05/15/2014 10:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Drink the World: Buenos Aires



Around the world there are day cities and night cities. Day cities sparkle in the sunshine, with lush green parks, sandy beaches, or perhaps pleasant museums. Night cities however wait patiently for the sun to go down.

Buenos Aires is a night city; lovely during the day -- a pretty, humid town of tree-lined boulevards and endless book stores. But at night, like a librarian in a porno, the glasses come off and it suddenly gets sexy. And it should, this is the city of the Tango, a dance so hot it involves rubbing your whole body against another human being for prolonged periods of time creating enough friction to light a cigarette.

The people of Buenos Aires, or Porteños (people of the port) live for the night; they eat late and drink later and probably see dawn more often than anyone else. You will also not sleep much in Buenos Aires. This is partly because nights go very, very late (or early, depending on your perspective) and partly because of profound meat sweats. This is a city where it sucks to be a vegetarian.

Argentinians love meat. Even the cow's intestines are a delicacy -- a dish that seems to ooze as you chew, and which if the fate of the free world depended on it, I would still need persuading in order to eat again -- even if it was washed down with a nice Quilmes beer in cold, liter bottles or a glass of smokey Argentine Malbec, a wine that coincidentally goes great with meat. It is not however a city in which to get blind drunk. Porteños are far too cool for that and aren't even that committed to alcohol on a night out, as cafes stay open as late as bars, if not later.

The drink of choice will probably be Argentina's national drink, which isn't from Argentina, or even South America. Fernet Branca is an Italian digestive, which you may need, as by the time you drink it you will probably have eaten a cow right down to it's pumps and valves. It has a unique, bitter flavor; a curious mix of Vic's Vapo-rub and Listerine, and much like Jägermeister might taste when it's grown-up, met a nice girl, bought a house and settled down. It may also contain crack, as once you get the taste, and you will, it is utterly addictive. Porteños however drink Fernet with Cola, which will get you odd looks in any bar outside Argentina, but a lot of kudos within.

As well as a national drink they also have a national infusion; Mate (Mah-Tay) a herby tea sipped through a metal straw from a hollowed out calabash gourd (I am honestly not making this up), which is more obsession than beverage. They walk sipping it, stand around sipping it, and generally go about their business sipping it, pausing only to top it up with hot water whenever they can so they can sip it some more. A friend once told me that only someone born in South America can truly appreciate Mate and I am not about to dispute this claim. My brother once made me drink a tea he'd concocted from wet hay and a selection of my mum's dried flowers, and even that tasted better than Mate. Similar, but better.

Look closely at any city and you can spy hints of what happens behind the scenes and sometimes it's an ugly truth. In Buenos Aires after dark as well as drinkers, dancers, and rampant carnivores, an army appears to root through trashcans in search of recyclables. Many are just ordinary people; The lady who rifled through mine and who would wave cheerily to me whilst doing so was seventy, well dressed and lived in the apartment below me.

It's a city that makes you feel sexier, and from the moment you arrive it attempts to seduce you, and no amount of pledges of abstinence will adequately protect you from it's wily charms.

Give in. It doesn't make you easy. Just human.

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