Tato Giovannoni is looking at the sea from Hotel Nacional’s garden, overlooking the Malecón. “I’ve wanted to come here for years”, he reflects. “I know I will come back. Cubans and Argentinians, we love each other. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is. There’s so much to do here, it’d be great to open a bar”. Who knows what the future holds… Right now, though, Tato, who was in Havana to judge the 2016 Havana Club Grand Prix, is keeping himself quite busy, running three bars and managing two products.
As Argentina’s most famous bartender, Tato has had a hand in every big change the local bar scene went trough over the last twenty years. Born in Pinamar, a small resort town 4 hours from Buenos Aires, he worked from a very young age at his father’s restaurants and bars. When he moved to the big city to study graphic design and advertisement (“I never worked in the field, but a lot of what I studied I apply to cocktails”), he bartended in nightclubs, where he learned all about speed and efficiency, before landing a cocktail job in 1997.
"Back then, the only classic cocktail bars were in hotels. We had a huge tradition in the 50’s – actually our golden age took place at the same time as Cuba’s – but it disappeared for more than twenty years. The Gran Bar Danzón changed everything and I got a job there through a friend.” After Danzón, Tato worked for many bars and hotels, contributing to the crazy growth of cocktail bars in Buenos Aires. “Over the last 4 or 5 years, many bars have opened. Most of them still import trends, such as prohibition and speakeasies, instead of looking at what’s really Argentinian, but they’re helping educate clients, change their palate and that’s great. Now, little by little, we start appreciating our own culture, which, in term of drinks, was heavily influenced by Italy.”
4 years ago, Tato finally found the ideal spot and opened Florería Atlantico, a bar one enters through a flower and wine shop. Initially, he ran the space with a team of six people. They’re now 45 and have featured 3 times in the World’s 50 Best Bars. “I wanted to pay tribute to the migrants who came here from Poland, Spain, Italy, or England between 1900 and 1920. Their experiences inspire our drinks.” The restaurant is also very important: “it’s a traditional neighbourhood, with lots of people aged 80 or 90 and although we didn’t expect it, we found out they enjoyed our food and started booking. This helped us a lot”. Tato has now opened Brasero Atlantico next door, a diminutive space serving grilled meat, conserves and bottled cocktails.
“I think this concept around immigrants coming from the Atlantic could really work in Cuba. And much like Cuban cantineros, we’ve also had problems getting a lot of products in Argentina, which is why we had to be creative”. Over the last few years, Argentinian bitters or single malts have reached the market and, here again, Tato was a pioneer, with a gin and now a vermouth. “Before, people would say ‘oh, this was made in Argentina so I’m not drinking it’, now they want to have it precisely because it’s local. We’re doing what our great-grandfathers did and making our own products”.
Maybe one day Tato will work in tandem with Cuban bartenders and help breathe new creativity into Havana’s scene. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying another kind of tropical paradise: Rio de Janeiro, where he moved with his family. He recently bought a refreshment stand on one of the city’s beaches. Fresh fish and cocktails inspired by… the Brazilian migratory experience. A beach shack, every bartender’s dream. Right, Tato?