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In Buenos Aires,
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In Buenos Aires, the living's easy

It doesn't cost much to eat, drink and dress well in Argentina's stylish capital city. Gourmet meals for $10, anyone?

By Molly Malone, Special to The Times
August 20, 2006

DOWNTOWN streets bustle with blonds, brunets and redheads wearing the latest European fashions. People talk on cellphones, smoke cigarettes over cappuccinos and greet one another with kisses on the cheek.

This Parisian-style city, renowned for tango and steak, has become downright cheap since the devaluation of the peso. A gourmet dinner for two with a bottle of local wine goes for $20.

I took my first trip here in 2000, when food, hotels and clothing were more expensive than most fashionable spots in Manhattan. A year later, Argentina's economy collapsed, the peso plunged and this swank city became affordable for Americans.

I moved here from Los Angeles three years ago to get a master's degree at a private university. Now, I never want to leave.

You don't have to live here to experience the Argentine passion for life. It lurks in every corner. But Buenos Aires lacks a comprehensive list of up-to-date places where locals go for happy hour, a night of live jazz or a bite of gourmet cuisine. So with the help of my cost-conscious, fashionable Argentine friends, I compiled my own list.


IT TAKES TWO: Argentina’s world-famous dance — the tango — is celebrated in performances and artwork throughout Buenos Aires, including the San Telmo neighborhood.
Molly Malone / For the Times
January 3, 2005

Barrio Norte

ONE neighborhood that has become a recent craze for Argentine yuppies is Barrio Norte. Its cobblestone streets are filled with chic clothing boutiques, corner bakeries, funky bars, small dance clubs and stylish restaurants.

A great place to eat is Parrilla Tabaré on Charcas Street, where you can enjoy a complete lunch, typically served from 1 to 3 p.m., or dinner, which starts at 9 p.m. It has a warm ambience with white linen tablecloths and salmon-colored walls.

Parrilla Tabaré specializes in grilled beef — almost every part of the cow. Bife de lomo (filet mignon/tenderloin), bife de chorizo (T-bone), asado de tira (side ribs) and entraña (center cut) are just some of the dozens of options. Fish lovers should try the white salmon from the coastal town of Mar del Plata or the freshwater trout. A three-course dinner for two with a bottle of fine Argentine Malbec wine will cost about $19.

Two blocks away is a major shopping thoroughfare, Avenida Santa Fe. Between Calle Bulnes and Avenida 9 de Julio, you can find bargains on leather shoes, handbags, lingerie and clothing and shop at Alto Palermo, a trendy mall. Prüne, on the mall's second level, is an excellent place for high-quality leather purses and wallets. (When shopping for clothes, be prepared for a struggle if you wear anything larger than a medium or a size 8 shoe. Argentine women are petite, and much of the clothing is skintight and extra small.)

At Avenida Santa Fe and Calle Callao, you'll find Bond Street, a punk-influenced shopping area for the younger generation. The three-level labyrinth of stores includes dozens of piercing and tattoo shops straight out of Venice Beach.

If you prefer contemporary and experimental jazz tunes, head for Thelonious, a popular spot that's hidden from public view. After going through its black iron door and climbing the dark stairs, you'll enter a brick warehouse filled with low tables and leather sofas. The funky wire chandelier hanging over the stage has hundreds of light bulbs. Mixed drinks, wine, pizzas and cheese plates are offered, as well as jazz nightly.


THE central landmark in the Palermo neighborhood is Plaza Serrano. Seven days a week, the plaza is full of attractive young people at outdoor cafes drinking beer and enjoying a picada (an appetizer of assorted hams, salami, cheeses and olives). On Saturdays and Sundays, the plaza and its surrounding cafes house an extensive jewelry and funky retro clothing fair. You'll pay no more than $3 to $10 for skirts, tops, lingerie, jeans, belts or shoes.

Around the corner is the one-room La Finca wine boutique, with an assortment of vintages from top wineries, including Viña Cobos, started by Napa Valley's Paul Hobbs in Mendoza, Argentina. Try the full-bodied 2002 Cobos Malbec, which scored 95 points in Wine Spectator magazine. (The main grape grown in Argentina is Malbec, which was brought more than a century ago from Cahors, France.)

Grab a chair at one of La Finca's small wooden tables, sip a glass of wine, and snack on goat cheese and sun-dried tomato tapas.

For elite dining in the neighborhood and an excuse to break away from Argentina's carnivore-centric cuisine, try Casa Cruz Restaurant. Towering brass doors lead into a softly lighted room with an oval bar, long sofas and burgundy velvet chairs. The back wall of the dining area is glass, converted into a transparent wine cellar with a view of the kitchen.

Chef Germán Martitegui is among the best known in Buenos Aires, preparing dishes that are substantial and always delicately presented. The menu includes lightly smoked red tuna with lentil salad and grilled octopus with passion fruit purée. An average main course costs $13.

Since it opened more than a year ago, Casa Cruz has become the spot for Argentine models and businessmen, and visits from international pop stars such as Enrique Iglesias and actors such as Colin Farrell and Benicio Del Toro are everyday occurrences. Make your reservations at least two days ahead.


A BUSTLING PLACE: Pedestrians add to the vibrant scene along Florida Street in Buenos Aires’ downtown. The city is full of affordable restaurants, shops and bars.
Molly Malone / For the Times
January 3, 2005


MOVE on toward the city center, and next to the Retiro train station, you'll find the 180-foot tall English Clock Tower nicknamed Big Ben, donated by the British in 1916. Across the street is the Islas Malvinas-Falkland Islands War Memorial, which is set in lush San Martín Park. It commemorates the Argentine troops killed in the 1982 Falklands War with Britain.

