“On a busy night, we put on Mötley Crüe’s ‘Kickstart My Heart’ and the energy goes through the roof,” Charly Aguinsky tells us. Tres Monos, the Buenos Aires bar Charly and Sebastián Atienza opened in June 2019 (they were joined by Gustavo Vocke shortly after), has won the World’s 50 Best Bars’ Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award 2023. And, we discover, at Tres Monos, it’s not only the Mötley Crüe song that has lots of heart.
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That’s partly to do with Charly and the team working with lots of local small-scale producers in Argentina. “You get really emotional learning about what they do,” he says, putting his hand on his heart.
Patagonia Cider Makers And A Collective In The North
Charly and the Tres Monos team visit cider makers in Patagonia or go to the north of Argentina, to Jujuy, that’s 4,000 meters above sea level, looking for the kinds of ingredients – like rica rica, muña muña, arca and tola – that only grow around there.
“There’s a cooperative in the north, called Bio Conexion, that catalogs the products of the small-scale producers there – maybe they don’t have the internet, some might not even have a phone – and distributes them in Buenos Aires. There’s no way you could get these things otherwise,” Charly explains.
“For us, quality isn’t necessarily a 30–year-old single malt. What Mariana Barrera is doing at Sidra Pülku, the Patagonia craft cider company that was first started by her parents, is quality too,” he smiles.
Cultivating A DIY Attitude
The country’s accumulation of financial troubles has helped create that kind of DIY mindset. Charly, who is still only 32, doesn’t recall it ever being any other way. “Ever since I’ve been bartending, it’s been like this,” he tells us. “Stocking products has always been a problem, controlling costs has always been a problem…” Even usually big-pocketed distributors have shied away. “So, we’d either focus on local ingredients or make our own,” Charly shrugs.
They make their gin and their own sake that go into the cocktails like their bright, fresh, and low ABV Misticollins. “Actually, that would be my go-to order right now,” Charly continues. “It has our Tres Monos Sake, that’s made from fermented Koji rice and lemon peel, Argentinian gin, aloe vera, cucumber and tonic water.”
An Iconoclastic Neighborhood Bar
Tres Monos flipped a middle finger at the industry in other ways too. There’s even a large neon middle finger behind the bar, which, we tell Charly, doesn’t feel particularly hospitable. “Oh, it’s not aimed at guests,” he quickly corrects us.
“We opened Tres Monos as a small neighborhood bar for just 35 or 40 people. Back then, in 2019, there were lots of big-budget speakeasies opening here, all elaborate decor and hidden entrances, but we wanted to be the kind of place where you go in, you ask the bartender what’s good, and you strike up a conversation, and, hopefully, come back two or three times a week.”
The neon sign in the bathroom at Tres Monos that reads #fuckyourlikes emphasizes the point. They even said ‘Fuck Your Mojito’ “and before that we did a ‘Fuck your Daiquiri’” Charly adds.
“But that was really about taking the classics and making them our own,” he elaborates. For the ‘Fuck Your Mojito’ we used a local gin instead of rum, and we made our own cumin, lemongrass and mint coulis to make it taste fresh and minty like a Mojito but the cumin and the botanicals in the gin take it some place else.”
Lockdowns, Hardships And Trouble-Maker Siblings
Despite its obvious hardships the pandemic forced the same kind of resourcefulness as the country’s financial challenges. It prompted Charly and the team to develop the three pillars of the business – the bar, their educational side and their consultancy business that included selling bar tools, which all quickly switched to an online offering. They even discovered they could put seating on the street outside Tres Monos.
“In hindsight, it was good for us, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time,” Charly muses. “We still have the outdoor seating even now, which we wouldn’t have known we could do otherwise.”
They opened their second bar, La Uat, two years after Tres Monos, in the middle of the pandemic, as its “a younger, trouble-maker sibling.” Only a week later, as conditions worsened again, they had to close it.
At least it came into its own during the World Cup, at the end of 2022, Charly acknowledges. They could set up a big screen on the terrace to watch the games, as they did during the final, when Argentina played France.
They planned to open Tres Monos later that evening, only the football-loving nation went on to win. “Everyone was so ecstatic and they spilled onto the streets and we thought let’s just enjoy the moment and close for the night. People here had been waiting for this for a long, long time.”
Tres Monos’ Hospitality Hacks
Don’t let all those free-spirited fingers in the air fool you though. Tres Monos’ Charly Aguinsky, Sebastián Atienza and Gustavo Vocke understand the business. And hospitality. Charly and Sebastián were both brand ambassadors before this – Charly with Monkey Shoulder and Sebastián with Campari.
So, besides the basics: a warm welcome, a shot of punch and a glass of water, guests always get an overview of the cocktail program at Tres Monos. “Of course, there are regulars who are aware of it already, but there are also tourists and people, locally, who’ve maybe just heard about us. In any case we want them all to understand what we’re trying to do,” Charly explains.
They might have initially just wanted a gin and tonic, or a beer, before opting to go with one of the team’s recommendations.
“We like to give people different things to try,” Chaly continues, “and if they order something that they don’t like, we change it immediately.”
Last week, which was Negroni Week, was another good example. Although some guests came in for a classic Negroni, Tres Monos revived two twists on the classic from previous menus. And they’d let guests have a taste before they decided. “All this, I think, encourages people to come back again and again too,” Charly says.
World’s 50 Best Bars’ Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award 2023
Charly says they never set out in pursuit of accolades, but winning the World’s 50 Best Bars’ Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award 2023 didn’t come completely out of the blue. “The first hint that we were doing something noteworthy came during the pandemic, when Tales Of The Cocktail named us among the best new bars in the world in 2020, alongside places like Tayer + Elementary and Kwãnt in London, and Byrdie in Melbourne.
“We were like ‘Wow!’ we just opened this neighborhood bar at the bottom of the world and we’re getting noticed. But, at the same time, it’s still the pandemic, and we’re just trying to pay people’s salaries and get by,” he remembers.
Then, World’s 50 Best Bars named Tres Monos at #33 in their 2021 list, rising to #27 in 2022. And Tales Of The Cocktails named them alongside the best bars in the world again.
“And we’re only four years old – half of which was during the pandemic,” Charly says in awe at the achievement, hand on heart again.