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Three Perfect Days: Buenos Aires

The stylish South American capital with an epic history stakes its claim as an international center of cuisine, culture and design

Author Jon Marcus Photography Javier Pierini and Yadid Levy

Café Tortoni, the oldest coffee shop in Buenos Aires

Picture 14 of 14

DAY TWO | After a late start, you make your way back to the Plaza de Mayo and locate the narrow Calle Defensa, main drag of the newly hip San Telmo neighborhood, abutting its southern side. The wealthy who populated this part of Buenos Aires in the 19th century fled after a yellow fever epidemic and rebuilt in the northern districts of Recoleta and Palermo, but now affluent porteños are returning, and Defensa has become a strip of shops and art galleries reflecting the growing local fashion and design scenes (Buenos Aires has been named by UNESCO as one of three Cities of Design, along with Montreal and Berlin).

Your bellman tipped you off to a great lunch spot in La Boca, a working-class neighborhood just south of San Telmo. So you head to the friendly, family-style Don Carlos (1), a classic local joint favored by Francis Ford Coppola (ask to see the owner’s photo album, and you’ll note that the director’s visits have been meticulously chronicled). There’s no menu, but the food — cooked in an asado, or open-mouth oven — is great. After asking, “Meat or pasta?” the owner brings you course after course, from entrée (which, confusingly, means “appetizer,” and here includes a steak) to postre (dessert).

You’re barely able to make it the few blocks to Caminito (2), an unabashedly touristy destination of shops, tango bars and conventillos, the rickety houses built of cheap wood or corrugated metal by immigrants and dressed up with brightly colored paint they “borrowed” from the port. By 1910, half the residents of Buenos Aires were immigrants, mostly Europeans, thanks to an open-door policy intended to populate the vast countryside; La Boca was the neighborhood where many started out. It was here, in La Boca’s plentiful brothels, that the tango was invented. Today, Caminito is a splash of color in this sometimes sketchy neighborhood. You snag a sofa in the rooftop café of contemporary art museum Fundación Proa (3) for today’s merienda: the customary hot ham and cheese (jamón y queso) sandwich, simple but delicious.

It’s time to move your base of operations to the north. You splurge on the 80-year-old Alvear Palace Hotel (4), considered the ritziest hotel in South America, with its gold fixtures, marble embellishments, personal butlers, cigar bar and flawless white-glove service. It’s in the exclusive Recoleta neighborhood, where you discover wide streets, green spaces and mansions built by the Argentine aristocracy, who moved here from San Telmo and made their fortunes supplying the world with beef and other agricultural commodities.

Dinner tonight is at Fervor (5), a steakhouse named for a poem by Jorge Lluis Borges, beloved bard of Buenos Aires. Located just a short block from the hotel, the art deco showpiece is appointed largely in leather, with linen tablecloths and bow-tied waiters in long aprons circulating around the main floor and balcony. After enjoying the hot biscuits, you dig into the rib strip, or asado de tira, from the same part of the cow as the ribs Americans like to barbecue, but cut crossways. You substitute the ubiquitous seasoned frites — the fries Argentines seem to eat with everything — for a side of sublime mashed potatoes. Thinking ahead, you request a half portion …

… Because it’s time to tango. Like everything else in Argentina, this dramatic dance is a blend of cultures: Spanish, French, Italian and African. The woman sits; the man nods; they join and the dance begins. Skipping the pricey tango dinner shows (which are for tourists), you watch and join in with the locals at Salon Canning (6), a milongo in the Palermo Soho section. Milongos typically don’t open until after 9, and don’t really get going until well past that. This one offers lessons, so without any excuses, you end your day like an Argentine: very, very late at night, dancing.

2 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Buenos Aires”

  1. Sebastian Says:
    January 5th, 2012 at 9:02 am

    It’s quite curios to see the fascination of foreigners with Evita Peron. The picture they have of Evita comes probably from the movie or the play and has no connection to the real character. Many Argentineans have a very different and much less favorable opinion of who she was and what she did. At the same time and again based in a film, Juan Peron is view as a dark power behind her, also false. There would be no Evita without Peron and he was the driving force behind the changes that improved the living conditions of most workers in Argentina.

  2. Eva Says:
    July 29th, 2012 at 10:48 am

    I think the author missed the mark. Most Argentineans go to Fervor for the seafood and fish, not the steak. Shopping on the same day in Palermo and in Recoleta is like shopping on Madison Avenue and in Brooklyn all in one afternoon. Buenos Aires is a large cosmopolitan city and it takes time to get from one place to another. Argentineans take you past the Evita Peron photo, say take a look, you’ve seen enough. There’s so much more to this wonderful South American city with locals who speak Spanish, act like Americans, and think like Italians.

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