What grows together goes together
When Tato Giovannoni picks up the phone in the middle of the last week of August, it’s been more than 160 days since he had to close the doors of Florería Atlantico (3rd on the 2020 World’s 50 Best Bars list). And I’m lucky I get to talk to him: since then, he has barely dropped his phone. The second edition of Festival Atlantico, the yearly festival he organizes to showcase Argentina and discuss sustainability issues, was scheduled for the 14th of March. The spread of covid-19 first forced him to cancel some of the confirmed guests. And then, with the rest of the group already in Argentina, things accelerated before the country went into lockdown on March 17th. New flights had to be booked to send everyone home (not least Tato and his wife, who live in Rio de Janeiro). The carefully planned event was cancelled.
With his phone already burning hot, Tato then had to see how to take care of his teams — the State covers half their wages but how can you live on that? And then there were the providers, quite often small businesses with little capacity to survive delayed payments. Even solutions brought problems, Tato tells us. Their canned cocktail line is selling very well, but… « the can importer ran out and we couldn’t produce anything throughout August ». So more calls are needed « but I call people to solve problems and they can’t solve anything ».
There’s nothing like despair in Tato’s voice, though. Unfortunately, in terms of crisis — political, economical or health-related — Argentinians have ‘been there, done that’. People grow to be resilient, and the bar industry, in particular, has had self-sustainability hardwired into it, with low availability of foreign spirits a fixture of the last decade. Tato is behind a few brands himself and is cautiously optimistic for his gin and his vermouth. « March and April were very weak, but since then every month has been better than the last, » he says. With the peso in free fall, export markets are a possibility, while many international brands just can’t make it on the local market. It’s the right time to try and grow the business, both at home and abroad.
When Florería Atlantico reopens (in October, maybe), the lesser availability of foreign products won’t be an issue for his team. As Tato tells us, they’ve mostly focused on Argentinian produce and spirits for a while now. « I don’t know why I should be going crazy trying to find cranberries somewhere when I can just buy blueberries that are grown in Argentina », he says. At a time when bars all over the world are looking for ways to diversify their revenue streams, Tato sees an opportunity in the hard work they’ve put into forging relationships with producers all over the country. « I get the best national tomatoes for my bar. Why am I only using them for my bar when I could give our guests the opportunity to buy them and take them home? ».
Running a sort of Florería grocery would not only make sense in terms of business or as a way of deepening community ties with the neighborhood. It also is consistent with the philosophy behind Festival Atlantico, an initiative that came after years of inviting relevant industry figures for the classic seminar / guest shift combo. « As a bartender, you’re traveling somewhere, stay a couple of days and you have no time to see anything. So when I invited people to Florería I told them to try and stay for a week so I could show them Buenos Aires and maybe go to the wine-region, Mendoza, or to Patagonia. At one point I thought we could make a festival out of it, get everyone over at the same time — and not only people from the cocktail world, but also from food or other activities that we could relate to sustainability ».
Unlike other cocktail happenings, where guests travel somewhere to showcase their work, bringing their own ingredients in their suitcases, the first couple of days of the festival, organized in Buenos Aires, are dedicated to getting to know all the Argentinian produces Tato and teams work with. « It’s coming from all over the country, it’s organic, it’s biodynamic, and we’re also working with native communities — last year we invited a woman who produces chicha <a fermented corn drink from Andean and Amazonian regions> in the mountains. » This part of the festival culminates in an event where the guests create a 8 cocktail menu based on the ingredients they’ve just learned to love.
The rest of the festival takes place outside of the capital, where guests workshop and reflect on the issues at hand. In 2019, it was in Mendoza’s Valle de Uco and this year it was meant to take place in Patagonia’s Bahia Bustamante, a small village (a couple dozen of inhabitants) that was once home to a thriving seaweed industry. « It was over-exploited and then killed off by an oil leak », Tato says. Today, the area is dedicated to biodiversity. The pandemic only postponed the festival’s visit, as this will be the 2021 destination — if everything goes according to plan. Meanwhile, Tato takes more calls. We leave him — worried for the welfare of his battery — because he’s waiting for another urgent call. An opportunity to launch a six month long outdoors pop up. Maybe. More calls will follow. More ideas, too.