Santiago Policastro, or Pichin, is the Harry Craddock or Jerry Thomas of Argentine cocktail culture. From the 1930s until his death in 2010, he was renowned throughout Latin America for his remarkable drinks, earning the nickname of “El Barman Galante”. This has inspired Gaucho restaurant group to create Galante bar next to its existing site in Sloane Avenue, South Kensington.
This glittering classic-style bar serves up a selection of authentic cocktails from the 1930s and 1940s alongside contemporary new drinks created by the Gaucho’s consultant Buenos Aires-based mixologist Tato Giovanonni and bar director Lance Perkins.
The Art Deco-influenced bar, created on the site of the once-legendary Jimmy’z Bar, aims to evoke the glamour of the heyday of cocktail culture in the hotel bars of 1930s and 1940s Buenos Aires. Designer Patsy Godik, chief executive of Conceptualise Design, explains: “The inspiration for Galante combines the essence of old-world glamour with contemporary glitz.” The curved pale green Lalique-esque sides of the bar are highlighted by LED lighting, with a mercury-silvered moonscape bartop. “It is a fizzing cocktail of a room with the added sparkle and glitter of a resin floor,” Patsy adds.
She continues: “Mirrored faceted surfaces, inset between cocooning padded leather, create a myriad of reflections, enhancing the feeling of being inside a twinkling jewel box.” The tables and chairs extend the elegant playful theme as do the unique signature designs on the wallpaper and the menus.
The cocktails are served in crystal cut glassware by staff dressed in traditional white jackets or chic black dresses, led by head bartender Eleazar Ruiz. They are trained in classic service style and use bar tools that are unique to Argentina such as an extra-long bar spoon and large-lipped mixing glasses. In the Argentinian tradition, bartenders line up the bottles on the bar in front of the customer as they make a drink.
Pichin’s drinks come from his classic book, Tragos Mágicos (meaning “magic tricks”), published in 1955 and brought to life by Tato, Lance and translator Federico Coco. These include El Pato – named after Argentina’s national sport – which is made with gin, sweet and dry vermouth, Campari and Cointreau. Another cocktail is the Arrabalero (pictured) – meaning “common”, as in the “common people” – which is made with gin, apricot brandy, South American herb yerba mate, Demerara sugar and cacao bitters.
Another section features Argentine cocktails influenced by Europe, while another gathers together twists on classics from bars around Argentina. These use typical Argentinian ingredients that are not normally available in the UK such as Pineral herbal liqueur, Hesperidina bitter orange liqueur and sugar-cane liqueur Legui. They are among an impressive range of spirits and liqueurs that fill the shelves above the island bar – naturally including Argentina’s favourite Italian bitter spirit, fernet.
As in Gaucho’s restaurants, the wine list is made up of the best Argentine wines, selected by Gaucho’s wine director Phil Crozier, with about 25 per cent exclusive to the company. Bar food is small bites such as a ceviche platter, prepared freshly in the kitchen of the neighbouring Gaucho restaurant which is connected by a doorway. Although Galante has no outside area, a range of regular and limited-edition cigars from Hunters & Frankau are available.
The 70-capacity bar is the first in a new investment programme to open more bars on Gaucho sites, starting with Piccadilly in London’s West End and then Leeds. Lance says the other bars will draw on Pichin’s and Tato’s cocktails but will have different names and not be a replication of Galante. “They will be the same combination of classic and contemporary but we will have creativity and freedom for each bar.”
87 Sloane Avenue, London SW3 3DX Tel: 020 7589 4256 http://www.bargalante.com