Insider Guide: Best of Buenos Aires
South America’s most glamorous metropolis, Buenos Aires sweeps visitors off their feet with an array of galleries, museums and restaurants, and fantastic fin de siècle architecture that won this city fame as the Paris of South America.
Few places match the passion and drama of the Argentine capital, the city that gave the world tango, immortalized Eva Perón and whose roller-coaster history has seen more ups and downs than Mickey Rourke’s movie career.
Don’t lament, and certainly don’t cry for BA.
Instead, embrace the brash, modern beauty of this fast-moving city, using this guide to the best of Buenos Aires.
Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
There is a sensation of flow at the Park Hyatt, whose setting is a converted mansion dating from 1934.
Its marbled passageways run like streams, extravagant chandeliers appear to unravel from ceilings, and one elegant-chic space after another opens invitingly before guests.
This sense of decompression, not just of luxury, heightens at the Hyatt’s private garden, which tumbles away from the mansion in terraces, and at the first-class spa, whose therapies include treatments sourced from the native cultures of Patagonia.
Avenida Alvear 1661; +54 11 5171 1234; from 3,005 pesos (US$640) per night; www.buenosaires.park.hyatt.com
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Faena Hotel + Universe
Conceived for the travelling rock star, the ultra-hip Faena is a recycled 1902 port building located in the exclusive Madero Este docklands zone.
Its Philippe Starck design conserves the cavernous, red brick shell of the iconic building, and sets it against a lavish interior that sparkles with bold colors and furnishings made of crystal and glass.
Amenities are rock-star cool. They include a gourmet restaurant with pure white decor and wall-mounted unicorn heads, and a blood-red Cabaret that hosts avant-garde tango shows.
Martha Salotti 445, Dique 2, Madero Este; +54 11 4010 9000; from 2,254 pesos per night; www.faenahotelanduniverse.com
A hot recent arrival to the BA hotel scene, L’Hôtel Palermo opened in the fashionable Soho district at the end of 2011.
Its boutique design is inspired by the hotels of vintage Paris and contains petite, contemporary suites that are each uniquely decorated with restored furnishings.
Four suites open onto lacy iron balconies with views of the hotel’s star feature: a walled garden anchored by a heated pool and fringed by exotic trees.
Thames 1562; +54 11 4831 7198; from 798 pesos per night; www.lhotelpalermo.com
Abode Buenos Aires
This familial guesthouse in the Soho area is a pink-painted corner building lived in by its expat owners.
Its interior embraces four rooms, each with private bathroom. The Green Room, a double with solid-oak bed, parquet floor and open fireplace is the best of a lovely bunch.
A Spanish roof terrace tops the amenities here, and is the location for barbecues, tango classes and wine tastings.
A generous cooked breakfast and honesty bar round out a budget-cheering experience.
Costa Rica 5193; +54 11 4774 3331; from 470 pesos per night; www.abodebuenosaires.com
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Avant-garde design and Michelin-starred cuisine come together to tango at Unik.
It’s the concept of owner and French-Argentine architect Marcelo Joulia, who has filled his restaurant with objects from his private collection of rare 1960 to 1970 design pieces.
This means lucky diners get to park their derrieres on vintage chairs and dine under polychrome, steel Modernist lighting; a different design lamp hangs above each table.
It's dazzlingly retro, and contrasts with the modern Argentinian cuisine, which features a guest menu by the country’s only Michelin-starred chef, Mauro Colagreco, who was born in Argentina of Italian and Spanish parentage and who is now based in France.
Soler 5132; +54 11 4772 2230; Monday-Saturday: 12:30 p.m.-3 p.m. and 8:30-midnight; expensive; www.unik.pro
Don Julio is a family-owned steakhouse whose lush appeal lies in the provision of two simple yet sublime staples: tender beefsteaks and fantastic wines.
There’s romance too.
This lovely restaurant faces a cobbled street corner in the Soho district and has a rustic, bijou interior of bare brick walls and wooden tables gathered around a sizzling open grill.
Order the specialty skirt steak and pair with a red Argentine Malbec selected from Don Julio’s temperature-controlled cellar.
Guatemala 4691; +54 11 4831 9564; open daily: noon-4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.-1 a.m.; moderate; firstname.lastname@example.org
Asian-American expat and super chef Sunae wows diners each Thursday through Saturday with nights of spicy Southeast Asian cuisine at her leading closed-door restaurant.
The location for this supper club is Sunae’s own Buenos Aires home. There, within a modern-chic space, she treats guests to a four-course menu that tours the best of Southeast Asian cuisine, featuring, for example, hot Thai soup followed by Vietnamese-style grilled pork marinated with lemongrass.
Each beautifully presented dish is infused with the rich flavors and fragrances of Sunae’s childhood.
Address upon reservation; +54 911 4870 5506; Thursday-Saturday: 8:30 p.m.-11:45 p.m.; moderate; www.cocinasunae.com
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Run by the same family of Italian immigrants since opening in 1934, El Cuartito is a noisy, popular pizzeria located at the center of this fast-moving metropolis.
It serves the best slice of pizza in Buenos Aires.
