With its bustling street scene, modern art museums, hidden basement restaurants, and fast-evolving food scene, Argentina’s capital is the most sophisticated city in Latin America. By Sorrel Moseley-Williams
Hip nightlife, a modern art scene and trendy bistros… here’s Buenos Aires, beyond the beef.
One of Latin America’s most energetic metropolises, Buenos Aires today is a city for good times, and late nights. Just bear in mind that 1am is an early kick-off when it comes to Argentinian nightlife, and head for Palermo. Divided into numerous sub-districts, this is the city’s pumping pulse. Palermo Soho is the place for speakeasies and clubs and Palermo Hollywood for burger joints. Retiro has spawned a hip club scene, Almagro remains the preferred haunt for tango aficionados, and San Telmo’s Avenue Caseros is a short yet sweet foodie hub. And with the city designated Ibero-American Capital of Gastronomy 2017, the food scene is extending its palate – it’s not all steak.
Buenos Aires has also cleaned up its act in recent years. The Metrobus and extended Subte, its subway network, means getting around is relatively painless, while 180km of cycle lanes and free bike hire hint at a greener future. Bandaged by scaffolding for years, facelifted facades such as that belonging to the cultural centre Centro Cultural Kirchner have finally been unveiled: a bonus is that many museums and cultural spaces charge low, or no, entry fees.
WHATTOSEE CENTRO CULTURAL KIRCHNER
After a lengthy makeover, the Correo Central post office reopened in 2015 as the Centro Cultural Kirchner. At this neoclassical Beaux Arts beauty all activities are free, from exhibits by renowned local names such as conceptual artist Leandro Erlich, to opera recitals and tango dance classes on the terrace.
Free entry, Sarmiento 151, San Nicolas, cck.gob.ar
ESPACIO MEMORIA Y DERECHOS HUMANOS
An acute reminder of Argentina’s most recent dictatorship – General Galtieri’s ended in 1983 – the former Esma, or navy pettyofficers school of mechanics, was one
of the most active secret detention centres during the Guerra Sucia (‘Dirty War’) waged by the military junta against suspected left-wing dissidents from 1976-83. Today it’s known as the Remembrance and Human Rights Centre, a tribute to the thousands of victims of state terrorism. The Casino de Oficiales is especially poignant, given that an estimated 5,000 people were held and tortured in this building.
Free entry, Avenue Libertador 8151, Nu-ez, espaciomemoria.ar
MUSEO DE ARTE MODERNO DE BUENOS AIRES (MAMBA)
In 2010, after five decades of ferrying works to temporary homes around Buenos Aires, Mamba’s 7,000-strong collection finally found a permanent home at this former tobacco factory. Racking up its 60th anniversary this year, the modern art museum dedicates two floors to paintings and installations by contemporary Argentinian artists like Marta Minujin (right top) and Julio Le Parc. An additional salon and literary café are due to open this year.
Avenue San Juan 350, San Telmo, buenosaires.gob.ar/museoartemoderno
FREE WALKING TOURS
In the morning she works at her family’s security firm, but come the afternoon, Sol Cernadas shows off her beloved city on a free walking tour. One of a group of guides – who offer tours that show off the capital’s eclectic architecture, and include intriguing cultural insights – her goal is for ‘visitors to understand us: who we are, what we’re like and how we think. And, yes, there are contradictions everywhere!’ The Aristocratic tour includes a ‘safari’, featuring statues of lions sporting fixed smiles – her cheeky nod to the natives’ penchant for plastic surgery.
WHERETOEAT ARAMBURU BIS
A trendy yet well-priced bistro from the culinary mind behind fine-dining establishment Aramburu, Bis (far right) has lifted this corner of Constitucion. Thoughtful dishes such as steak tartare with mustard ice-cream, or cheese soufflé, are the mainstay. Slip downstairs to Bis’s hidden basement club, Under.
Humberto Primo 1207, aramburubis.com.ar
In 2010, after five DECADES of ferrying works to temporary HOMES around Buenos Aires, Mamba’s 7,000-strong COLLECTION finally found a permanent HOME at a former TOBACCO FACTORY
Vegetarians, avert your eyes… An ongoing pop-up, Nerca – Argentine slang for meat – invites prominent chefs to prepare a proteinloaded, seven-course banquet at curious venues (how about a metal workshop?), with lamb among other meats in the spotlight recently. Prepare for a meat sweat.
