A View from the City: Asunción

Gaston Abramoff, CEO of DigitalBites and Speakeasy SA, which runs the speakeasy at The Brooklyn Hotel in Asunción, Paraguay, talks to Hamish Smith about the city's emerging bar scene.


Tell us a little about the history of your city’s drinking culture. What are the traditional drinks and how are things changing? Are young people drinking differently to older people?

Asunción is a beer-drinking city by nature (46 litres per capita) with big economic and cultural growth, and it often receives visitors from all over the world. Because of this growth it is easy to find the world’s best brands and products here. At supermarkets and wineries you can find at least 50 brands of beer and different rare alcohol bottles from many countries. 

When did the city get into cocktails - or is there still a way to go before we can say there is a cocktail culture?

In the past year some places were encouraged to break the brewing cultural barrier and began to develop world-class advanced cocktails that quickly captivated customers and began generating more demanding palates. I think it is premature to talk about cocktail culture but it is on the way.

Who and what are the pioneer bartenders and bars?

The first and most recognised cocktail bar in Asunción is the Brooklyn Hotel. A speakeasy that recreates a legendary hotel of the prohibition era, where the likes of Al Capone, Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano and other Mafiosa asked for room 102 to access the secret bar. From there they controlled all the alcohol traffic and other illegal stuff.

The Brooklyn Hotel has an extensive bar in the main hall where non-traditional cocktails are served. The flagship is the Union Pacific, a Ciroc vodka, Earl Grey tea, citrus juices, Aperol and ginger syrup drink that is served in a replica of the train carrying hidden alcohol in the Prohibition era.

Besides the main saloon, Brooklyn Hotel offers themed rooms, such as the 102 (Johnnie Walker) and 104 (BMW). Both have a special reserve drinks menu that can only be ordered inside them. That’s what I call an experience inside another experience.

In the past year there have been emerging bars such as Pazzo or La Cachamba, which dared to leave traditional cocktails and play some more with the flavours and garnish.

Where do you think the city ranks in terms of bar scenes in its continent – is it leading the way or are other cities and scenes more influential?

Asunción is new in the cocktail world but it is growing very fast, driven mainly by Argentinian trends. We do not have many places that serve good cocktails, but we have a few that are world class and bring you an incredible experience.

Do economical shifts affect cocktail consumption? Do you feel like cocktail consumption is at an all-time high?

Asunción has a very stable economy so I don’t think economical shifts influence cocktail consumption at all. In fact, I think the cocktail drinking culture has arrived to stay and that future generations will take it as a common thing in their lives.

What are the challenges the city’s bartenders/bar owners face?

The bars and bartenders in Asunción run with the big challenge of convincing their clients to leave the classics and to take a chance on experiencing new things. I am convinced that they are on the right path.

Who has made you the best cocktail you’ve had?

The best drink I have had was the Lucky Luciano – a Wild Turkey-based cocktail with maracuyá reduction and edible flowers made by Fernando Alegre, head bartender at the Brooklyn Hotel and one of Asunción’s mixology icons.