Cooked in clay ovens, they emerge thin and crispy and are whisked to tables by chatty waiters.
The decor is as simple and as likeable as the food: strip lighting, Formica tables, and retro sports posters.
Talcahuano 937; +54 11 4816 1758; open daily 12:30 p.m.-2 a.m.; budget; www.galeriaelcuartito.com.ar
Astrid & Gastón
Peruvian cuisine is in vogue in BA and Astrid & Gastón is a leading exponent.
Sourcing the zingy, ocean-fresh flavors of Peru’s coast and the spices of its altiplano, this Latin American conglomerate creates dishes that go way beyond ceviche.
Its setting is a restored mansion, whose dining spaces are spread over three floors linked by a spiral staircase.
The regal front salon, where guests dine beneath portraits of wigged viceroys, is marvelous.
Lafinur 3222; +54 11 4802 2991; Monday-Saturday: 12:30 p.m.-3 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.-late; expensive; www.astridygaston.com
Buenos Aires’ most stylish cocktail bar, Isabel, styles itself on New York’s late lamented Studio 54.
It sparkles with 1970s glamour. There are mirrors for walls, oyster-shaped dining booths, and retro spotlights that glow on and off like HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey."
At the bar, lightning-quick mixologists whip up vintage cocktails like the Cosmopolitan and Singapore Sling.
Youthful, beautiful patrons pair their drink orders with sushi and caviar items that arrive on delicately tiered trays.
Uriarte 1664; +54 11 4834 6969; Tuesday-Saturday: 9 p.m.-late; expensive; www.isabelbar.com
A live-music venue, Boris Club hosts Argentine and international jazz artists within a purpose-built space of industrial-chic decor and razor-sharp acoustics.
Shows time-travel across the jazz spectrum, with nights of Latin jams, jazz-tango fusion, and swing by popular house band, the Boris Big Band.
Enthusiasts hang out on a cool mezzanine or at one of the spots that hug the stage. Food and wine are brought to you by a swishing waiting staff.
Gorriti 5568; +54 11 4777 0012; Tuesday-Saturday: 6 p.m.-late; moderate; www.borisclub.com.ar
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Possibly Buenos Aires’ most romantic drinking spot, Milión is a converted three-story Recoleta mansion that dates from the belle epoque.
Its design features art nouveau skylights, winding marble staircases, classical columns, terraces and, most memorably, an ornate garden that is perfect for sunset cocktails or moonlit wines.
Belying its stately elegance and glamorous clientele in one of BA’s most affluent areas are prices that are actually quite reasonable, including a happy hour that runs until 9 p.m.
There is a great dining menu, too.
Paraná 1048; +54 11 4815 9925; Monday-Friday: noon-late, Saturday: 7:30 p.m.-4 a.m., Sunday: 8 p.m.-2 a.m.; moderate; www.milion.com.ar
Prado y Neptuno
This boutique best of Buenos-Aires cigar bar in Recoleta woos sophisticates with rolled tobaccos, premium wines and imported spirits.
Customers can arrange private tastings, at which a sommelier marries Cuban cigars with Argentine wines, cocktails and spirits.
The cigar-wine tasting is the most significant Argentine-Cuban pairing since Che and Fidel: a lusty Latin love-in that blends the creamy, fruity flavors of Argentine chardonnays with the smoky, hot notes of Cuban tobacco.
Ayacucho 2134; +54 11 4802 9872; Monday-Friday: 9 a.m.-midnight, Saturday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; expensive; www.pradoyneptuno.com
Since 2005, this funky design store in Palermo has conducted fair trade partnerships with indigenous communities from eight Northern Argentinian provinces, harnessing millennia-old weaving techniques to create contemporary woolen designs.
They include 100-percent handcrafted rugs, garments and decorative objects sourced from sheep, llama and alpaca wools.
Channel your inner Stella McCartney here, too. At the in-store studio, English-speaking staff use chalkboards and computers to help customers create their own bespoke woolens to order.
Gurruchaga 1881; +54 11 4832 6299; Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; moderate to expensive; www.elementosargentinos.com.ar
Autoría Bs As
Autoría Bs As gathers together creations by over 300 leading Argentine designers and artists, forming a retail intersection for both.
Offerings include contemporary art -- Cecilia Ivanchevich’s playful paintings of Argentina’s iconic beef cattle are worth the visit alone -- and clothing, jewelry, books, decorative and other items by eco-conscious designers, who place an emphasis on reclamation and sustainability.
These include Neumática, whose smart bags and accessories are sourced from recycled tire rubber, and Doris Viñas, who fashions jewelry pieces from discarded zippers.
Suipacha 1025; +54 11 5252 2474; Monday-Friday: 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., 4:30 p.m.-8 p.m.; budget to expensive; www.autoriabsas.com.ar
One of Argentina’s hottest young fashion designers, Agostina Bianchi has already dressed the windows of London’s Harrods department store with her limited-production garments and accessories.
Bianchi now has her own boutique in BA’s Soho district. Her ethical, handmade womenswear collections meld delicate fabrics with sensual, delicate designs, affirming a stated dedication to the balance between form, function and femininity.
