For more on Ruta 3 through Argentina, visit VanenVan.
Global Shopping Haunts: Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is a city that takes its time. With a laid-back café culture, late-night dining habits, and a strange aptitude for queuing, the porteños—as the locals are called—are not ones to hurry. But with a sublime blend of French elegance, Italian food, Spanish romance, and a passion that is distinctly Argentine, life in this capital city demands relishing each distinct flavor. And that takes time.
This Buenos Aires line hits just the right notes of 70’s punk, 80’s glam, 90’s grunge, and the tried and true shapes of the past decade. Get your perfect look here, with sturdily constructed jackets, rockabilly collared shirts, two-pocket patterned jumpers, and jersey-knit pea coats. The fabrics are durable enough to wash and wear—and with pieces like these, you’ll be sure to be doing just that—again and again and again.
Wares: Men’s and women’s streetwear.
Price Range: Short-sleeve cotton print shirts (AR$138) to cropped leather jackets (AR$1400)
Don’t Miss: Their extensive perfect-fit denim collection, from AR$220-348.
Gurruchaga 1637, Palermo
Monday-Saturday, 11am-9pm; Sunday, 2-7:30pm
CASTILLO’S FERIA GARAGE
For a look at three of the city’s favorite clothiers in one go, stop at Castillo’s Feria Garage. Here, you’ll find a small selection of casual tops, dresses and shoes from locally beloved women’s designer Lupe, accessories from leather experts Castillo, and menswear from Felix (with a full store just across the street). Pick up everything you and your significant other could need for a weekend trip to the country, complete with soundtrack and video entertainment.
Wares: Men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories.
Price Range: Media (CDs and DVDs, AR$30) to Felix men’s leather jackets (AR$1400)
Don’t Miss: Castillo boat shoes in four different colors (AR$415) and leather shopping totes.
Gurruchaga 1683, Palermo
One of Buenos Aires’ top design shops, Cecilia Gadea’s five-year-old boutique in upscale Palermo Botánico carries such coveted goods that the store was targeted by burglars this May. Combining romantic sensibilities with contemporary fabrics and laser-cut overlays, her chic women’s line seems to be dreamed up for modern princesses to wear to royal garden parties, but with colors and fabrics soft enough to be worn to any modern-day fairy tale setting.
Wares: Upscale women’s apparel and jewelry.
Price Range: Wide-legged stretch trousers (AR$370) to knee-length hooded coats (AR$1900)
Don’t Miss: Heavenly party dresses, perfect for spring weddings (from AR$890).
Ugarteche 3330, Palermo Botánico
Monday-Friday, 11am-8pm; Saturday, 11am-4pm
Brother and sister team Violeta and Esteban Brenman restored an eighteenth-century home in the historic barrio San Telmo and filled it with an eclectic mix of things they love. From the vintage ice buckets in the kitchen to the locally-printed books in the salon and the gnomes in the garden, en esta casa todo se vende (everything is for sale in this house)—except for Beto, the goldfish. Yellow-tagged antiques show the siblings’ appreciation for Argentina’s facing industrial heritage, while blue-tagged locally-produced items highlight the emerging design scene. Don’t forget to head into the basement, where artists showcase art objects on a rotating basis.
Wares: Accessories for home and life, vintage and contemporary.
Price Range: From AR$1 for sewing notions to AR$1500 pesos for an antique AM radio manufactured in Argentina.
Don’t Miss: Vintage patches and buttons in the front-of-house area, the choice selection of salt-and-pepper shakers in the kitchen, a charming array of purses from local designers.
Humberto Primo 517, San Telmo
Thursdays – Sundays, 12 – 8 pm
For four years, Diversa has provided the scenesters of San Telmo access to their favorite local designers. Colorful shop favorites include URBAG recycled vinyl messenger bags, soft La Lluvia tees (AR$60), and precious Eukrann patterned wool accessories, from legwarmers to vests. Yes, you’ll actually want to wear a knit vest.
Humberto Primo 580, San Telmo
Mondays-Sundays, 11am-2pm; 3-8pm (might close Mondays in the near future)
Wares: Women’s and children’s clothing, shoes, accessories.
Price Range: Matilde Brach notebooks (AR$30) to EVA leather satchels (AR$650)
Don’t Miss: Mod-inspired Juana Pascale footwear, flats (AR$60) to boots (AR$350), Romina Rodes’ heavy-duty leather purses (AR$495).
