NOOK Buenos Aires
Words by Sorcha O’Higgins
Photography Argentinian Tourist Board & Venues’ Own
We head to the Argentine ‘city of experiences’ where the people are generous, open and a little crazy and the place is European in style, South American in attitude and simply incomparable.
Buenos Aires is a city very much like its people: generous, cultured, open, resilient and often batshit crazy. Certainly, it is mired in an identity crisis that stems from a foundation of European immigration to Argentina at the end of the 19th century, creating a somewhat complicated relationship between its inhabitants and the very concept of being Latin American. However, this is what gives Buenos Aires its idiosyncratic character. The city charms with its mix of influences, from Parisian style urban planning and Neoclassical and Brutalist architecture to its very own breed of Spanish that takes its cues, in both words and gestures, from Argentina’s Italian forefathers.
Buenos Aires is not a city of sights: it is a city of experiences. Its humanity is palpable in the passion for football in La Boca or the melancholy of tango in San Telmo, in the protests spurred on by divisive politics in the Plaza de Mayo and in the dramatic chaos of traffic in the streets. Buenos Aires lives and breathes and loves and breaks and picks itself back up again and again and, as such, is as rich as it is complex, and at times infuriating. European in style, South American in attitude and incomparable in essence, the city’s pores seep with opportunity, nostalgia and random interactions that can change the course of a day, or even a life. The longer you stay, the better it gets.
On entering the plush flower and wine shop in the upscale neighbourhood of Recoleta, there are no signs of the clandestine Narnia that hides behind the large refrigerator door set into the wall. Ask for the bar and the staff will open it to reveal a metal staircase that leads down to a long, narrow enclave, dimly lit and sporting maritime-esque murals of hybrid creatures and prohibition-era typography on the walls. Take a seat at the bar, order a tapas from the menu and watch as the barman whips up one of the best cocktails in the city. Floreria Atlantico typifies the contemporary culture of the “puerta cerrada”, or “closed door” concept, where restaurants and bars inspired by speakeasies offer some of the best gastronomy in Buenos Aires.
This tiny bar in Palermo specialises in craft beer, boasting over 80 homegrown bottled and draught varieties. Hit up Cerveceria on a Tuesday night and mingle with the hip hotties who come for the weekly food special that is heavy on taste and light on the wallet. The vibe is friendly, familiar and local, and it’s a great place to while away a few hours with great snacks and even better beer.
Tucked behind the back wall of a late-night pizza joint, La Calle is the latest bar on Buenos Aires’ secluded booze circuit, but it breaks the mould by drawing scenesters who go to dance to the tunes pumped out by the DJ that spins from an open-topped van inside. Steer clear of classic drinks like Fernet and Coke and go for one of the many whiskey cocktails on the menu.
History buffs and lovers of luxury will feel right at home in this opulent boutique hotel in Recoleta. A former home of Argentina’s most revered heads of state President and First Lady Juan and Eva Peron, Melia Recoleta is awash with Evita memorabilia, but it’s classy, not cheesy. If you’re keen to acquaint yourself with the dizzy sights and sounds of Buenos Aires’ urban madness, Melia Recoleta provides a decadent oasis to return to once you have had your fill of downtown, which is just a stone’s throw away.
Home Hotel was one of the first hotels in the city to champion the explosion of culture that happened in Buenos Aires after the economic crisis in 2001. Freedom of expression reigned supreme in the mid-noughties and Home Hotel became a spot for the culturally inclined traveler. Heavy on art and design, everything from the building’s layout to the furniture and murals by local street artists help to create an atmosphere of contemporary casual, and it is surrounded by great bars, restaurants and cafes in the Palermo Hollywood neighbourhood.
If you’re a high roller, or just feeling flashy, Faena is the place for you. The brainchild of hotelier to the stars Alan Faena (also behind the sister hotel in Miami) and kitted out by enfant terrible of the design world Philippe Starck, Faena manages to skim past being gauche to become almost hedonistic. Complete with its own modern art gallery and renowned tango show, this extravagant hotel is located in an former wheat mill and overlooks the docklands regeneration of the Puerto Madero port.
