Author Matt Chesterton
DAY TWO / Though your guidebook may say otherwise, Calle Caminito is the true birthplace of the tango—a dance invented by gangsters and shady dames.
Porteños don’t really do breakfast—perhaps a result of not having eaten dinner until 10 the night before. So you might settle for an almond croissant and a coffee, and for that you can’t do better than 1Oui Oui, a charming café a short stroll from the hotel.
Today you’ll be seeing the city in its rags and its Sunday best. Start by taking a taxi to 2Caminito, in La Boca. This little street, with its famous tenements dolled up in vivid colors, is the cultural center of a neighborhood founded by Genoese immigrants in the late 19th century. Though your guidebook may tell you otherwise, this formerly racy street is the true cradle of tango—a dance invented by gangsters and shady dames and fine-tuned in nightclubs.
La Boca is impoverished but proud. And the totem of that pride is 3La Bombonera (literally, the Chocolate Box), the giant soccer stadium that structurally and spiritually dominates the neighborhood. This is home to the storied Boca Juniors, and the stadium’s impressive museum presents a fascinating paean to the club. Close by La Bombonera is another museum, the recently renovated 4Fundación PROA, which is the city’s best modern and contemporary art space.
Taxis outside the museum take you to Plaza Dorrego, a Spanish-style square in the heart of San Telmo. Grab a table outside the century-old 5Bar Plaza Dorrego and order a light lunch and a cold chopp (glass) of Quilmes, Argentina’s best brew. On Sundays, the plaza is the site of BA’s best-known antiques market. The rest of the week it’s taken over by ad hoc tango demonstrations and buskers.
Now head north on Defensa, a picturesque street famous for its antique stores. You should stop for a browse—and quite possibly a splurge—in Guevara Art Gallery and HB Antiquedades. (Caveat emptor: Shipping a chandelier from Buenos Aires to Ohio is as tricky as it sounds.) San Telmo is BA’s latest boom barrio, and the wave of gentrification paved the way for quirky homeware stores and boutiques. If you’re in the mood for label-hunting, check out L’ago, Materia Urbana and Pueblo Indio, all on Defensa.
Now for something completely different. When you intersect with Avenida Belgrano, grab a taxi and ask for Plazoleta Carlos Pellegrini, in the Recoleta neighborhood.
Saunter down 6Avenida Alvear, a thoroughfare so Parisian you’ll swear you hear “La Vie En Rose” drifting from a café door. You’ll pass architectural pearls such as the resplendent Second Empire– style Jockey Club, the Streamline Moderne apartment building, the Beaux-Arts Palacio Duhau (now a Hyatt hotel) and the spookily neogothic Residencia Maguire. Then you’ll come across the Alvear Palace. Turn left at the end of the avenue and stop for tea at old-school café 7La Biela. Here, you can watch dowagers feed croissants to their Tibetan spaniels. Be careful, these dogs bite.
Now that you’ve seen where the city’s bygone oligarchy once lived, it’s time to see where they’re buried. Just across the street is the world-famous 8La Recoleta Cemetery. Here, the marble mausoleums are bigger, better decorated and quite possibly more lively than your own home. Walking around among them, you’ll see the names of presidents, writers, boxers and Eva Perón herself.
It’s time to drop off your shopping bags at the hotel and take a taxi back to San Telmo, where a candlelit table and a nine-course tasting menu await you at 9La Vinería del Gualterio Bolívar. Chef-Owner Alejandro Digilio worked at Spain’s El Bulli under the acclaimed Ferran Adrià, and Digilio’s complex, often playful dishes reflect the influence of the Catalan molecular gastronome. Standouts include the 30-ingredient salad, lamb with scallops, seared salmon in a melon and celery broth, and cotton candy dusted with fresh black pepper (yes, really). Go for the wine pairing option, which includes a different Argentine label with every course.
Still thirsty? Walk four blocks to 10La Puerta Roja (the red door), an unmarked bar—the clue is in the name—with dim lighting, great drinks, a friendly crowd and a purely notional closing time. Oops, you forgot to tango! There’s always tomorrow….