Thames 1733; +54 11 4833 9357; Monday-Saturday: noon-8 p.m.; moderate-expensive; www.agostinabianchi.com.ar
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Plaza de Mayo
The city’s central plaza, Plaza de Mayo, also known as Plaza de Protestas, has been the focal point for all celebrations and revolutions in Argentina’s rollercoaster history of booms and busts.
The pink Casa Rosada, the presidential house, dominates the square. After 1945, Eva “Evita” Perón urged the masses towards revolution from its balcony and Diego Maradona lifted aloft the soccer World Cup there in 1986.
In 2001, furious Argentines tried to smash down the Casa Rosada’s grand portal as Argentina imploded under a mountain of international debt.
Cementerio de la Recoleta
The Recoleta Cemetery is a walled necropolis of over 6,400 tombs whose labyrinth of streets conserves the burial places of Argentina’s great and powerful.
Politicians, generals, artists, presidents and Eva Perón lie buried here in grandiose tombs of marble and bronze.
Evita’s vault, always adorned with flowers, is the cemetery’s most-visited sepulcher. The last stop in the bizarre 24-year odyssey of her remains that included Italy, Spain and various points throughout Argentina, her final resting place lies at the cemetery’s heart.
Junín 1760; +54 11 4803 1594; open daily, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; admission is free; www.cementeriorecoleta.com.ar
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)
The outstanding Museum of Modern Latin American Art showcases the works of this region’s greatest artists, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Fernando Botero.
Its location is a sleekly geometric building whose minimalist interior really allows the art to shine: from the avant-garde of the 1910s to kinetic art of the 1960s and conceptual works of the contemporary era.
An excellent audio guide offers a run-through of this museum’s most emblematic pieces.
Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415; +54 11 4808 6500; Thursday-Monday: noon-8 p.m., Wednesday: noon-9 p.m.; admission 30 pesos (15 pesos on Wednesday); www.malba.org.ar
Buenos Aires is the uncontested tango capital of the world, offering ample means to watch, learn and perform this “dancer’s dance.”
Where To Watch Tango
Café de los Angelitos
This converted theater space hosts glitzy dinner-tango shows.
Its dancers wow audiences with spectacular renditions of Show Tango, a theatrical interpretation of the genre that embraces athletic leaps, high kicks and dramatic pirouettes.
Sultry tango crooners, backed by an eight-piece orchestra, also perform at this Las Vegas-style extravaganza.
When not staging some of the best live tango in Buenos Aires, this former site of Bar Rivadavia, which opened in 1890, is also a charming 24-hour café.
Avenida Rivadavia 2100; +54 11 4314 1121; open daily 8:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.; dinner and show AR$422 pesos and up, show only AR$130 pesos and up;www.cafedelosangelitos.com
El Viejo Almacén
El Viejo Almacén uses the intimate setting of a restored colonial house in San Telmo to host dinner-tango shows featuring traditional and contemporary styles of the form.
Dancers and singers perform on a small, wooden stage with the support of a four-piece orchestra.
Choose between tables on a balcony or those adjoining the stage, where, steps from the action, the melodrama of the tango intensifies.
Balcarce 799; +54 11 4307 7388; open daily 8:30 p.m.-11:45 p.m.; prices from 400 pesos; www.viejo-almacen.com.ar
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Where To Learn and Dance Tango
Romantic El Beso (“the kiss”) is intimate, relaxed and a perfect spot to learn and dance tango.
A neighborhood dancehall (milonga in Spanish) operated by La Academia del Tango Milonguero, it holds classes each night of the week. Dances (also called milongas) follow classes.
Just pick the night that best suits you: Tuesday is touristy, Thursday traditional and Sunday the most popular. Pastas and wines are served at this venue’s small, horseshoe-shaped bar.
1/F, Riobamba 416; +54 11 4953 2794; class and milonga times vary: check website; www.elbesotangobar.com.ar
The atmospheric setting for this fashionable milonga is a converted, unmarked warehouse on an unlikely street.
It hosts more unorthodox nightly tango classes and dances that cater mostly to the beginner and intermediate levels; advanced dancers should try the La Maria class on Wednesdays.
La Catedral attracts the young and bohemian.
Beneath the vaulted ceiling of the warehouse, people tango, hang out at the veggie bar or lounge on shabby-chic sofas that ring the wooden floor.
Sarmiento 4006; + 54 911 5325 1630; open daily from 7:30 p.m., Milongas follow classes; www.lacatedralclub.com
La Confitería Ideal
A tango haunt opened in 1912 -- and seemingly unchanged since -- Confitería Ideal hosts classes, dances and tango shows.
Classes and dances run daily, with both matinee and evening programs.
Tango shows take place on weekends amidst the Corinthian columns and Art-nouveau skylights of this venue, which Buenos Aires officials formally included among its list of Bares Notables for it cultural significance to the city.
Shows feature Salon Tango, a slower interpretation of the genre.
Suipacha 380/4; +54 11 4328 7750; class and milonga times vary: check website; www.confiteriaideal.com