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Going To: Buenos
Aires - April 2006

This article was originally found on:
http://travel2.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/travel/02going.html  

Going To: Buenos Aires

By IAN MOUNT
Published: April 2, 2006

 

WHY GO NOW Four years after its currency crash and one year after a nightclub fire claimed 194 lives, Argentina's capital has recovered a lot of its swagger and fun. The populist President Néstor Kirchner's early payoff of Argentina's International Monetary Fund debt, and less-than-friendly treatment of President Bush at the Summit of the Americas in November, played well in a country tired of international advice, and in last October's midterm elections Mr. Kirchner's mascara-caked wife, Cristina, won a senate seat amid a wave of Evita nostalgia. The economy is booming, too: After hitting bottom in 2002, it bounced back in 2004 and 2005, a turnaround that is visible in the sheer number of new apartment towers and clothing stores popping up in the trendy Palermo area. And yet it is still shockingly inexpensive, with first-rate meals rarely costing more than 78 pesos a person, or $25 at 3.14 Argentine pesos to $1.

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During this recovery, international skepticism about the local economy has meant that the exchange rate has actually improved for American travelers, with the peso recently falling to a three-year low against the dollar. The downside is that there has been a surge in the cost of living in a land as famous for its explosive inflation as for its huge steaks. With the economic boom predicted to continue for 2006, travelers might be advised to visit before inflation makes Argentina no longer the eye-popping bargain it has been since 2002.

WHERE TO STAY The luxurious Recoleta neighborhood, with its famous mausoleum-stacked cemetery and obsession with doorman-polished brass, has long been anchored by the Louis XIV-style Alvear Palace Hotel; Avenida Alvear 1891; (54-11) 4808-2100; www.alvearpalace.com. (The country and city code for Buenos Aires is 54-11.) But the glitzy 74-year-old institution — with 210 rooms, tea from 4 to 7 p.m., Hermès toiletries and doubles starting at $385 plus 21 percent tax — will get stiff competition in late June when the 165-room Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt Buenos Aires (Avenida Alvear 1661; 5171-1234; www.buenosaires.park.hyatt.com) opens two blocks away. There, a garden links the renovated Duhau family mansion, built in 1934 and inspired by Château Le Marais in France, with a contemporary addition. Prices for deluxe rooms are tentatively set at $410, plus tax.

Trendier Palermo's anywhere-but-here barrios, Palermo SoHo, Hollywood and, yes, Queens, are home to new design-conscious, Wi-Fi-outfitted boutique hotels. Across the tracks in Palermo Hollywood sits the Hotel Home (Honduras 5860; 4778-1008; www.homebuenosaires.com). Opened in December by the English music producer Tom Rixton and his wife, Patricia O'Shea, the 17-room Home has Scandinavian-style furniture and vintage wallpapers, a spa and garden pool. Rooms start at $115, plus tax.

WHERE TO EAT Recently, a wave of starkly designed restaurants has carved a nouvelle Argentine cuisine from the traditional steak-and-pasta diet. Leading the pack is the always-full Sucre (Sucre 676; 4782-9082; www.sucrerestaurant.com.ar; lunch and dinner daily), with the local über-chef Fernando Trocca at the helm. Dishes like leg of lamb with rosemary and mint (27 pesos) are consistently excellent, but the cavernous concrete space can leave some cold despite the huge fireplace. The recently opened Mott (El Salvador 4685; 4833-4306, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily) sweetly updates the trend in a heaven-white box with many of Sucre's design elements. There, Maria Lancio's kitchen turns out interesting dishes like sweet-and-pungent fruit and mushroom risotto (24 pesos) and a tender lamb ragout with pumpkin tart (29 pesos).

Buenos Aires, of course, is beef-crazed, and Cabaña Las Lilas (Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo 516; 4313-1336; www.laslilas.com), based in the tourist-packed Puerto Madero port, is arguably its most famous, and expensive, purveyor, where a T-bone steak costs 49 pesos. Across the street from the soccer coliseum known as La Bombonera sits the classic Don Carlos (Brandsen 699; 4362-2433; closed Sunday and during soccer games), where the waiters bring a seemingly endless variety of dishes, from spinach fritters to steak, and the only ordering you do is answering Don Carlos's one question: "Meats or pastas?" Lunch comes to about 35 pesos a person; no credit cards.

For an update on parrillas, barbecue restaurants where more than a quarter of the patrons might actually speak Spanish, try La Dorita (Humboldt 1905 & 1892; 4773-0070; www.parrillaladorita.com.ar), lunch and dinner daily, where a photographic take on the Last Supper as an Argentine BBQ overlooks diners drinking wine served in traditional penguin-shaped carafes and eating veal sweetbreads (12 pesos) and lomo, or tenderloin (20 pesos for two people).

