GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE -

Specif­cally, the city’s hap­pen­ing un­der­ground cul­tural scene.

Wan­der past Aré­valo 1443, in Buenos Aires’ stylish Palermo barrio, and the like­li­hood is you wouldn’t give it a se­cond glance. Af­ter all, the only thing vis­i­ble is a non­de­script tele­phone booth. But next to that booth some­times stands a burly man wear­ing sun­glasses at night. And if you whis­per ‘Steven Tyler’ into his ear he might just nod and sug­gest di­alling fve. If you’re lucky, that tele­phone booth could buzz open like a trick door and trans­port you to a 1920s-style speakeasy called Frank’s, where men don snap-tight sus­penders while as­sem­bling cock­tails like chemists in a lab­o­ra­tory. Of course, that tele­phone booth might not open. But if you can’t se­cure a spot at Frank’s there’s al­ways The Har­ri­son Speakeasy (se­questered be­hind Nicky NY Sushi), Flor­ería Atlán­tico (hid­den within the forist of the same name), or Vic­to­ria Brown (on the far side of a fake door in the Vic­to­ria Brown Coffee Shop). Hide­away bars may be a jaded ap­proach else­where, but in Ar­gentina’s cap­i­tal they serve as a fa­mil­iar gate­way for ur­ban­ites who’ve heard whis­pers of an al­ter­na­tive cul­tural play­ground thriv­ing be­neath the city’s sur­face. The trend for this ex­cit­ing game of adult hide-and-seek isn’t built on an ob­tuse de­sire for, or at­tach­ment to, cool (un­like, say, sim­i­lar labyrinthine of­fer­ings in Mel­bourne and Syd­ney). No, in Buenos Aires, such clan­des­tine es­tab­lish­ments are largely built on ne­ces­sity – driven un­der­ground by a force­ful cock­tail of volatile econ­omy, ram­pant in­fa­tion and lax govern­ment over­sight re­gard­ing free­wheel­ing en­trepreneurs. Still, for those in the know, there’s noth­ing a few ad­vance emails can’t do in grant­ing ac­cess into this rab­bit hole. Fancy a fve-course meal served in the home of a top chef? Puerta cer­rada (closed-door) restau­rants are, sim­i­lar to the speakeasies, hid­den be­hind un­marked en­try­ways and rank among the city’s top culi­nary ad­ven­tures. Each pairs the at­mos­phere of a small din­ner party with the qual­ity

and ser­vice of a top restau­rant, with many promis­ing the added bonus of face time with the chef. The best of the city’s 45-odd gas­tro­nomic hide­aways in­clude Casa Salt shaker (Latin com­fort food in Reco­leta), Casa Felix (farm-to-ta­ble pesc­etar­ian dishes in Chacarita), and Pal­adar (a meat-heavy fre­side date in Villa Cre­spo). To get di­rec­tions sim­ply make a reser­va­tion on­line, af­ter check­ing to en­sure the prix fxe menu for the evening suits your palate (it will). Most din­ners come with op­tional bev­er­age pair­ings, but for those keen to dig deeper into the ter­roir of Ar­gentina’s dis­parate wine re­gions, book a se­cret af­ter­hours tast­ing at wine shop, Le Bon Vin, in Palermo. Owner Diego Kos­tic takes drinkers on a tour be­yond the fruit-for­ward Mal­becs of Men­doza to the cool­cli­mate pinot noirs of Patag­o­nia and the full-bod­ied whites of high-al­ti­tude Salta, where lesser-known va­ri­etals like Tor­rontés and Bonarda thrive. The closed-door an­tics of the city also reach be­yond food and drink, with nu­mer­ous pri­vate fash­ion show­rooms boast­ing any­thing from leather jack­ets to de­cent derby shoes and a three-piece suit. Vanessa Bell, founder of trend hunt­ing and shop­ping ser­vice Creme de la Creme, takes clients to ap­point­ment-only show­rooms such as Salvador Homme (mod­ern menswear) and Bas­tardo (leather goods), as well as a be­spoke tai­lor who op­er­ates in se­crecy (un­less you go through Bell) out of the iconic Pala­cio Barolo, a 22-storey build­ing near Plaza del Con­greso that was in­spired by Dante’s Di­vine Com­edy. Bell says Buenos Aires has al­ways en­joyed “this sort of cheeky back­street cul­ture”. And more than sim­ply a pass­ing trend, she feels the lat­est crop of incog­nito ex­pe­ri­ences are a happy ac­ci­dent re­sult­ing from un­happy cir­cum­stances, in­clud­ing sky­rock­et­ing rents, crip­pling taxes and the sheer in­fea­si­bil­ity of mak­ing a small busi­ness proftable in a city with high over­heads. Con­se­quently, many young de­sign­ers dis­play de­but col­lec­tions in their apart­ments, or hire small show­rooms on Palermo’s pe­riph­ery, near the Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, where rents are af­ford­able. Sim­i­larly, there are artists, like Ri­cardo Roux, who open their ateliers for pri­vate view­ings and di­rect pur­chases, ef­fec­tively cut­ting out the mid­dle­man and the hefty com­mis­sions of agents (Natalia Mar­giotta of­fers a fan­tas­tic ‘Artists’ Ate­lier Tour’ that takes in some of the best). Again, th­ese more ob­scure out­posts are the type of in­valu­able fnds that de­liver a truer, more in­sight­ful sam­ple of the city and its peo­ple – an ap­pre­ci­a­tion far re­moved from that found by stick­ing to well-worn streets. As for places to rest, even some of the city’s top ho­tels come con­cealed from ob­vi­ous view, dis­guised be­neath vine-cov­ered gates or by un­marked en­try­ways. One such af­fair is the 11-suite ho­tel Hub Porteño. An art nou­veau-style bou­tique, it’s a lux­u­ri­ous won­der with a Belle Époque in­te­rior and a leafy rooftop ter­race, none of which is on show un­til you’ve slipped be­hind the plain-look­ing fa­cade of a res­i­den­tial build­ing in ritzy Reco­leta. Other peek­a­boo ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions, un­trace­able in the pages of most city guides, in­clude Mi­ravida Soho, found be­hind un­marked dou­ble-doors on a quiet, cob­ble­stoned street in nearby Palermo, and Le Pe­tit Palais, which boasts Mad Men- es­que col­lec­tions of mid-cen­tury mod­ern fur­nish­ings likely plucked from the an­tique mar­kets of San Telmo. While fnd­ing th­ese un­der­ground al­ter­na­tives re­quires pa­tience, Bell says they ul­ti­mately de­liver a lo­cal’s vi­sion of the colour­ful town. “I get frus­trated with the Buenos Aires that’s por­trayed to tourists. It’s shown as a place of Mal­bec, polo and tango. But most Ar­gen­tini­ans have never seen a gau­cho, or danced tango – that’s not their re­al­ity.” This city, once one of the rich­est in the world, is rid­dled with lav­ish sur­prises undis­cov­ered on any of the stan­dard steak-and-tango tours. Some, like the book­store strung along the for­mer bal­conies of the Gran Splen­did Theatre, are well known. Oth­ers, like the free screen­ings of rare flms at ENERC, less so. There’s no map pin­point­ing the trea­sures hid­den at ev­ery turn, but for the dis­cern­ing vis­i­tor, the se­cret life of Buenos Aires is a prize wor­thy of pur­suit. n



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