Although Gabriela Horvat’s handcrafted jewelry can be found in a handful of stores around Buenos Aires—most notably the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)—her Palermo Soho boutique showcases the most complete selection of her work. The designer is most known for her intricate necklaces, woven from combinations of wool, silk, and hand-dyed to produce unique art objects. Her hand-tooled metalwork uses an entirely different range of materials, though the end results—an elegant line of rings, earrings, and necklaces—evoke an equally fresh, organic feeling.
One-of-a-kind, contemporary women’s jewelry, from the store’s namesake designer, as well as a selection of items from other local designers.
Price Range: Metal-and-glass rings from Paula Isola (AR$300), Gabriela’s woven necklaces (AR$1000)
Don’t Miss: The artist’s “cocoons”—toddler-sized baskets woven as self-portraiture, an exploration of her childhood.
Honduras 5238, Palermo Soho
Tuesday-Saturday, 11am – 8pm
This airy, five-room store provides ideal browsing conditions through its constantly changing collection of clothing—mostly for women, but with a well-chosen selection of casual shirts and jackets for men. Women can find anything from tango-esque dresses by Fleites Amarillo (AR$260) to business separates courtesy of Viotti and Leo Peralta. Stock up on a variety of colorful, locally-designed clothing and accessories, from comfy pajamas to handmade jewelry.
Wares: Contemporary clothing for men, women, and children; women’s accessories, purses and wallets.
Price Range: From AR$10 earrings and AR$40 lingerie separates from a variety of local designers to AR$375 Viotti suit jackets.
Don’t Miss: Leather clutches (AR$187) and canvas-leather hobos (AR$210-375) by Florencia Herraiz; rainbow mixes of pea-sized soaps by LA BUENOS AIRES (AR$26 per box); Julieta Ibrahim’s reconstructed velour sweatshirts (AR$140); menswear by Belleza Americana (AR$90-250).
Carlos Calvo 618, San Telmo
Tuesdays – Sundays, 11am – 8pm
GALERIA PATIO DE LICEO
Pass through the red doors of this refurbished building and find a collection of small galleries and shops, many part of the up-and-coming FEATBA arts collective. On the second floor, get your hands on hard-to-find Daniel Johnson art books and recordings at Purr Libros. The store, celebrating its first anniversary of residence at Patio de Liceo, carries a hand-picked selection of fanzines, comics, and small-press books from around the world. Two doors down, stop at Greens, a women’s boutique specializing in updated classics—two-pocket sweater dresses, beautifully cut skirts, and shirts.
Wares: Purr: Books, CDs, records, prints. Greens: casual women’s wear.
Price Range: Purr: Fanzines (from AR$2) to Thames & Hudson art books (AR$230); Greens: Half-sleeve collared shirts (AR$125) to dresses (AR$200).
Don’t Miss: Purr: Hand-wrapped poems (AR$8) to hand out to new friends and lovers, Veronica Blejman drawings; Greens: Tie-dyed sweatshirts (AR$150).
Avenida Santa Fe 2729, Recoleta
Monday-Friday, 2-8:30pm; Saturday, 12-8:30pm
Tuesday-Friday, 12-8pm; Saturday, 2-8pm
If your heels are having a hard time navigating the cobblestone (and pot-holed) streets of Buenos Aires, dip into Satori to pick up your next favorite pair of urban trekkers. You won’t find stilettos or pumps here, but a hip selection of men’s and women’s sneakers, flats, and a handful of jackets and bags, crafted from Argentine leather. The beauty is in the comfort and the devil is in the details—restrained use of trendy prints and colored accents on the outside, and secreting away the rest in the interior foot beds.
Wares: Men’s and women’s urban footwear.
Price Range: Low-top sneakers (AR$300) to boots (AR$520)
Don’t Miss: Men’s wrestling shoes, suitable for everything from a day at the office to a fence-climbing night on the town; women’s boots perfect for riding your motorcycle…to brunch with the folks.
Gurruchaga 1538, Palermo Soho
multiple locations, visit: www.satori.com.ar
VESTITE Y ANDATE
“Get dressed and get out” in your finest hipster chic with the two-person design team of Agustina Bengolea and Clara Campagnola. Every piece in this casual yet sexy collection would be perfectly at home in Debby Harry’s closet—from their distressed tees to their sparkly sweaters. New pieces are added to their Palermo workshop roughly every week, so even a quick peek in is guaranteed you a precious new find.
