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TRAVEL FEATURE

Out of Town

Buenos Aires, Argentina


Andrew Collins | January 24, 2007

In the heart of the gay-trendy Palermo Viejo neighborhood, Bartok is a favourite cafe for whiling away an afternoon - Photo: Andrew Collins
The Little Black Book
  • Alsina (11/4331-1277)
  • Alvear Palace Hotel (11/4808-2100)
  • Argentina Tourism Office website
  • Bach Bar (15/5877-0919)
  • Bartok (11/4831-5441)
  • Bar Uriarte Bar (11/4834-6004)
  • Bayres B&B; (11/4772-3877)
  • Bo Bo (11/4774-0505 )
  • Bond (11/4326-4499).
  • Buenos Aires A Full (11/4371-7263).
  • Contramano (no phone, at Rodriguez Pena 1082).
  • El Mirasol (11/4326-7322).
  • FIVE (11-5235-5555)
  • Freud & Fahler (11/4833-2153)
  • Gay Argentina online guide
  • GLAM (11/4963-2521)
  • Gran Bar Danzon (11/4811-1108).
  • Kim y Novak (11/4773-7521).
  • Mark's Deli (11/4832-6244).
  • Milion (11/4815-9925).
  • Miranda (11/4771-4255).
  • Mott (11/4833-4306).
  • Olsen (11/4776-7677).
  • Park Hyatt (11/5171-1234)
  • Sitges (11/4861-3763)
  • With progressive attitudes on social issues and a spirited, chic style that evokes Paris, Rome, and New York City, buoyant Buenos Aires has become the GLBT capital of Latin America. In this distinctly European-feeling city, the worlds of high fashion, haute cuisine, and tango come together, and an unstable economy has become a boon for visitors from other nations, because it's led to favorable foreign-currency exchange rates. Indeed, what was not long ago the most expensive capital city in South America has become one of the cheapest major metropolises in the world.

    This city of nearly 3 million (12 million live in the metro region) sits along the southern bank of the Rio de la Plata, a wide estuary that forms the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Spanish conquistadors established a foothold here in the early 1500s, and the city retains close ties to Europe - many Portenos (as residents are known) have Spanish and Italian lineage, and significant numbers also trace their roots to Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and France. This is very much an international destination, and Buenos Aires has followed the lead of many European cities by actively courting GLBT tourists (the tourism office produces an excellent gay brochure and map) and legalizing same-sex civil unions.

    North Americans are sometimes deterred from traveling to Buenos Aires by steep airfares (which typically range from around $800 to $1,200 round-trip), but once you're actually in Argentina, the cost of travel is so amazingly low that you can easily spend less on a vacation here than you would in western Europe or the Caribbean. Also consider that during slower times, some airlines' frequent flyer programs offer round-trip flights here for as few as 40,000 miles off-peak (typically March through May and again mid-August through November, which are perfectly pleasant times to visit).

    Prices for most goods – as well as food and cocktails, taxis, electronics, and many other items – are generally 40 to 70 percent less than in the United States. Look for especially great deals on leather goods (from wallets to jackets), and enjoy the shockingly low prices of fine steaks and wines (two products for which Argentina is justly renowned) at great restaurants.

    Buenos Aires (aka B.A.) is a sprawling city, but because cabs are easy to hail on the street and extremely inexpensive, they're a very practical way to make your way around. This is also a generally safe and enjoyable city to explore on foot. The central neighborhoods of Microcentro, Congreso, and Retiro are typical business and commerce centers, and nearby Recoleta is a wealthy hub of high-end hotels and ritzy apartment towers. In these areas you'll find many of the city's top museums, performing arts venues, and political buildings, but you need to venture farther afield to get to know gay B.A.

    Start with a walk through Barrio Norte, a busy and bustling district with a sizable gay presence and loads of fine clothing, home-furnishings, and electronics stores along the main drag, Avenida Santa Fe. The most charming neighborhoods for exploring, however, are Palermo and the adjacent Palermo Viejo – the latter has the most pronounced GBLT presence in Buenos Aires. Narrow cobblestone streets lined with uber-chic boutiques, snazzy wine bars, Euro-inspired cafes, and offbeat galleries abound in both neighborhoods but particularly in Palermo Viejo. Another district with gay cachet is San Telmo, which is close to downtown and whose elegantly faded 19th-century buildings, many of them former tenements, now contain a fabulous array of antiques dealers plus a growing number of hip restaurants.