Tito’s Secret Parilla
Tito’s Secret Parilla is a favourite of locals, who have been frequenting this dingy yet characterful steakhouse for decades. The mirrored door and half-closed shutter don’t exactly seem inviting, but once inside, the seasoned staff will make sure you are well looked after. Aside from the stellar cuts of beef that rival well-worn tourist haunts like Don Julio, where Tito’s menu really shines is in its side dishes, something not readily available in most other parillas. Go for the provelta, or grilled cheese, and the creamed broccoli or spinach to accompany your slabs of meat. The ojo de bife and tira de asado cuts never disappoint. The wine menu is limited, so buy a good bottle from a winery before you go and pay the cheap corkage for the best of both worlds.
This quaint eatery in San Telmo has been firmly stamped with the local seal of approval. The staff are quirky to say the least, but don’t let that deter you from the fantastic array of original food that this hole-in-the-wall almacen has in store. Delicious plates of French/Argentine fusion appear miraculously out of the miniscule kitchen, and the food is rich, generously portioned and reasonably priced for the quality and the quantity, something which can often prove elusive in Buenos Aires, the capital city of a country where inflation stands at 40% annually. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu changes daily, so check out the chalkboard for the specials of the day.
One for foodies who don’t mind parting with a chunk of cash for a sensational gastronomic experience, iLatina’s eight course tasting menu takes diners on a culinary adventure through South America, ticking Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Patagonia off the list. The menu can be paired with carefully selected Argentine wines for the full Latin American experience. Great for a special occasion.
Manuela Donnet opened this vegetarian restaurant earlier this year in a former poultry butchers in the low-key neighbourhood of Chacarita, and since then it has become a favoured haunt of vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Mushrooms take centre stage, and although you are given a menu, you do not order, and instead receive a selection of whatever the portobellos of shiitakes of the day have been transformed into. Donnet is a decidedly DIY affair and champions the independent culture of Buenos Aires, where all you need is an idea, drive and a bit of ingenuity to make your dreams come true.
NOLA began as a closed door restaurant in the house of the Argentine/American couple that runs it. The US half of the operation hails from New Orleans, hence the name, and wanted to bring Nola’s distinctive cuisine to the southern cone. The Argentine contingent is a brewer of craft beer, and together they have created one of the hottest spots in town. Packed nightly with both locals and expats, NOLA’s clientele spill out from the compact interior onto the street in front, soundtracked by the chefs shouting out names and orders from the open kitchen. Go for the gumbo and deep-fried mollejas, or sweetbreads, a local delicacy.
There are plenty of places to go in Buenos Aires for a good time, but few are as original and inclusive as the jam sessions at Santos 4040. The conductor behind the famous Bomba del Tiempo drum night on Mondays has transferred his musical talents to this multi-purpose venue every Tuesday to create an improvised, multi-instrument extravaganza that sees some of the city’s best musicians lining up to showcase their stylings on stage. If you’re feeling gutsy, put your name on the list at the beginning for a chance to be called up on stage to jam with the band, and if not, just soak in this incredible audio spectacle from the dancefloor with revelers old and young who come for the music and stay for the buena onda.
This cultural centre in Colegiales used to be an old dance hall and still oozes the energy of a bygone era in both the atmosphere and period features. But in its newest incarnation, La Confiteria hosts some of the best dance parties in the city, with DJs recently returned from European tours hitting the decks to spin funk, soul, hip hop and electro to the hipster masses. Drinks are sold from a makeshift bar that conjures up 90s raves, and the huge terrace is a great place to escape the sweaty mess downstairs and find yourself a Latinx lover.
Niceto Club is easily the best venue in Buenos Aires to see live music. With a vibe straight out of 1994, mirrored walls, discoballs and dry ice provide the perfect setting in which to see international acts like the Brian Jonestown Massacre or Alt-J and local talent like the inimitable Juana Molina. Thursday nights are reserved for Club 69, a night of sexuality and liberation that is a rite of passage for anyone who has set foot in Buenos Aires for even a hot minute. There are two sides to Niceto, A and B, with A usually hosting bands and B hosting DJs.