Wares: Urban women’s clothing.
Price Range: Hoodies (AR$179), sweaters (AR$295).
Don’t Miss: Heavy-duty, tailored sweatshirts flaunting the designers’ great eye for timeless patterns (from AR$150).
Nicaragua 4604, Palermo Soho
Monday-Friday, 11am – 8pm; Saturday 2 – 8pm
Arenales 1782, Recoleta
Monday-Friday, 10am-8pm; Saturday 11am-3pm
A traditionally-styled café on a quiet corner in Palermo, Ele Bar accomplishes a rare feat in Buenos Aires—it’s open for all three meals of the day, and manages to pull each one off in a low-key, natural way that feels both unfussy and luxurious. With a full bar, a consistent menu offering everything starting with solid tablas (cold snack plates for sharing), and a classic feel, this is the perfect spot for any casual meal. At any given time, you’re just as likely to see businessmen, couples on first dates, or grandparents baby-sitting.
Must-Have: The national drink of Argentina—Fernet with cola (AR$17), costillitas de cerdo (pork ribs) with prosciutto, spinach, and grilled cheese (AR$44), the standard sirloin dressed up with blue cheese (AR$54), fondue for two with the requisite alfajor accompaniment (AR$28).
Nicaragua 5001, Palermo
Monday-Saturday, from 7am
Fitz Bar is the kind of perfectly-appointed corner joint you’d want to have next door. Although it’s tiny, you could easily spend the morning on at a sidewalk table with coffee and the paper, tuck into an afternoon sandwich and beer on the sofa inside, pop up to the four-seat bar for a cocktail as the sun sets, and then snag the chandelier-crowned back booth for your evening meal.
A morning or afternoon submarino—chocolate bar submerged in hot milk (AR$12), accompanied by a medialuna—a croissant (literally, a half-moon, AR$3).
1995 Fitz Roy, Palermo Hollywood
Sun-Thurs, 9 am – 2 am; Fri-Sat, 9 am – 4 am
FREUD & FAHLER
On a central—yet uncongested—corner of Palermo Soho, Freud & Fahler unfailingly serves up perfect meals, from their delicious breadbaskets to their sublime desserts. Lunch-goers can pick from and main dish (AR$35) or combine with dessert and a starter (AR$65) accompanied with a glass of wine. Go for dinner and get a glimpse of carefully diagrammed main dishes, supremely in-line with the restaurant’s casual décor yet strict attention to detail.
Must Have: Soups—whether it’s the warm calabeza or the chilled melon—are divine.
Gurruchaga 1750, Palermo
Monday-Saturday; 12-4pm, 8pm-close.
For a taste of Spain, head to this sleek San Telmo restaurant for pintxos baskos, Basque tapas. In the tradition of Basque Country, diners approach the bar buffet-style and can select from an array of finger foods, from delicate pâtés to chicken spreads garnished with ribbon-fine, fried green onions. Take at the communal bar and wait for the hot tapas to make their way around, passed hors-d’oeuvres style. When you think you’ve had about enough, allow the friendly waitstaff to tally your toothpicks (AR$8 each) while you peruse the dessert menu.
A glass of Zapiain sidra (cider), a great Basque tradition.
Humberto Primo 319, San Telmo
Bar: 9 am – 12 am; Kitchen: 12-4pm, 8pm-close
If you can’t quite decide what to eat—but you kind of want to eat everything in sight—treat yourself to a tasting menu at La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar, hidden behind an assuming painted façade in San Telmo. The 16-step menu changes seasonally to incorporate the best of Argentina’s standards and confidently blend them with unusual additions: a salmon soup poured tableside over a trifecta of clam dust, seaweed, and a portion of truffle pâté-filled squash ravioli, followed by a pairing of bife de lomo with foamed salsa criolla and date-sized chunks of yucca coated in black ink sauce. Expect an indulgent yet unpretentious dining experience, finished with an unforgettable dessert.
The degustacion is the only order of the day (AR$230 with wine pairings, AR$150 without); alert the restaurant ahead of time of dietary restrictions. If your Spanish is a little rusty, make sure to take a dictionary and a pen, as the menu is given verbally.
