Source: New York Times
By: Paola Singer
CONTEMPORARY Argentine history is a roller coaster of financial booms and cracks, set to gripping political soap operas. But through all the highs and lows, one thing has remained constant: Buenos Aires's graceful elegance and cosmopolitan cool. This attractive city continues to draw food lovers, design buffs and party people with its riotous night life, fashion-forward styling and a favorable exchange rate. Even with the uncertain economy, the creative energy and enterprising spirit of Porteños, as residents are called, prevail - just look to the growing ranks of art spaces, boutiques, restaurants and hotels.
1) URBAN WALLS
Young offbeat artists are putting their stamp on Buenos Aires. Take to the streets of Palermo to see the impressive mural outside Hollywood in Cambodia (Thames 1885; 54-9-11-6289-6258; hollywoodincambodia.com.ar), a gallery devoted to street art. For the full graffiti experience, book a tour with Graffitimundo (graffitimundo.com), 75 pesos, or $20 at 3.72 pesos to the dollar, which highlights up-and-coming neighborhoods like Villa Crespo, where rising names like Pum Pum paint their whimsical creatures on abandoned walls. The design scene is also booming. Check out Nobrand (Gorriti 5876; 54-11-4776-7288; nobrand.com.ar), a store that reinvents Argentine items like mate gourds, giving them a quirky, cartoonish look.
2) TASTE OF ENGLAND
Ties to the Old World were broken long ago, but some traditions are in full swing. Sirop Folie (Vicente Lopez 1661; 54-11-4813-5900; siroprestaurant.com), on a quaint alley in the upscale neighborhood of Recoleta, serves a very British afternoon tea that includes fresh scones, homemade marmalades, finger sandwiches, cakes and fragrant blends by Tealosophy (70 pesos for two). Well-dressed families show up after 5 p.m., filling the comfy, pastel-colored window banquettes. For Asian-inspired tea, try the new Tea Connection (Avenida Cerviño 3550, 54-11-4807-5034; teaconnection.com.ar). Whatever you do, don't skip this meal; dinnertime is ages away.
3) JAZZ IT UP
Live music is one of Buenos Aires's top bills, and contemporary jazz is stealing the spotlight thanks to a new generation of talented musicians who developed their own style. Check out a live show at Thelonious Club (Salguero 1884, first floor; 54-11-4829-1562; theloniousclub.com.ar), a lounge with vintage black leather sofas, battered hardwood floors, and a back-lit bar. Some of the acts are avant-garde. The composer Fernando Tarrés, for example, incorporates video and computer-generated sounds into his new art-music project Trespass. Others appeal to a broader audience, like Ricardo Cavalli, considered by some to be the best saxophone player in the country.
4) MIDNIGHT MEAL
On weekend nights, Porteños take late-night dining to the extreme. Mingle with stylish night owls at intimate Tegui (Costa Rica 5852; 54-11-5291-3333; tegui.com.ar), a glamorous addition to the city's stable of hidden restaurants. The entrance to this au courant spot in the outskirts of Palermo is camouflaged by a wall of graffiti - the work of the stencil virtuosos Vomito Attack. Germán Martitegui, the chef, offers an ambitious, locally sourced menu prepared in an open stainless-steel kitchen. Try the slow-cooked tenderloin with poached egg and toasted manioc flour. Dinner about 200 to 240 pesos.
5) SAY OM
Flow with the local fitness craze with an energizing yoga class at Valle Tierra (Costa Rica 4562; 54-11-4833-6724; valletierra.com), a modern, airy studio in youthful Palermo Soho. After a series of challenging warrior postures, ask for a hot stone massage (140 pesos). Then go for a leisurely stroll through El Rosedal - a romantic rose garden inside the 400-acre Parque Tres de Febrero. Often overlooked, the garden was recently spruced up with thousands of new roses, repaired pergolas and paths. If the mood strikes, rent a paddle boat and ride around the surrounding lake, crossed by an arched bridge.
Get your steak fix at Miranda (Costa Rica 5602; 54-11-4771-4255; parrillamiranda.com), a bustling new-generation parrilla where the décor is cool and the staff is hip, but the food remains traditionally no-frills. This loftlike industrial space manages to feel cozy thanks to potted plants, wall textiles, wood accents and a steady stream of film executives who work in nearby studios (the surrounding area is aptly named Palermo Hollywood). Order classics like provoleta, a char-grilled, herb-seasoned slice of thick cheese, and bife de chorizo, a juicy sirloin strip steak (about 60 pesos for lunch). This timeless favorite comes with excellent house-made fries and a side of chimichurri marinade.
