More insider guides for planning a trip to Buenos Aires
These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
Things kick off much later in Buenos Aires than in most European cities. People often dine after 10pm and those heading to a nightclub might only leave the house after midnight. Some of the best places for early evening are the cafés and bars – around 90 ‘bares notables’ (historic cafés and bars) are protected by municipal decree, though, sadly, that hasn’t saved a few from closure. See here for a full list. Combine these with some live folk or tango music, or even one of the cheesy but fun tango shows, and you’ll have a great night. Whatever time you emerge there’ll be somewhere open – younger porteños often breakfast before going home.
The Café Tortoni opened in 1880 – an earlier Tortoni had occupied a different site since 1858; either way it’s the city’s oldest coffee shop. With its gracious entrance on Avenida de Mayo and stunning fin de siècle interior, it’s also one of the world’s most gorgeous cafés. Even if you want – in your heart – to avoid a place that has, inevitably, become a tourist honeypot, you’ll struggle. But in the evening the coach tours go away and you’ll be left to enjoy a local brandy at your marble-topped table. Out of season – in winter, for instance – it’s less rammed. On May 25, Independence Day, everyone drops in for churros. Tango shows are hosted every night of the week.
Address: Avenida de Mayo 825, Monserrat
Contact: 00 54 11 4342 4328
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 8am-1am; Sun, 9am-1am
Buenos Aires’s live music scene is pretty diverse, and it’s worth keeping an eye on web listings sites, such as vuenosairez.com, for upcoming events. This medium-sized, cabaret-style venue is good if you want a lucky dip night – music ranges from Latin ska to jazz to rock and pop, and excellent cover bands pay tribute here too. Skip the Quilmes industrial beer and try one of the craft beers, or if you’re here for a tango gig, perhaps sample one of the local vermouths with a splash of soda.
Contact: 00 54 11 2782 5754; see Facebook page
Opening times: 6pm-3am on gig nights
Los 36 Billares
Los 36 Billares, which opened in 1894, is one of the city’s bares notables. It’s staunchly traditional and still has billiard tables beneath original Tiffany lamps. Old-school waiters waft away any attempts at gentrification. For food, go for a portion of fugazzeta (onion-topped pizza) or a meat empanada. Try a Cynar digestif, followed by a carajillo – espresso with rough local brandy.
Contact: 0054 11 4122 1500; los36billares.com
Opening times: Bar: Sun-Thurs, 10pm-2am; Fri-Sat, 10pm-4am. Restaurant: Mon-Thurs, 7pm-2pm; Fri, 7pm-3am; Sat, 7pm-4am; Sun, 7pm-1am.
La Viruta at the Armenian Club
Whether you can dance or not, it’s worth learning something about tango. You can see street dancing on retail gauntlet Florida and on the Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. But to experience something intimate and authentic, spend an evening/night at a milonga – these are neighbourhood salons where dancers of all levels meet to practice. La Viruta at the Armenian Club is a great one. Classes are often offered before the main event. See hoy-milonga.com for a list.
Contact: 00 54 11 2616 1122, lavirutatangoclub.com
Opening times: Wed-Thurs, 6.15pm-4.30am; Fri, 6.15pm-6am, Sun, 6pm-4.30am; classes from 9pm, milonga from 11pm
Enjoy trad jazz and classic film projections while tucking into mandioca chips, sushi or ceviche in the Cenas Pasionarias supperclub – a so-called ‘puertas cerradas’ (or closed-door) nightspot. Call or check Facebook for details of forthcoming events and to book. The venue doubles as an antique shop, housed inside a former railway depot, hence the retro posters, period sculptures and mannequins. Cool lighting generates a prohibition vibe; excellent cocktails, good wines.
Contact: 00 54 11 5913 6519; see Facebook page
Opening times: Vary
Getting in: Guest-list only
Recoleta and Retiro
Though a busy café by day, La Biela (one of the ‘bares notables’) is one of the few places to sit outside on a sultry night and enjoy a carajillo, a late-night espresso with local brandy – stick to the local grog if you want to avoid a surprising bill. It’s very much a place for the locals to meet, on the corner of Junín and Quintana. Not five minutes’ walk from Recoleta’s cultural centre, grand cemetery and lots of lawned plazas, it was always a hangout for the smart set. In the Fifties, racing drivers caroused here (‘biela’ means ‘connecting rod’), and Jackie Stewart is among many past VIP visitors. Sit inside under ceiling fans and old photographs or on the al fresco terrace, under the giant limbs of a rubber tree.
Contact: 00 54 11 4804 4032, labiela.com
Opening times: Mon-Sun, 7am-2am
If you want an intimate, pub-style atmosphere, with good craft beers, mojitos and martinis and tasty finger food – such as fried shrimps, hummus or guacamole ands chips, olives and feta cheese – this downtown bar is a great option. It’s a draw with locals, and with artists and theatregoers, and a visit is sure to turn into a cultural exchange – not least because everyone is sat so close to everyone else. The Ruca Malen wines are excellent and good-value.
Address: San Martín 941, Retiro
Contact: 00 54 11 4314 4787
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 12pm-4am
Paying homage to Buenos Aires’s melting-pot heyday, when migrants poured in from Europe and beyond, this would-be speakeasy explores the classic drink menu of the Old World, from English gins to Italian vermouths to Cuban rums. Accessed via a florist’s at a stylish spot along calle Arroyo, it occupies a dimly lit basement that attracts BA’s beautiful folk and those who want to learn about the finer arts of mixology. Try the house gin laced with eucalyptus, yerba mate, grapefruit and peppermint.
Address: Arroyo 872, Retiro
Contact: 00 54 11 4313 6093, floreriaatlantico.com.ar
Opening times: Mon-Wed, 7pm-2am; Thurs, 7pm-2.30am; Fri, 7pm-4am; Sat, 8pm-4am; Sun, 8pm-2am; Bank holidays opens 8pm
The Teatro Colón, opened in 1908, is South America’s most beautiful lyric theatre. The Italianate building is perhaps one of the most graceful in the world and the interior is opulent. The 2018 classical/opera season features Bryn Terfel, Gustavo Dudamel and Argentina’s own Daniel Barenboim. Three Sisters, Aida, Tristan und Isolde, and La Bohéme are all on the roster. Tip: Make sure you visit by day too as the tours of the building are well worth an afternoon. They take place every 15 mins between 9am and 5pm.
Contact: 00 54 11 5254 9100, teatrocolon.org.ar
Getting in: Smart-casual, formal for gala evenings
One of the city’s best live music venues, with a cabaret-style set-up, this is the place to catch not only the best tango singers and guitarists, but folk quartets, jazz bands and top Brazilian artists. Meals are served usually just before the show, so you can sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Stick to pasta or a milanesa (schnitzel) with fries; there are better steaks available elsewhere in San Telmo. Look out for gigs by bandoneón maestro Rodolfo Mederos, cool tango band La Chicana and Sexteto Mayor.
Contact: 00 54 11 4307 6506, torquatotasso.com.ar
Opening times: Evenings only, varies with show
All the tango shows are a bit schmaltzy, but this one, in the tango ballroom at the Faena hotel, is the most fun. The setting is all rojo – deep red walls, crimson tablecloths, scarlet candles. After you’ve dined in some style and had a glass of good malbec, the music powers up and a dozen talented dancers perform to old classics and newer Astor Piazzolla tangos. The accent is on sensuality and sexiness – and the energy is tangible.
Address:Martha Salotti 445, Puerto Madero
Contact: 00 54 11 4952 4111, rojotango.com
Opening times: Mon-Sun, 8.30pm dinner, 10pm show
Getting in: Go smart, formal