aires. We need to stop looking to America or Europe and learn to love what we have here. There is nothing we like more than being in Buenos Aires; we are proud of what Argentina represents and we want to show that we are good enough to stand on our own.
What cocktail most represents Argentina?
The emblematic Argentine cocktail of this generation is the Cynar Julep (Cynar, grapefruit juice, mint). Many things about it relate to our culture: it’s an appetizer – the key to the Argentine cocktail industry is in its appetizers, and it’s bitter – Argentina is a country that loves bitter drinks, Fernet and mate are the main examples of that.
What place inspires you gastronomically speaking?
The North West of Argentina – Salta, Jujuy, Tucuman. It’s a region that has a rich folk history. Mendoza also inspires me for the way they take wine as a starting point for their cuisine. The boom of national wine in the past 15 years made us reconsider and appreciate what our country has to offer. This is the first time in the history of Argentina that we have great, modern Argentine wines. I find that totally inspiring.
Thames 878, Buenos Aires
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri: From 19:00, Sat & Sun: From 20:00
Arroyo 872, Buenos Aires
Opening Hours: Mon – Thurs: 19:00 – 01:00, Fri – Sat: 19:00 – 2:00, Sun: 18:00 – 01:00