Buenos Aires Café has served as an Austin staple for the past ten years, serving traditional Argentine cuisine of savory house pastas, flaky empanadas, tender asado, refreshing cocktails and more at its two locations on East 6th and in Bee Cave at the Galleria.
The cafe’s East 6th establishment, Café Este, recently renovated its menu options, incorporating more dishes that not only accentuate Buenos Aires’ specific cuisine, but also that of neighboring Argentine cities. Fresh, whole ingredients from a variety of local vendors that are prepared in-house make for a delicious meal among friends and family.
However, patrons looking for a less family-friendly atmosphere now have the opportunity to experience the restaurant’s newest space, a speakeasy called Milonga Room that boasts transportation to a past era.
Milonga Room Is Lost in Time
Beneath the clattering of dishes, warm conversation and inviting aromas of the dining room lies Milonga Room, a 1920s-themed speakeasy residing below the restaurant. In Buenos Aires, “milonga” refers to an intimate place where one goes after hours to sit, drink and dance. It is also a type of tango music and dance itself.
Operating owner Paola MG Smith, her husband Ryan and her father-in-law cleaned, painted and refurbished the entire space that was utilized as someone’s living quarters in the 1920s. Now, it is a richly dark, rustic cocktail bar giving new energy to the cafe’s nightlife.
“When we started Milonga, the idea was to utilize the space and see what we can do. Then we realized we wanted [a speakeasy] all along,” Smith said. Upon entering the ground floor of the restaurant, you are immediately greeted by dim sconce lighting, a framed portrait of Eva Perón and elaborate peacock wallpaper adorning the hallway. Sweeping embroidered curtains are pulled back with thick tassels to reveal the secluded bar that feels a world–and years–away from the cafe and street above.
The walls are painted a dark teal, giving contrast to the lush reds and pinks of the booth, sofa and armchair seating dispersed throughout the room. The gold accents on purse hooks, stately lamps and stained mirrors convey a delicate elegance among the refurbished furniture pieces. Small candles are lit at each table, illuminating vintage posters, propaganda, magazines and artwork carefully selected in Buenos Aires thrift stores. “We really want people to feel like they are lost in time. It’s an opportunity to forget about your phone and the noise outside. Here, you can hear nice music, have drinks and have a great time,” shared Smith.
Near the bar’s liquor cabinet, polaroids of family members and staff, and photographs of legendary Argentine cultural icons line the ceiling, providing a personal touch true to the nature of the country’s familial values and cuisine rituals. You feel as if you are walking into an extension of a Buenos Aires living room, and that’s the goal.
Check for Speakeasy Passcodes
In recent years, speakeasies have become fairly popular in Buenos Aires, with establishments requiring passcodes to gain access to secretive, creative entries. Prohibition was never an issue there, but the desire to revamp neighborhood nightlife with a vintage theme has progressed. It centers on retaining the allure of mystery and the art of making a fine cocktail, with a distinct Argentine infusion.
“Some places may need a passcode, but they are all very creative. They tend to keep up with what’s in trend in the Unites States,” said Smith of Buenos Aires speakeasies. When guests flock to Austin’s Milonga Room, a weekly passcode will be required most of the time to gain entry, and it can be found on the speakeasy’s social media pages. This practice is intended to keep the space less crowded, enabling Milonga Room to maintain its intimacy.
The Art of the Cocktail
While patrons of the upstairs restaurant can experience flavorful entrees like tender mussels, rare steak and fried brussel sprouts, Milonga Room obliges guests to indulge in a variety of liquor, wines, cocktails and light tapas, such as antipasto.
The emphasis is on the drink, namely Argentine libations like bitter fernets, fruity malbecs, amaros, house hesperidina and others. Hand-crafted drink menus possess the same variety you find at Buenos Aires Cafe, but the flavor profile tends toward classic cocktails that require long, slow sips. “Some of the cocktails are inspired from an old bartender in Argentina from the 40s named Santiago Policastro, ‘Pichín el barman elegante.’ He held the philosophy that drinks need to be [enjoyed], and really thought about. It’s a science where you bring love into the cocktails,” said Smith.
Indulging in Song and Dance
As the speakeasy name suggests, Smith plans to incorporate tango music and dancing, even as a demo for guests to enjoy as they drink and converse. Music genres will include a variety of new tango, old tango, mambo, European DJ mixes that combine older, classic tunes with electronic, and beyond. Further entertainment involves a projector stationed on the back wall that will showcase black and white Argentine films, paying respect to this artistic history.
Think of an evening here as time spent with beautiful neighbors that know how to show Austinites a satisfying experience. “My heart is here. It feels like our living room, to be honest. Like I want to come and have a drink here after work. It is a piece of home, of our roots,” Smith confessed.
Milonga Room is open on Saturday evenings from 6 p.m. to midnight. The grand opening party will be held on April 15 and 16 from 6 p.m. to midnight, with potential surprises in store for guests. Stay tuned for the party’s passcode and more information by checking Milonga Room’s Instagram and Facebook accounts.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is your favorite speakeasy?
Talena Ramnath lives in Austin, exploring the old and new in Central Texas. You can reach out to her through Twitter.