7) HOUSE OF XUL
The painter, sculptor and writer Alejandro Xul Solar is Argentina's answer to Paul Klee. Before his death in 1963, the artist selected 50 paintings that were to be exhibited in the museum he envisioned, set up by his widow, Micaela Cadenas, 30 years later. The Museo Xul Solar (Laprida 1212; 54-11-4824-3302; xulsolar.org.ar) has 86 works inside a modernized building from the late 1800s. Glimpse a surreal world: reinvented tarot cards, a piano with three rows of rainbow-colored keys and other fanciful inventions. Solar's former residence, scheduled to open for special viewings in the near future, remains untouched on the top floor.
8) ARGENTINE PASTA
Historians estimate that about a million Italians settled in Argentina by the early 20th century, which probably explains why Buenos Aires has such delightful pastas and gelati. Sottovoce (Libertador 1098; 54-11-4807-6691; sottovoceristorante.com.ar is a classic family restaurant that always gets it right. The moment you sit down, an attentive waiter brings a basket of breads and a plate of pâté and marinated white beans. Most pastas are handmade. Pair them with any sauce: the Sottovoce, made of tomato, basil, oregano, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan, is delicately flavorful (about 95 pesos for dinner). For dessert, try the delectable dulce de leche ice cream, or walk a few blocks to gelato galore at Un' Altra Volta. Good luck choosing among the 60 flavors (Quintana 502; 54-11-4783-4048; unaltravolta.com.ar).
9) BURN THE FLOOR
Tequila (Avenida Rafael Obligado Costanera and La Pampa; 54-11-4781-6555), a night-life staple for nearly two decades, reopened in October after a lengthy makeover. The intimate boîte is now decked in boudoir-style red velvet curtains, studded leather walls, chandeliers and more chandeliers. In the crowd you'll find banker types, fashion models and the odd hipster or vixen. The door policy hasn't changed since back in the day, which means "sorry" if you're not on the list. There's always haggling with stern-faced bouncers, or getting table service for about 3,000 pesos. Who said cavorting with the sexy Porteños was easy or cheap?
10) BOUTIQUEY BARRIO
Cobbled San Telmo is known for old-school tango shows, staid antiques shops and a Sunday street fair packed with vintage finds. But there's new life in this old barrio. Check out Zavaleta Lab (Venezuela 567; 54-11-4342-9293; zavaletalab.com), among the contemporary art galleries that recently moved to the neighborhood. This Chelsea-like space, with iron pillars, exposed brick ceilings and austere white walls, is where artists like León Ferrari - winner of the Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice Biennale - exhibit their work. For a last-minute fashion update, stop by Niño Bien (Avenida Belgrano 302; 54-11-4342-5599; ninobien.com.ar), a new boutique that stocks posh Argentine brands like Maria Cher and La Martina and will introduce its own men and women's line later this year.
11) CATCH A MATCH
It would be a shame to leave soccer-obsessed Buenos Aires without watching archenemies River Plate and Boca Juniors battle it out on the field. Even if you're not a fan of the sport, the crowd's roaring passion is a riveting show. Don't go solo (unless you feel comfortable around boisterous South American fans); book a seat through an established tour operator like Go Football (54-11-4816-2681; gofootball.com.ar; about 300 pesos). Bilingual guides pick you up at the hotel, stay with you during the game and teach you the local cheers.
IF YOU GO
American is among the airlines that fly nonstop to Buenos Aires from New York. A recent Web search showed round-trip fares on American starting at $1,157 for travel in March. The 20-mile taxi ride to the city center runs about 120 pesos, about $32.
The Argentine capital is filled with well-appointed hotels where most staff members speak English.
Soon to open is Algodon Mansion (Montevideo 1647; 54-11-3530-7777; www.algodonmansion.com), a luxury 10-suite hotel in a renovated mansion in Recoleta. It will have butler service, sheet and pillow menus, in-room DVD libraries and bathrooms awash in Italian marble. Rooms start at $800.
Opened in 2008, Vitrum (Gorriti 5641; 54-11-4776-5030; www.vitrumhotel.com) in Palermo Hollywood has a colorful glass facade and spacious, retro-futuristic rooms. On the terrace is a spa with an oversized Jacuzzi. Rooms from $224 (breakfast included).
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