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, Palermo Hollywood for burger joints and craft breweries, and Las Cañitas for posher bars. This barrio isn’t the be all and end all, though: Retiro has spawned a hip bar 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.
WHAT TO SEE
Centro Cultural Kirchner
After a lengthy makeover, the Correo Central post office reopened in 2015 as the Centro Cultural Kirchner. At this neo-classical 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 Nicolás, 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 petty-officers 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 leftwing 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, Nuñez, 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 such as Marta Minujín and Julio Le Parc. An additional salon and literary cafe are due to open in 2017.
• AR$20/£1, 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.
WHERE TO EAT
Vegetarians, avert your eyes … An ongoing pop-up, Nerca – Argentine slang for meat – invites prominent chefs to prepare a protein-loaded, seven-course banquet at curious venues (how about a metal workshop?), with lamb and pork to the fore recently. Prepare for a meat sweat.
• From £30, on
While Proper’s CV screams “hipster” – it has a mechanic’s workshop location, 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.
• Open Tues-Sat, 8.30pm-midnight; Aráoz 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 pulpería – grocery store – to sell organic produce, Quilapán specialises in hearty fare such as buffalo milk cheese provoleta, and wild boar slow-roasted for 14 hours in Buenos Aires’ largest clay oven. House wine is served in a classic penguin jug, and the decor features football flags and disused street signs. Fancy a digéstif? Ask waiters Luis or Antonio for the password, then weave through the warren-like establishment to unearth the clandestine patio bar, adorned with jasmine.
• Defensa 1344, San Telmo, +54 11 4307 6288, pulperiaquilapan.com
A trendy yet well-priced bistro from the culinary mind behind fine-dining establishment Aramburu, Bis has lifted this corner of Constitución. Thoughtful dishes such as steak tartare with mustard ice-cream, or cheese soufflé, are the mainstay. A well-designed wine list focuses on unusual local vintages. Slip downstairs for cocktails at Bis’s hidden basement bar, Ünder.
• Open Mon-Sat 10.30am-midnight, Humberto Primo 1207, Constitución, +54 11 4304 5697, aramburubis.com.ar
On a residential corner close to Argentina’s biggest cemetery, in Chacarita, Rita is somewhere between lo-fi restaurant and upmarket cafe. Operating during daylight hours, its diners can kickstart 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.
• Open 9am-7pm, Olleros 3891, Chacarita, +54 11 4554 4555, on
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 bodegón, crams in diners hungry to share juicy entraña (skirt) and bife de chorizo (sirloin) steaks for lunch and dinner every day of the week. Fans of Racing football club will appreciate the memorabilia, too.
• Dorrego 2720, Las Cañitas, +54 11 4777 8351, no website
WHERE TO DRINK
Café San Bernardo
Join table-tennis and pool-playing porteños – the locals – from across the social spectrum at this sports hall, which has been running since 1912. The cavernous Villa Crespo dive bar also offers up table football, billiards and darts for £4 an hour. Always buzzing, service is efficient if brusque; with last orders at 5am, it’s an ideal port of call for a late-night digéstif. The daily happy hour between 6pm and 9pm includes 60 minutes playing your game of choice, plus a half-bottle of red vermouth and a tortilla, for £9.
• Avenue Corrientes 5436, Villa Crespo, +54 11 4855 3956, cafesanbernardo.com
M Salumería & Enoteca
Trading only in wine with a story, sommelier Mariana Torta picks and chooses new selections on a daily basis, and maintains a list of around 250 labels. She is keen to show there’s more to Argentine wine than Malbec and Mendoza, and can put together a tasting on the spot. There’s no wine menu – simply grab your bottle from the shelf, then pair it with charcuterie.
• Open 12.30pm-12.30am, El Salvador 5777, Palermo Hollywood, +54 11 4778 9016, on
CSJ La Vermutería
While vermouth is an integral part of Argentina’s drinking culture, Lele Cristóbal has brought it bang up to date at this tiny bar, dedicated to the fortified wine. The tattooed TV chef mans the hot plates, whipping up tapas such as lamb meatballs with chickpea mash, while the house apéritif – Cinzano Rosso, Fernet Branca and Cynar with a dash of soda – comes on tap for £3. Slotted into the facade of his Café San Juan La Cantina restaurant, the bar is a buzzing space, with bar stools for eight and standing room for not many more. Cash only.
• Chile 464, San Telmo, +54 11 4300 1112, no website
Negro Cueva de Café
After decades of mediocrity, coffee has finally found its mojo in Buenos Aires. While LAB: Tostadores, The Shelter and Coffee Town are notable new venues, Negro Cueva de Café is one of the best downtown. It serves Ecuadorian, Colombian and Brazilian beans, and its tempting pastries include medialunas – the local take on a croissant. A second branch is at nearby Marcelo T. de Alvear 790.
• Open 8.30am-7pm, Suipacha 637, Microcentro, +54 11 4322 3000, negrocuevadecafe.com
Head to the Niceto Vega address and you’ll be confronted with a pizzeria. Don’t worry, it’s the right place; La Guitarrita is the front to “hidden” bar La Calle. Headed by lady mixologist of the moment Mona Gallosi, this indoor/outdoor watering hole is decked out with a campervan-turned-DJ booth, playing hip-hop or house, depending on the night. Order the house cocktail, a potent Jameson, lime and ginger syrup concoction, and prepare to dance until dawn with a high-energy young crowd.
• Open 8pm-2am, Niceto Vega 4942, Palermo Soho, +54 11 3914 1972, on
WHERE TO STAY
This cheerful seven-room town house 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.
• Doubles from £53 B&B, queridobuenosaires.com
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 welcome option the morning after.
• Doubles from £90 B&B, homebuenosaires.com
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’s 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 unintrusive. Head to the terrace for a cityscape of domes and spires. Wednesday’s in-house spectacle is an easy dinner-tango show option.
• Doubles from $75, tango-hotel.com.ar
La Querencia B&B
Close to edgy Constitución, 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. A sunny courtyard is home to two rooms, while the other two are set back from the street; all are en suite with showers. Décor 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