Bolivar 865, San Telmo
Lunch: 1-4 pm; Dinner 9pm-12am
From the ‘glam’ Buddha-adorned Chinese room to the ‘ambient’ Sand room, each suite in the Mansión Vitraux is uniquely appointed down to its signature scent. Just like the historic Plaza Dorrego just a block away, the hotel contrasts modern luxuries with classic style in this prime San Telmo location. Although each of the twelve themed rooms take advantage of the hotel’s natural light and plentiful windows, they all feature “blackout” drop-down screens to ensure a deep night’s sleep after a long day of trawling the city. After a dip in the rooftop pool or a breather in the underground sauna, guests can start their evening with a wine tasting in the central cava (wine cellar) led by the resident sommelier, while sampling regional tapas like Patagonian llama from the kitchen.
Carlos Calvo 369, San Telmo
Rates: Rooms start at US$242
For two years, guests have praised the hospitality and social atmosphere of the Hotel Babel in San Telmo. The original architecture of this 200-year-old home has been preserved, but the interior has been updated to include a sleek lobby and bar, where guests can hang out and get the lowdown on the neighborhood from the owners, who take great pride in keeping their guests out of the tourist traps. The hotel also doubles as an art gallery, hosting a monthly opening—so that canvas in your bedroom just might be the masterpiece of the next great porteño painter.
Balcarce 946, San Telmo
Rates: Rooms US$110-132
A little further out from the main tourist centers, this boutique hotel is a beautiful surprise off a rather nondescript street. Four of the six rooms overlook a lush courtyard filled with greenery—a rare sight in San Telmo. Modern fabrics and simple lines amplify the elegant French Victorian décor of the rooms, and a contemporary dining area provides another option where guests can enjoy tea or breakfast in extreme temperatures. This charming escape is also a family affair: proprietor Laura Murias proudly displays the bold canvases her mother Lucy, a local painter.
Salta 1074, San Telmo
Rates: Rooms US$90-190
If you’re planning to come all the way around the world, why not stay a while? Rent an apartment for the month or for a few nights at the IQ Recoleta and walk to the posh shops and boutiques in the upscale Recoleta neighborhood. Each of the three apartments have private kitchens, but you’ll also have access to the first-floor garden, and rootftop pool and parilla (grill), making the IQ the perfect place to come home to for a home-cooked meal or a dinner party with newly acquired friends.
1570 Azcuenaga, Recoleta
Large suite: Cristina Montero (5411) 4069-9528
Smaller suites: Mauricio Luciano (5411) 6912-0572
Rates: US$1200/month for the larger suite, US$50/day for the two smaller apartments
This newly-opened boutique hotel in a quieter area of Palermo is high on style and low on presumption. The eleven rooms—all designed in accordance with Feng Shui—reflect the clean, classic tastes of its French stewardship. The communal computer offers Internet access to those traveling light, and a bright lobby and patio provide a cheerful atmosphere to enjoy a drink while perusing the selection of architectural digests and art volumes.
Rates: From US$110-180
In Buenos Aires, many shops participate in the Global Refund tax-free shopping program on items more than AR$70, although you may need to request a special Global Refund Cheque. The value-added tax (VAT) hovers around 20 percent, and only applies to goods manufactured in Argentina. Additionally, many stores offer discounts between 15 and 30 percent for purchases made with American Express or Citibank cards. The discounts may be for one-time payments, or payments made over up to a four-month period. Stores participating in tax-free shopping or credit card discounts typically display signs in their windows, so be on the lookout for these special promotions.
Due to concerns of petty theft and the architectural repurposing of many buildings, you will need to be buzzed into most stores.
Although shopkeepers will be highly attentive, service in Buenos Aires eateries is extremely hands-off, beginning with a self-seating policy at most establishments. If you don’t proactively flag down a server, don’t expect them to check up on you. Whether you’ve finished your meal or are brooding over a cup of tea, they will allow you to sit undisturbed for hours until you ask for la cuenta (the check).
Porteños eat supper late. Many restaurants won’t open for dinner until 8pm and the busiest time is 10pm, although more touristy spots may open earlier. To tide yourself over, join the locals in the early earning at the cafés, where coffee or beer is paired with light snacks, usually sweet medialunas, tostadas (grilled sandwiches), or tablas (cold platters, usually a mix of olives, cheese, and salami).