BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s capital has a new problem: the growing number of “underground” parties in improvised nightclubs and bars – a sector that is thriving in utter illegality.

In the past two months, authorities have closed down 15 so-called mega-parties, where alcohol was being sold without a license and which operated without a city permit. That’s an average of two closures per weekend. The phenomenon has also been spreading to other major Argentinian cities.

Inspectors from the Alcoholic Beverage Registry (REBA) of the Buenos Aires Ministry of Health placed closed down underground venues where more than 4,000 young people – many of them underage – where partying.

More than 1,000 were at the Aerofest party organized at the Longchamps (north of Buenos Aires) aerodrome.

Around 4,500 people were at the Project X party in Pilar, another Buenos Aires suburb. The cover charge was 300 pesos ($60) and they were selling alcohol to minors.

Many parties are inspired by the 2012 film Project X - Photo: Facebook page 

What are the logistics of this phenomenon? The key is social networking – invitations are sent out online (mostly through Facebook). The people in charge of organizing the mega-parties are young people, who are familiar with the party scene, know who the good DJs are, where to buy the alcohol, and in some cases, they even handle the hiring of security staff – bouncers.

The most sophisticated underground parties use PR firms that give them access to a mailing list of partygoers, guaranteeing massive attendance so that the event is a success. 

Hostels, campsites, clubs

According to Antonio Papasidero, the president of the Provincial Hotels Gastronomy and Tourism Business Association, the Buenos Aires neighborhoods where mega-parties are most often held are Pilar, Tortuguitas, Lomas de Zamora, Adrogé, Moreno and Ramos Mejía. The businessman says that the phenomenon has forced local business owners to adapt their strategy in order to compete with the underground venues.

Papsidero says the parties can make on average between 120,000 ($25,000) and 250,000 pesos ($50,000) per night. The venues charge between 80 ($15) and 300 pesos ($60) to get in. “There is a cover charge but inside drinks are sold at very low prices,” says Papasidero.

Local authorities are almost never able to uncover underground parties. They usually only wise up after residents make complaints or report the parties. Last year in the last trimester, the Ministry of Health closed down six parties and confiscated more than 4,850 bottles of alcohol. 

“Private parties threaten the health of young people because they have no control or protection,” says Alejandro Collia, the Buenos Aires Minister of Health. The official confirmed that his Ministry was increasing controls in hostels, campsites and clubs.

The high season for underground parties has traditionally been around the end of the year – graduation season. “But now we are noticing an increase during the rest of the year” says Papasidero.