After Dark in Buenos Aires
I’ve had the good fortune to visit and paint red many a town across this world, but none compare to BA, with its writhing streets and pumping suburbs. Where else is 12.30am prime time to start making plans and inviting friends over for a few pre-party drinks? Where else is it considered commonplace to meet your grandma for a coffee and a caramel-centred cookie at 1.30am? Where else is 5am an appropriate hour to hit the first club of the night? Welcome to the Argentine capital, where the weekend begins on Tuesday and the night begins on the other side of midnight.
OK, so starting an evening’s shenanigans at 5pm is perhaps not the most fashionable way to do things in this city, but sitting around in a hotel on your holiday isn’t either. Visiting La Boca, the historic suburb famous for its colourful architecture and the even more colourful and larger-than-life football legend Maradona, is one of those things that needs to be ticked off in Buenos Aires. As touristy and tacky as it can be in parts, there’s still a flicker of the good old days about the place. Strolling around its most well-decorated streets, dodging tango touts and snapping a few photos, makes for quite a relaxing afternoon. Security-conscious locals will invariably suggest it’s best to make tracks out of La Boca before the sun goes down. I’ve never hung around long enough to find out if there’s good reason for their concern.
Ease your way into the evening at Feria de Plaza Francia in the suburb of Recoleta. This is an arts and crafts market with a nice vibe and a big grass hill to settle on and people-watch while cracking open a can or two of the locally brewed Quilmes. As the sun takes cover over the horizon, a local band will bang out some reggae tunes, joints will make their way around, hands-in-the-air dancing will begin and you’ll start to feel irie, Argentine style.
La Feria de Plaza Francia
Pueyrredon y Del Libertador, Recoleta
You thought it was time for dinner, right? Not quite. Grab yourself a quick empanada if you’ve got the munchies, as the nightly meal is a little later. Buller Pub Downtown is an artisan beer house not far from Plaza Francia. If you’re worried about getting tired (yes, you should be worried) grab a taxi to get here. This place has assembled a bunch of micro-brewed beers and is a top spot to sample something other than the canned Quilmes. The honey beer is well worth a try.
Buller Pub Downtown
Buenos Aires is known worldwide for two things: gigantic steaks and long-legged ladies at tango shows. Although world-class meat eating and dancing don’t often go hand in hand, at around 9.30pm it’s probably safe to assume you’re ready to partake in both. Cafe de los Angelitos delivers portions of each in generous measures. Once a popular haunt for politicians, musicians, poets and artists, this beautiful old cafe invites guests to enjoy a sit-down meal while watching a wonderful tango spectacular, with a live band and a whole troupe of polished performers. The tango, which was born in Buenos Aires and reached its popularity in the 1940s and 50s, is a joy to watch. With one eye on the action on stage and another on the hefty slab of cow on the plate before you, you’ll leave here feeling entertained and full. The malbec wine with dinner is highly recommended.
Cafe de los Angelitos
Rivadavia 2100, Balvanera
The demon hour has arrived. Before any thoughts of sleeping off the malbec enter your head, remember where you are. And keep in mind you mightn’t be back here for a very long time. Take a deep breath and get ready to party like a Porteño (Buenos Aires local). San Telmo is a fun, cool suburb with plenty going on. Much of the action here is to be found in the Plaza Dorrego. On a summer evening, the plaza and little streets enclosing it become a mini outdoor festival, with drumming and dancing and general good times aplenty. Skinny-hipped youth smoke and talk loudly and gyrate together in the humid night. It’s here where you get a true taste of the Latino lust for life. If you’re not a dance-like-nobody-is-watching type, then grabbing a pew at one of the outdoor cafes is your best bet to watch the goings-on.
Some of the bars in BA can be a little showy, if not wanky. But La Puerta Roja – the Red Door – is one of the city’s more cruisey establishments. No cover, no being told by bouncers there’s an imaginary private function, no nonsense. The Red Door’s easy and welcoming attitude makes this joint a local hotspot. Get yourself a Cuba Libre (rum and coke with a squeeze of lime) and kick back on the leather couches. Or, if you’re keen to practise your Español, grab a stool by the bar and chat with the affable bartenders.
La Puerta Roja
Chacabuco 733, San Telmo
Now it’s time for some glitz and glamour. Get yourself a taxi (giving directions to the driver always seems easier after several Cuba Libres) and make a beeline for Recoleta. Milion is a fancy-pants mansion and undoubtedly one of the swankier, more stylish watering holes in this big city. Think marble, terraces, secret balconies. Milion, with its almost-porno vibe, is a well-known hangout for BA’s celebrities and socialites. Make sure you dress the part, but don’t be too concerned about the prices. Oddly enough, it won’t cost you a million pesos to buy a round at Milion. Have a cocktail shaken for you then rub shoulders with the rich and famous.
Parana 1048, Recoleta
Yep, it has to be done. A big night out in BA is not complete until you’ve checked out a proper dance club in the wee hours. The monstrous Alsina, with a capacity of about 3000, employs DJs like Sasha and Carl Cox to knock out the beats on the king-sized dance floor. The gay nights here are welcoming and fun no matter what your bent is. Be warned: the Porteños can dance. The gringo shuffle, with a beer in each hand, just won’t cut it here. Tap into your inner Latino and shake it till the sun comes up.
Adolfo Alsina 940
The sun is up. The Red Bull no longer works. While some of the Porteño party people are preparing for the day clubs, it’s probably time for bed.