While Proper’s CV screams ‘hipster’ – it has a mechanic’s workshop location (above), and a self-built wood-burning oven – the offering by dynamic culinary duo Leo Lanussol and pastry chef Augusto Mayer is solid. The market-to-table approach is organic where possible; fail-safe picks include oven-charred octopus with pickled beans and garlic cream, or oven-roasted artichokes with cashew nut cream and charred lemon. Building on the Argentinian penchant for playing with fire, Proper gives most ingredients the flame treatment, while moving flavours and plating straight into the 21st century. No reservations.
Araoz 1676, Palermo, 011 4831 0027, properbsas.com.ar
Built in 1714 and having survived four yellow fever epidemics in the 1800s, this casa chorizo – long, thin Argentina houses, named for their sausage shape – was recently saved from demolition. Taking inspiration from a rural pulperia – grocery store – to sell organic produce, Quilapan specialises in hearty fare like buffalo milk cheese provoleta. The decor features football flags and disused street signs.
Defensa 1344, San Telmo, 0054 11 4307 6288, pulperiaquilapan.com
On a residential corner close to Argentina’s biggest cemetery, in Chacarita, Rita is somewhere between lo-fi restaurant and upmarket café. Operating during daylight hours, its diners can kick-start the day with creamy scrambled eggs and bread baked in-house; refuel at lunch with a pearl barley, pumpkin and beetroot salad; or drop by for a slice of carrot cake come teatime. Simplicity rules, and the ambience is equally unfussy, attracting low-profile digital nomads keen for decent coffee, Wi-Fi and a well-priced three-course lunch menu.
Olleros 3891, Chacarita, 0054 11 4554 4555, on Facebook
For a no-frills parrilla (barbecue) experience, head to this clandestine
joint. Mirror-fronted doors used to detract unwanted attention until word got out that Secretito was grilling top-quality cuts at rock-bottom prices. Now, the sparsely decorated tavern, or bodegon, crams in diners hungry to share juicy entrana (skirt) and bife de chorizo (sirloin) steaks. Fans of the Racing football club will appreciate the memorabilia, too.
Dorrego 2720, Las Ca-itas, 0054 11 4777 8351
This cheerful seven-room townhouse in Villa Crespo goes above and beyond the average B&B’s duty, with 300-cotton thread counts and a 24-hour front desk. Fusing rescued wooden floorboards with contemporary furnishings, en-suite rooms are airy, each individually designed. An abundant breakfast is served in the stylish dining room. Querido’s convenient location means Palermo Soho is a short stroll away, though far enough to avoid the late-night hubbub.
Design and comfort are key at this 20-room hotel in hip Palermo Hollywood. From Florence Knoll furniture to William Morris wallpaper, every detail has been hand-picked by the British-Argentinian owners. There’s an outdoor swimming pool, lush, urban garden lined with silk floss and cherry trees, and a compact spa. Walking distance from the nightlife in Hollywood, weekend brunch in-house is a great option the morning after.
TANGO DE MAYO
A huge makeover converted this art nouveau former sewing machine factory in Monserrat into a 59-room hotel – Palacio Barolo is two doors down. And while tango is at its heart, it isn’t obligatory. Carlos Gardel will, however, become a familiar face and aficionados can practise the ocho on the dance steps rug in the privacy of your room. Despite the busy location, traffic is relatively unobtrusive. Head to the terrace for a cityscape of domes and spires. Wednesday’s in-house spectacle is an easy dinner-tango show option.
LA QUERENCIA B&B
Close to edgy Constitucion, this cosy, four-room B&B in San Telmo is run by a French expat, Yann. He has faithfully renovated much of the house – a casa chorizo, built in 1900 – but original elements remain, such as a mural and encaustic floor tiles. Decor is simple but the place is spotless. Guests can make use of the compact kitchen where Yann prepares breakfast – enjoy it in the dining room or on the patio.
Doubles from $55 B&B, laquerenciadebuenosaires.com
Emirates has regular flights to Buenos Aires. Fares start from Dh7,030. Etihad fares to Buenos Aires start at Dh8,410.
Design and COMFORT are key at the hip Home Hotel. From Florence Knoll FURNITURE to William Morris wallpaper, every DETAIL has been HAND-PICKED by the British-Argentinian OWNERS
A work by Marta Minujin (above). Espacio Memoria and Museo de Arte Moderno are sure to captivate culture lovers. Below right: Aramburu Bis is a well-priced bistro.
Clockwise from top left: San Telmo market’s stalls, Rita, Quilapan, the Nerca pop-up and Proper make for memorable food experiences
Tango de Mayo (above) Home Hotel (middle) and La Querencia offer excellent options to relax in the city