Argentina’s immigration story told through cocktails

At number 18 on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list, Florería Atlántico by Renato ‘Tato’ Giovannoni beautifully honours Argentina’s immigration narratives

September 28, 2023 01:11 pm | Updated 02:35 pm IST

Tato at Florería Atlántico, Buenos Aires

Tato at Florería Atlántico, Buenos Aires | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“My dream was to do a bar that tells the story of Argentina in some way. I did not know how until I found that basement in Arroyo Street,” says Argentinian bartender and bar owner Renato ‘Tato’ Giovannoni, the founder of Florería Atlántico in Buenos Aires, a bar that has made a regular appearance on several best bar lists and currently ranks 18 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.

For 25 years, Tato searched for a basement in Buenos Aires and eventually found one in a classic, aristocratic neighbourhood on Arroyo Street. He explains, “It used to be a little river, and there was a building that once constructed ships to transport goods and people. I thought this probably was an immigrant neighbourhood and decided to do a bar that tells the story of Argentina through its immigration; where migrants came to and what they brought with them. That’s why it is called Atlántico, as the immigrants came through the Atlantic Ocean.”

Affectionately known as “Tato” by his friends, this bartender recently visited Bengaluru for a special bar takeover event at ZLB23, The Leela Palace, Bengaluru, in partnership with The Dram Attic. During this programme, Tato shared anecdotes about his life and career, offering insights into his remarkable journey in establishing one of the world’s finest bars.

Tato making a drink at the bar takeover at ZLB23, The Leela Palace, Bengaluru

Tato making a drink at the bar takeover at ZLB23, The Leela Palace, Bengaluru | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Tato, who had previously studied filmmaking in New York, was driven by a clear concept. While the place had a ground floor, it served no purpose for the bar’s ambience, which thrived in the basement with its ice shakers, music, and subdued lighting. Tato adds, “In the ‘80s, Buenos Aires had numerous flower shops on street corners. I thought, why not have a flower shop on the ground floor with a wine selection that opens at 10 am? Florería Atlántico was born with a blend of flowers, the ocean, and the immigration story.”

“I cannot work without a clear concept for the menu, or a clear idea,” says Tato, adding that it perhaps comes from his background in advertising. “I have this need to learn and investigate,” he adds. Once the concept of immigration was clear, he started studying the biggest tide of immigrants that came to Argentina between 1880 to 1920s and those were the Spanish, Italian, French, Polish, and British.

“So the first six years of our menu were inspired by those nations, we would change the menu every six months with a big focus on Argentinian heritage, produce and our way of drinking. Six years ago, we decided to expand the menu further because Buenos Aires was the largest port after New York to receive the biggest flow of immigration in that period in time.”

The flower shop above Florería Atlántico in Buenos Aires

The flower shop above Florería Atlántico in Buenos Aires | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Cocktail made by Tato

Cocktail made by Tato | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Buenos Aires stood as one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, welcoming over one million immigrants from Spain and Italy, along with significant numbers from Poland, France, Britain, and Russia. The city’s population surged from 4 to 7.9 million between 1895 and 1914.

These newcomers brought their thirst for diverse spirits, including gin from England, sherry from Spain, vermouth and amaro from Italy, and vodka from Poland. The traditions of production they introduced created a rich variety of beverages that became integral to Argentina’s culture. In Florería Atlántico, Giovannoni pays homage to these settlers, celebrating their transatlantic journeys that culminated at Buenos Aires’ Puerto Madero docks.

“Humans have been moving around the world forever, and we all come from somewhere else, yet we all belong to the same world.” After extensive research with Argentinian historian Felipe Pigna, the menu shifted focus to colonies and native towns.

Their latest menu centres on indigenous communities, with one standout drink called Yamanas. This concoction combines Old Tom gin with whisky, Earl Grey tea, spirulina, and a hint of crustacean bitters. It pays homage to the canoero peoples who once inhabited the southern channels of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province. The tribe, known as “yámana,” chose a name that embodies concepts like “humanity,” “alive,” “in good health,” and “not dead” to define their collective identity.

Tato making a drink at the bar takeover at ZLB23, The Leela Palace, Bengaluru

Tato making a drink at the bar takeover at ZLB23, The Leela Palace, Bengaluru | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Another noteworthy creation on their menu is the Colonia Luján cocktail. Made from homemade sake, Príncipe de los Apóstoles gin, kombucha infused with ginger and honey, floral honey, and mandarin, this drink is a tribute to Argentina’s Japanese community, which traces its roots back to the 1920s. While the more well-known groups settled in the Buenos Aires suburbs and Escobar during that era, some Japanese families also made their way to the province of Misiones, where they established tea plantations in Oberá, as documented in Pigna’s research.

Tato is committed to continuing his vital mission of narrating the immigration story through cuisine and drinks in collaboration with Pigna for upcoming menus. “It is an important story of where we all come from,” he says.  

Florería Atlántico in Buenos Aires

Florería Atlántico in Buenos Aires | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

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