WHAT TO DO DURING THE DAY With relatively few must-see sites besides the Casa Rosada, the Obelisk, Recoleta Cemetery and Teatro Colón (closing in late October for renovation), a visit to Buenos Aires tends to be less about ogling architecture than absorbing culture. You can join those who pass the day in a park with ice cream or mate, the local herbal tea — start with a cone of frutilla granizada at Persicco, Salguero and Cabello (www.persicco.com), one of the best of the city's innumerable Italian-named ice cream shops. From there, stake out Las Heras Park, Avenida Las Heras and Avenida Coronel Diaz, where an array of dog walkers and bikini-clad (male and female) sunbathers attest to Argentines' twin loves, sometimes simultaneous, of canines and bronzing.

Then stroll the embassy and jacaranda-lined Avenida del Libertador to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Avenida del Libertador 1473; 4803-0802; www.mnba.org.ar; closed Mondays; free). The Buenos Aires art world got an upgrade in November, when works by Cézanne, Gauguin and Renoir, stolen from Bellas Artes on Christmas in 1980 and found in Paris in 2002, were returned and joined works ranging from Manet to Rothko.

"El estress" is a constant topic among Porteños (Buenos Aires residents), and many nearby estancias (ranches) offer half-day escapes from the city for those needing to unwind. A "Día de Campo" at the 1880 Italianate estancia built for General Pablo Ricchieri (Estancia El Ombú; Ruta 31, cuartel VI, Villa Lía; San Antonio de Areco; 4710-2795; www.estanciaelombu.com) includes gut-busting amounts of wine and gaucho-cooked meat, swimming in two pools and horseback rides on its 740 acres. A day costs $45 a person; $110, double occupancy, for a day and night (meals included).

WHAT TO DO AT NIGHT As Buenos Aires night life starts vampirically late, a predinner cocktail or snack is advisable. Barring one of the regular openings at Malba (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), where free wine brings out a large portion of the city's art students, there's El Diamante (Malabia 1688, second floor; 4831-5735; closed Sundays). Co-created by Sucre's Fernando Trocca just over a year ago, the plant-filled roof deck on the Paraguayan-themed bar fills on Fridays and Saturdays with the young and well-dressed drinking concoctions like the capizen (vodka, ginger and hesperidina); 12 pesos.

After dinner, Las Cañitas's young and affluent crowd the popular new Kandi (Báez 340; 4772-2453), which has a loungy vibe and retro Brady Bunch decorations. For tango, the city's many choreographed shows can be entertaining, albeit overpriced. Travelers who want to participate should head to the 10:30 p.m. Friday or Saturday beginners classes (9:30 on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday) at La Viruta (6 pesos), curiously located in the basement of the city's Armenian cultural center (Armenia 1366; 4774-6357; www.lavirutatango.com). After lessons, the dancing continues until 6 a.m.

Decorated with bright red walls, minichandeliers and white leather lounge chairs, the year-old Bulnes Class (Bulnes 1250; 4861-7492; www.bulnesclass.com.ar; Thursday to Saturday from 11 p.m. on) fills with a young gay male crowd looking for something more relaxed than the nightclubs.

WHERE TO SHOP For shoes, Marina Palmer, the author of the 2005 memoir "Kiss and Tango: Looking for Love in Buenos Aires," recommends the tango dancer Alicia Muñiz's intimate Comme Il Faut (Arenales 1239; 4815-5690). The tiny leopard-skin-decorated store, upstairs on a small Recoleta alley, specializes in sexy tango shoes with stiletto heels of at least 2¾ inches (about 260 pesos).

Named the first Unesco City of Design last August, Buenos Aires takes its presentation seriously. The Colegiales neighborhood's Dorrego market, at Dorrego and Zapiola (check Centro Metropolitano de Diseño, www.cmd.gov.ar, for details), a converted garage, regularly houses shows of local housewares and clothing designers. Nearby Palermo SoHo is packed with shops selling clothes by young Argentine designers. Felix (Gurruchaga 1670; 4832-2994; www.felixba.com.ar) hits a Williamsburg-goes-B.A. vibe, with stylish sneakers (219 to 239 pesos) and retro T-shirts (65 pesos).

YOUR FIRST TIME OR THE 10TH See a soccer game. Argentina's soul bleeds for the sport, and the most fearsome rivalry is that between Boca Juniors and River Plate. If you can, go to one of the biannual Superclásicos between the two teams. The near-riot experience is really about watching passionate fandom, learning the songs and taunts, and discovering why visiting-team fans get a 30-minute head start after a game (their safety). Tickets to a Superclásico, usually scalped via a hotel concierge or ticket broker, run around 300 pesos. La Bombonera, home of the Boca Juniors, is a place of soccer legend (Brandsen 805; 4309-4700).

HOW TO GET THERE There are nonstop flights between Buenos Aires and major cities like New York, Miami, Houston and Washington. Depending on the season, a nonstop American Airlines coach seat to Ezeiza International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini de Ezeiza) from Kennedy Airport in New York is about $750 to $1,000 (specials often available) and takes about 10 hours and 30 minutes. The taxi from the airport runs about 60 pesos.

HOW TO GET AROUND The easiest way to get around is via the huge fleet of yellow and black taxis; a trip across town will rarely cost more than 15 pesos. More independent visitors can take the subte (subway) or one of the careening city buses. For a transit and street map, buy a pocket-size "Guía T" (about 3 pesos) at a newspaper kiosk.