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The world's best bars: South and Central America

Quintessential drinking experiences in South and Central America – local bars the locals love…

Buenos Aires, Argentina (A 'Pisco Sour' at Milión)
A 'Pisco Sour' at Milión

A lavishly appointed drinking destination in BA's refined Recoleta barrio, Milión has been catering to the city's style-conscious since 1999. The bar specialises in classic cocktails, and the only one to match the heritage and peculiarly South American grandeur of Milión itself is a 'Pisco Sour'.

Almost certainly the most beautiful, graceful bar in Buenos Aires, Milión is over a decade into its reign and still effortlessly outshining the competition. It's impressive from the outside – an ornate turn-of-the-century art-nouveau townhouse – but inside the building's sumptuous heritage clashes elegantly with inspired design touches, contemporary art and projected visuals.

We recommend proceeding straight through to the garden as you enter, all the better to appreciate the fantastic stone stairway leading up to the bar – the sense of elegance and occasion is dazzling. If you find a seat and manage to attract some service, then the experience is the height of refinement. Order a 'Pisco Sour', made with pisco – a traditional grape brandy originating from Chile and Peru, and drunk everywhere in Buenos Aires – sourmix and an egg-white: a sophisticated South American classic for the purists. It's the cocktails rather than the food that are the stars of the show at Milión, but if you're here to eat, try to bag a table on the stunning terrace under the stars. Clemmy Manzo, editor, Time Out Buenos Aires

Milión, Paraná 1048, Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina. +54 11 4815 9925, www.milion.com.ar

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Picture by ReeseCLloyd

Mexico City, Mexico (Pulque at Expendio de Pulques Finos los Insurgentes)
Pulque at Expendio de Pulques Finos los Insurgentes

Drink like the Aztecs with a measure of Mexico's indigenous grog, pulque – the milky fermented sap of the maguey plant. Mesoamericans in this part of the world considered it sacred, and you will too if you order it at Expendio de Pulques Finos los Insurgentes.

The bar may be a bit of a mouthful (locals condense it to 'La Pulcata'), but it's an eclectic and kitsch place. It is a magnet for all sorts of people in the Roma Norte district at the heart of our huge capital. Preppy types resplendent in sports-casual, office clerks, dandy hipsters, tourists and students with their backpacks: all find their natural niche somewhere in this fiercely egalitarian establishment's three floors plus terrace. Aside from the pictures of musicians, the decor speaks of a shrine to local booze: there are maps of the Mexican Republic where that other sacred plant grows, the mezcal-providing agave, alongside painted legends and proverbs about pulque consumption.

And as you'd expect from this level of devotion, la Pulcata's attention to authentic detail is impressive – which is what makes it our top recommendation for the full pulque experience. Here the 'agua de las verdes matas' (water of the green plants) is served au naturale or in curados (flavoured varieties) with, for example, oats, prickly pear or cherry, in half-, one- or two-litre jars. More than enough to drown your sorrows, get you chatting or get you dancing, depending on your initial state of mind.

If the viscosity, smell and taste of pulque are not your thing (they're not everyone's), the bar also lays on its house mezcal, and mezcal creams in an abundance of flavours, along with beers, spirits and wines: 'El que a este mundo vino y no toma vino, ¿a qué chingados vino?' asks the winelist ('Whoever who came to this world and don’t drink wine, why the fuck did they come?'). A very good question.

A word of warning, though: don't get so drunk that you forget about the anti-theft system – unless a waitress gives you a ticket to prove at the exit that your bill has been paid, they don't let you leave. No bad thing. Paola del Castillo, Time Out México

Expendio de Pulques Finos los Insurgentes, Insurgentes sur 226, Roma, México, DF. www.lapulqueria.org

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Picture by Fernando Santiago

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Pinga at Bar do Gomez)
Pinga at Bar do Gomez

Head to Rio's old colonial town for an artisanal pinga – Brazil's national drink, better known as cachaça – served by a friendly bunch who have been doing precisely that for years at Bar do Gomez. For 100 years, in fact, give or take a few...

Santa Teresa is one of the last bastions of old-world Rio. Amid beautiful, crumbling architecture, Gomez is the perfect spot for a considered nip of Brazil’s oldest drink, pinga, aka cachaça. The fiery warmth is also the perfect antidote to the ice-cold bottles of Original beer being served by the dozen.
Founded in 1919, the inimitable Bar do Gomez began life as a Spanish migrant's grocery store (hence its other name, Armazem São Thiago) and retains its idiosyncratic charms to this day, with jars of ancient-looking olives and tinned foods still lining the shelves above the bar.
Gomez has run the bar for years (though presumably not since 1919), making it a dependable local staple attracting toothless characters, dogs chasing cars at the crossroads and a gaggle of locals in various stages of inebriation. Deep-fried bolinhos (cod balls) and pasteis (shrimp pies) come highly recommended, washed down with a great chope (cold draft beer) and more than 60 types of cachaça. Emitting an authentic rough-and-ready charm, this is the essential Santa Teresa experience.
 Doug Gray, editor, Time Out Rio de Janeiro

Rua Áurea 26, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. +55 21 2232 0822

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