Just a few blocks from Plaza San Martín is Casa Roca Restaurant, set in a 19th century Italian-Renaissance style mansion that was the home of ex-President Julio A. Roca. The high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, Persian rugs and wild pheasants roaming the garden make visitors feel as though they have been transported to Tuscany. The house has been converted into a quiet refuge in the city center, offering a gourmet three-course menú del día, for $14 per person. It's open only for lunch from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

In the heart of the Microcentro, there are popular happy-hour destinations that are especially pumping on Wednesday nights. The craziness begins around 9 p.m. for drinks, and the dancing lasts until 6 a.m.

The largest is Opera Bay, designed to look like a miniature Sydney Opera House, with huge white triangular-shaped sections forming the roof.

The club is along the Río de la Plata in the newly developed Puerto Madero area. It's full of writhing Argentines in their 20s and 30s wearing suits and ties while dancing to '80s, '90s, techno and Latin rock music on its four dance floors. Come early to dine and watch people flirt their way through the crowd

San Telmo

ALSO hopping until sunrise and best on Wednesday nights is Club Museum, in a building designed by Gustave Eiffel, the architect of Paris' famed tower. Outside, it looks like an old warehouse, but inside, it's a multi-level dance area constructed from steel bars. Here, you'll find a mix of Argentines in their 20s to 40s, enjoying a night of dancing before they roll into work the next morning.

For tango, head to Bar Sur. This traditional tango bar has only eight tables, and professional tango dancers perform from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily. The fee is $30 per person, with appetizers included. Reservations are a must.

If you are in the mood for an exclusive VIP experience, don't miss the swank Club 647, a members-only restaurant that's open to the public by reservation.

Inside, you'll see dark blue walls and velvet chairs, glass-beaded chandeliers and a red light that oozes from behind the bar, illuminating life-size photographs of three partly nude women draped in black satin, wearing Carnival masks and sprawling on a chaise longue.

Nonmembers are asked to leave at 2 a.m., unless the club's English owners invite you to the members-only area upstairs behind smoky glass walls. The club code of conduct says, "What happens in Club 647 stays in Club 647."


AFTER a night of partying, some exercise and fresh air might do you good. A good option is Rosedale Park, where anyone can take a free gym class outdoors, maneuver a paddleboat on the lake or rent a bike. On the park's island is a botanical rose garden with a Baroque-style bridge connecting a paved running path.

Just a five-minute taxi drive from the park, down Avenida del Libertador, you can have a traditional English tea from 3 to 5 p.m. at the upscale Alvear Palace Hotel's garden room underneath a glass dome. The assorted trays are filled with bite-size sandwiches, pastries and chocolates, as well as authentic herbal teas. Each tray serves two people and costs $11.

Walk down Avenida Alvear, the Rodeo Drive of Argentina, and you'll pass high-end designer shops — with Beverly Hills prices.

A few blocks down, make a left and you can't miss the new hot spot Rubia y Negra Bar and Restaurant, which is upstairs and illuminated by candles. It opened last year and offers its own delicious dark and light brews. Beautiful people of all ages lounge on the red sofas and eat sushi off low wooden tables.

If you are in the mood for live jazz, the classy Jazz Voyeur Club, in the basement of the newly opened Meliá Recoleta Plaza Hotel, has great vibes every Thursday evening and free drinks with a $7 cover charge.

Around Microcentro

AT Las Cholas restaurant in Las Canitas neighborhood to the northwest of Microcentro, you can order Argentina's herbal tea blend called maté, which is served in a fist-size gourd and sipped through a metal straw. Las Cholas serves food from the northern region of Argentina — homemade empanadas, puffed half-moon pastries filled with Roquefort cheese, spiced beef, chicken, ham or spinach. They are either al horno (baked) or fritas (fried). Also try the tasty locro (beef and corn stew) or the tamale-like humitas (filled with sweet corn and wrapped in their husks). An empanada or tamale will cost you $1.


From LAX,
LAN and Delta have direct flights (stop, no change of plane). American, United and Continental offer connecting flights (change of plane). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $819.


To call
the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 54 (the country code for Argentina), 11 (the city code for Buenos Aires) and the local number.


Alto Palermo Shopping Mall,
3253 Avenida Santa Fe.

Alvear Palace Hotel, 1891 Avenida Alvear; 4808-2100, .

Bar Sur, 299 Estados Unidos; 4362-6086.

Casa Cruz, 1658 Uriarte; 4833-1112.

Casa Roca, 579 San Marin; 4393-5777, .

Club 647, 647 Tacuarí; 4331-3026.

Club Museum, 535 Perú; 4771-9628, .

Piano Jazz Voyeur Club, Meliá Recoleta Plaza Hotel, 1557 Posadas; 5353-4000, .

La Finca, 5147 Honduras; 4832-3004.

Opera Bay, 225 Cecilia Grierson; 4777-4781, .

Parrilla Tabaré, 3387 Charcas.

Restaurante Las Cholas, 306 Arce; 4899-0094.

Rubia y Negra Bar Restaurant, 1630 Libertad; 4313-1125.

Thelonious, 1884 Salguero; 4829-1562.


Argentina Tourism Office,
(212) 603-0443, .

— Molly Malone