It would be remiss of you to visit Buenos Aires and not check out either a tango show, a musical and dance performance in a theatre with a three course meal and free flowing wine, or a milonga, a tango dancehall. La Catedral is a low-key milonga located in a rustic old flour factory in Almagro, and it’s worth going just to have a glass of wine, watch the dancers and listen to the live music. La Catedral is a friend to those who are too timid to brave the boards, but if you feel like giving tango a shot, they have early classes at 8pm, and you can stay and let the pros show you how it’s done around 12pm.
See and Do
Parque de la Memoria
Buenos Aires is a city that acknowledges its past, regardless of how painful it might be. Parque de la Memoria is a remembrance park located on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, which was the site of some of the worst atrocities committed by the military dictatorship that governed Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Over 30,000 Argentines were murdered by the state in what is known as the Dirty War, and many of these victims were thrown into the river from aircrafts above. The park is a both a commemorative monument to the “disappeared”, as well as being home to an arts space and sculpture park, with public artworks by artists including Jenny Holzer and Clorindo Testa gracing the manicured lawns. Parque de la Memoria is not only a beautiful and peaceful place to spend an afternoon in its landscaped grounds, but is also essential to understanding Argentina’s turbulent history.
Resist the urge to tick another country off the list by crossing the river to the dull town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, and make your way instead to the wonderful waterworld of Tigre on the Parana river delta. Just a 45-minute train ride away from Buenos Aires, this elegant and charming city is an idyllic escape from the capital. A labyrinth of waterways and islands, Tigre combines Tom Sawyer-esque rustic landscapes with the muddy waters of the Mississippi delta for a uniquely rural experience.
Hang with the dearly departed at one of Buenos Aires’ two amazing cemeteries, Recoleta and Chacarita, Eva Peron’s body, after being returned to Argentina following 16 years spent AWOL on a global odyssey, is located in the Duarte family tomb in Recoleta, and notable bohemians such as tango singer Carlos Gardel and artist Antonio Berni are buried in Chacarita. Both offer fine examples of schizophrenic architecture that pervades Buenos Aires. Père Lachaise eat your heart out.
Football is religion in Argentina, and the city’s rival teams River Plate and Boca Juniors are either God or the devil, depending which side you’re on. Attending a match at Boca Juniors Bombonera stadium is a baptism of fire into the church of football, so go with your wits intact, because you may need them.
Argentines are hoarders. They never throw anything out, have a soft spot for the past and a nose for a bargain. This is good news for vintage vultures and thrift fanatics, as the city has a plethora of weekend markets where you can pick up everything from souvenirs to second hand clothes to antiques and old magazines. The Sunday fair in San Telmo is the daddy of all markets, so fill your wallet and spend the day rifling through the myriad stands that line the length of Defensa street.
The best place to go for small format artworks perfect for your suitcase by local visual artists, illustrators, graphic designers and collagists, buying art at Quorum is a great way to support the city’s independent art scene. Stop in while you’re visiting the San Telmo market, as it is on the same street.
Drole’s unique brand of modern vintage clothing is one for the urban lioness – badass chicks who wear their skirts tight and their socks tubed. It is rare that you can find slick clothes at a decent price in Buenos Aires, but Drole offers clients just that. Each piece is designed by in-house fashionistas and their accessories add edge to any outfit.
Buenos Aires’ most beloved bookshop resides in an old theatre space that has lost none of its dazzling grandeur. Non-Spanish speakers can come for the environs if nothing else, and if you fancy practicing your Espanol, grab a book and recline in one of reading nooks that has been converted from a theatre box on the first floor.
This hidden oasis is a book-lover’s paradise. Behind the crumbling brick walls of this corner building lies a wealth of carefully chosen titles with a heavy focus on art, design and literature. Order a coffee or a glass of wine and head up to the terrace at sunset for the full Falena experience.
This English-language bookshop is a literary beacon in Buenos Aires. The wood-panelled cubby hole in San Telmo is the perfect home for the wide range of new and used books that account for all genres and categories, and new arrivals are detailed regularly on their Facebook page. Walrus also runs highly regarded literary courses and workshops in English where you will meet a host of local writers, both native and foreign.