El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore
The world’s most beautiful bookstore, in Buenos Aires!
Buenos Aires is a bookworm’s city: cozy cafes for snuggling up with a novel on every corner, bargain bookshops on Corrientes Avenue, famous literary personalities, and high taxes on technology make Kindles and Tablets rare (that’s right, porteños still read real-life, scribble in the margins, flash them on the subway, wallow in the scent of musty spine, thumb the velvety pages BOOKS!). And of course, Buenos Aires is home to the most beautiful bookstore in the world.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of the biggest bookstores in South America and certainly the most luxurious. Located in the ritzy Recoleta neighborhood, El Ateneo is as splendid as its name, and exudes Buenos Aires’s nostalgic elegance. The building originally housed the theater Teatro Grand Splendid, designed by architects Pero and Torres Armengol in 1919. After years of popular shows, including performances by the famous tango singers Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini, the Grand Splendid was converted into a movie theater in the late ’20’s, featuring some of the first sound movies shown in Argentina.
All the bookstore’s a stage
The El Ateneo publishing house converted this old theater into a bookstore in 2000, thankfully conserving its original aspect, but replacing seating with bookshelves. The theater’s spectacular cupola (dome), painted by Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi, depicts an allegory for peace after WWI. Framed by plush crimson curtains, the stage is now a cafe where literary types and people-watchers alike form part of the spectacle; acting like a porteño by sipping a cafe and struggling over a Cortázar story has never been so literal!
Opened in 1912 by Spaniard Pedro Garcia, El Ateneo started out as a publishing house whose initial catalog included The Divine Comedy, Montaigne’s essays, Shakespeare, Ruben Dario, Machiavelli and Homer translated and printed for an Argentine readership. In 1968, the publishers launched “The Spring of Letters”, a series of lectures and signings with famous authors which eventually evolved into the International Book Fair held annually in April. Today, the editorial forms part of Argentina’s most important literary conglomerate with many bookstores throughout BA and the rest of the country.
BYOB: Bring your own book
If you want to be one of the 3,000 who visit this glorious temple of books daily, I recommend waiting for a spot in any of the reading nooks housed where the box seats once lay. Snuggle up with your selections, admire the ornate views, and watch people from all over the world snap photos and delve into texts.
Don’t be disappointed by the English book section, though; it contains almost exclusively romance and mystery novels with an occasional classic. There are, however, many books on Latin American art, regional cuisine, guide books, and Argentine culture which make for fun browsing for even those who don’t understand a lick of español. Check the basement for music, DVDs, and an extensive children’s section, and the upper floors for great views. The first floor houses mostly medical, psychological, and education texts, and you can find Classical and Opera music on the third floor.
Don’t believe it’s the most beautiful bookstore in the world? Neither did The Guardian; in this article they placed El Ateneo at second. Call me dramatic, but I hold to my claim that El Ateneo is number 1! For a great description of the store, try Atlas Obscuro, and if you want to see some more magical bookstores check out this top twenty list at Flavorwire. Or just sit here and watch the following short video on El Ateneo instead:
Location of El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore
Avenida Santa Fe 1860, between Riobamba and Callao, Recoleta
Monday to Thursday: 9am to 10pm
Friday and Saturday: 9am to 12am
Sunday: 12pm to 10pm