    Among the many superb restaurants in Palermo Viejo, don't miss Bar Uriarte, a sexy lounge with a convivial garden in back and outstanding brick-oven pizzas and innovative tapas; and Mott, a gorgeous, minimalist restaurant with high ceilings, stylish decor, and fantastic wines and healthful, light food. The beautifully modern space occupied by Miranda Restaurant fills up each evening with devotees of the kitchen's delicious steaks and chops.

    Freud & Fahler is an intimate place that's a great bet for creative Mediterranean-inspired fare, and sleek Olsen has earned a loyal following for both its intriguing people-watching and delicious Scandinavian food (there's also a huge vodka selection). If you're just looking for a spot with free Wi-Fi and light breakfast and lunch fare, stop by gay-popular Mark's Deli, a dapper little place with a pretty garden, or old-world Bartok, a graceful Euro-style coffeehouse with sidewalk seating overlooking the edge of busy Plaza Palermo Viejo. Bartok serves tasty salads, sandwiches, and desserts.

    Other gustatory highlights around Buenos Aires – and this is just a tiny sampling – include Milion, an uber-modern resto-lounge in Barrio Norte, and Bond, one of the gay-friendliest of the many excellent restaurants in snazzy Recoleta, serving an eclectic menu of sushi, Mediterranean-inspired tapas, and modern Argentinean fare. To sample the tender steaks for which Argentina is known, head just around the corner to El Mirasol, which is touristy but absolutely dependable for outstanding beef. Owned by the same talented folks who operate Bar Uriarte, Gran Bar Danzon is one of Recoleta's trendiest wine bars, serving outstanding Continental and Latino food, too.

    As expected in a large, gay-friendly metropolis, Buenos Aires has a vibrant nightlife scene, although many bars and clubs are only popular on certain nights of the week. It's best to ask around to learn which are likely to be busy (or even open) on a given evening – also keep in mind that most places don't get going until 2 or 3 in the morning (although they often remain busy until dawn). The majority of B.A.'s "gay" nightlife options draw a mix not only of women and men but, in many cases, gays and straights – this is a city where folks from all walks of life seem to revel quite happily together.

    Some of the larger dance clubs include the aptly named GLAM in Barrio Norte, long-running Contramano in Recoleta, and see-and-be-seen Alsina in the Monserrat district. More intimate yet still highly popular bars and lounges worth checking out are Kim y Novak, a cozy and stylish Palermo Viejo hangout that also serves good food; Sitges, which is also in Palermo Viejo and presents lively drag shows; and Bach Bar, a mostly lesbian spot in Barrio Norte. Buenos Aires also has a few bathhouses, the most popular being Buenos Aires A Full, in Barrio Norte.

    Prices of accommodations in Buenos Aires vary wildly, as the large and often very impressive international hotels, which appeal to business travelers and well-heeled tourists, tend to charge rates comparable to those in other major world capitals. Among the city's best high-end hotels, the relatively new Park Hyatt, which opened in 2006, is an absolute treasure, its rooms sleekly and artfully designed, and its restaurants, courtyard patio, wine-and-cheese bar, and spa all top-notch. The Hyatt's well-trained, thoughtful staff whisks about, tending to guests' every need. In the same neighborhood of Recoleta, the classic Alvear Palace Hotel has been serving discerning travelers since it opened in 1932 – the elegant rooms are among the largest in the city.

    In Palermo Viejo, Bo Bo is a smart boutique hotel with moderately priced, avant-garde rooms and an excellent restaurant popular with models and celebs. The intimate FIVE hotel contains – despite its name – 16 rooms, each done with handsome, contemporary furnishings, but the big draw here are the extensive common areas, including a lovely rooftop sundeck with great city views and a hot tub. Charming owner Adriana Teplixke and her knowledgeable staff can recommend great places to shop and eat, and rates here are quite reasonable, beginning around $100 nightly.

    If you're on a budget, consider Palermo Viejo's absolutely wonderful, gay-owned Bayres B&B;, where it feels like staying with kind (and knowledgeable) friends in their simple but pleasant home. Rates (which run from $35 to $65 per night) include full breakfast, and there's free high-speed Internet and cable TV in every room, and private or shared bathrooms. Considering that Bayres costs hundreds less per night less than some of the city's fanciest hotels, it's truly an amazing bargain. And with the money you save on rooms, you can invest in such heady pleasures as haute couture and cuisine – if you're a serious shopper, bring along an empty suitcase to fill with your bounty.

    Andrew Collins is the author of 10 travel guides, including Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA.





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