Happy campers

Camping 4In what claims to be the first beer garden in Buenos Aires (and I don’t actually dispute it as I can’t think of any others), Camping is taking small yet firm steps in a new direction.

While Anglo-style pubs a plenty serve up decent draught beers — The Gibraltar and Breoghan in San Telmo, Shanghai Dragon and Broeders pop-up beer club in Palermo Viejo and The Bangalore in Hollywood — none of these guys offer any substantial kind of outdoor drinking-space, an essential part of the decision-making process when it comes to forming a relationship with a local.

While spilling out onto the street might be the norm here, sometimes these weary legs need a seat. Read “sometimes” as “always.” I hate standing. I really hate standing and drinking. I might fall over.

At The Bangalore, two pub-style picnic benches take up some pavement, while The Gib’s offering at the back is the size of an ample postage stamp. That’s not enough. Which means this beer garden is a welcome addition to the boozing scene.

Strictly speaking, the clue’s in the name and Camping isn’t really a pub. Its format, however, is pub style — who ever heard of a waiter coming to the table to ask you what pint of beer you wanted to drink in a public house? Self-service it is. But they are aware of what they are serving and there’s no Quilmes in sight — instead, there’s decent on-tap beer made by micro-brewer Siete Colores in Martínez.

While the selection is short and sweet, including lager, red lager and stout at 25 pesos a glass that probably measures a little less than half a pint, the plan is to start making their own brews as soon as they find the right people for the job, according to owner Gabriel Balan. Camping only opened a month ago and there’s still work to be done.

The great outdoors forms the vast past of the concept, but the vibe is cafeteria-on-a-campsite feel, strange on a terrace at the Design Centre in upmarket Recoleta.

Wait until spring, when the potted plants are blooming, and it should feel leafier and green, a bit less suburban, more bivouac but permanent.

Choose some tunes
When you arrive, do the following immediately: park yourself onto one of the six communal tables, then read the Important Information About This Camp Site leaflet. Tap into the WiFi. Choose three favourite songs (that’s the per connection limit). Then head over to the glass caravan to pick up beers and grub.

What? Choose some tunes? That’s right. There’s a virtual jukebox over at Camping, pretty much the coolest thing for any beer-drinking control freak.

Go with mates to fight over selections or drink alone and be truly in charge of musical affairs. Each day, the playlists selected by DJ Soledad Rodríguez Zubieta, a lady who knows her musics, change up but you get to pick what all the other campers hear.

My inner control freak burst to the surface with an evil cackle, wondering if I could put Katy Perry on repeat from the comfort of my bed for the listening pleasure of those on site. “No,” came Gabriel Balan’s answer, because the clever old WiFi knows you’re not actually there. Rats. Foiled.

Pretty fun first-world technology, though, and the choice of tunes should keep most people happy: I picked MGMT, Radiohead, Aretha Franklin and Primal Scream. Cayetana went with Gorillaz while Bernie proudly put on… Katy Perry. And if you obediently and unquestioningly do as I say, hopefully you’ll be sipping in time to your tunes, no coins necessary for slotting into the jukebox.

Camping 1The grub
On to the grub. Served between 8pm and 10pm, the idea is hot and fast, minuta-style, local comfort food. Attentive boy and girl scouts working inside the foliage-covered glass caravan ring the bell at three interludes during that time frame to let campers know food’s up. A watering-can sits at the end of the service area, ready to attend to the plants. I like the idea of the greeny being watered while I am fed and watered.

Catering happens off site but practically next door at Prima Fila restaurant (where you’ll also find the bathroom, either there or in the Hard Rock Café). Although the menu changes daily, expect the likes of milanesa (30 pesos), hot dogs (35 pesos), tortilla, chicken sandwich (40 pesos), corn-on-the-cob (15 pesos) and an egg-and-tomato salad (30 pesos), which is what we tucked into.

This is quick and easy grub, served up on picnic-style metal plates and ideal for sharing — the milanesa was ample, the tortilla firm and tasty, the corn an unusual addition, although the hotdog was a letdown, given that it was just a sausage slapped into bread with some sauces for company.

The drinks situation is self-service to a point — grab a chilled glass, soft drink or a bottle of organic Ojo de Agua Torrontés, Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon from the fridge — then let a beady-eyed boy scout uncork or pour. Then head back to the picnic bench of choice to eat, drink and listen to your tunes in the great outdoors.

Note for winter: ponchos and heaters are on the way to make outdoor consumption a more pleasurable experience.

Terrazas del Buenos Aires Design
Pueyrredón 2501, Recoleta

Buenos Aires Herald, May 18, 2014
Ph: Via Gastronomique

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