The Buenos Aires Obelisk

August 24, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

A porteño emblem par excellence

The Obelisk monument on Av 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires

It was once decorated as a pencil (2006), and twice as a Christmas tree (1973 and 2010).  It has served as a target for vandals, prompting its public closure and an imposing fence to be placed around it in 1987.  During the sinister sequestration period of the 1970s, it served as a masthead to hoist terrifying propaganda intended to silence the government’s critics.

In 2005, it was covered in a giant pink condom for World Aids Day.  In 2015, it temporarily “lost” its tip thanks to a grand illusion by the hand of a local artist, making it possible for the first time ever for Argentines to access its towering peak.

A few days after its construction was complete in 1936, an earthquake shook its foundation but couldn’t topple it.  A few years later, in 1939, the Argentine government voted 23-3 to demolish it, but they couldn’t topple it either (thanks, Mayor Goyeneche).   

For the city’s bicentennial celebrations in May 2010, more than 3 million cheering porteños rallied around it as their central symbol of both the city and the nation.  Just a few days before, famed fútbol coach of Argentina’s national team and it’s favorite ex-star player, Diego Maradona, threatened to run around it buck naked if his team should win the World Cup.

So, what is “it”, you ask?

None other than the “silver sword” of porteño pride: el Obelisco de Buenos Aires.

Residing at the intersection of the city’s two most important avenues, Av. 9 de Julio and Av. Corrientes, the Obelisk has been steeped in controversy and intrigue since before it was even erected. For starters, it has been popularly (and wrongly) blamed for the destruction of the historic St. Nicholas Church, which once stood on the same site and first hoisted the baby blue and white Argentine flag over its altars (the 1931 widening of Avenida Corrientes was the actual culprit).

Inscriptions on the side of 'El Obelisco' in Buenos Aires

Early onlookers questioned the appropriateness of the construction, pointing out that its shape had “nothing to do with” the city and what it stood for. It predictably became a target for local feminist groups that didn’t like the perceived machismo attitudes it embodies. And, if the ladies were correct about the message it was intended to send, it was an embarrassment anyway thanks to being less than half as tall as its 555-feet tall North American cousin, the Washington Monument (El Obelisco is just 221.5 feet tall, or 67.5 meters).

Besides that, it wasn’t even made out of “local materials”- the Olsen white stone which comprised its outer cladding was from the province of Córdoba. When that tiling started falling off, it was declared a danger to passersby and termed an “intruder” by an opportunistic Congress that grasped for any reason to level it to the ground and start afresh.

An Argentine monument that Buenos Aires learned to accept

But here we are over 80 years later, and it still occupies its prime real estate on the corner of the Broadway of BA and the Widest Avenue in the World. Love it or hate it, one thing is clear: it’s impossible to ignore it. After all, it has been the site of enough impassioned protests and soccer celebrations to cement its place in the Port City dweller’s hearts forever. More than likeability, the obelisk has familiarity going for it, having served as the centerpiece to many key events in the modern history of Buenos Aires.

In fact, the best way to understand the significance of the structure is perhaps through these stories: the rallies, the raucousness, and (at times) the riots that the monument has borne witness to. If choosing the Obelisk to host an event is synonymous with having an important cultural message to send, let’s see what we can glean about the Argentine people from just the happenings there from the past year (at the time of writing, August 2017)…

Buenos Aires hedge art in front of the Obelisk monument

12 August 2016: Tango Festival and World Cup Kickoff Celebration

What better event to start with for representing Buenos Aires than one related to tango?  Known worldwide as the Festival y Mundial de Tango and locally as simply El Mundial, this important tango competition takes place during the month of August each year in Buenos Aires. Over 400 couples compete each year in national and international preliminaries for a chance to represent their country in the finals at Luna Park at the end of the month in one of two categories: Tango Pista (salon tango), or Tango Escenario (Stage Tango).  In the run-up to that final event, classes, exhibitions, and concerts are offered all for free in an effort to preserve and expand the cultural heritage of the tango.  

In 2016, the festival theme was bringing the tango “back to the barrios” (neighborhoods), and the events were hosted over 42 different venues in the city to include as many enthusiasts as possible (they almost reached a full offering of 48 venues… the official number of barrios in the city, but a valiant effort all the same).  The kickoff celebration at the Obelisco was actually a press conference, but featured some of the musicians and dancers representing Buenos Aires.

Watch last year’s champions Cristian Palomo and Melisa Sacchi in the salon category, and Hugo Mastrolorenzo and Agustina Vignau in the stage category.  This year (2017), the festival takes place from the 10th to the 23rd of August.

9 October 2016: The First Annual National Asado Championships

A close second in cultural importance to tango in Argentina (and some would argue for its place in the top spot) is their asado tradition of grilling up the tastiest cuts of meat in the world.  Last October, the city crystallized their efforts to communicate their gastronomic superiority in the carne category by holding a meat mega-festival, with the Obelisk serving as ground zero.  Judges were brought in from some of the best parrillas in the city: Don Julio, La Cabrera, La Carnicería, El Mirasol, Cabaña Las Lilas, Siga la Vaca, Nuestro Secreto and La Cabaña.  

The festival’s champion asadores hailed from Mendoza, a Western province of Argentina, and proudly declared after their win that the “secret is patience” in this “ceremony” of Argentine culture.  The event coincided with Argentine Cultural Diversity Day, and featured several booths showing off the cuisines and dances of nearby nations – fitting for a country that celebrates their strong immigrant population.

19 October 2016: The National Women’s Strike

Taking a somber turn in our roster of notable gatherings is the mass march that took place last October to protest the brutal femicide of 16 year old Lucía Pérez in Mar Del Plata, a coastal resort town in the province of Buenos Aires.  As part of the Ni Una Menos movement (“not one less”, meaning no more women killed from gender violence), the strike took place on “Miércoles Negro,” or “Black Wednesday,” and made headlines all over the world.  

Thousands of women stopped all activities for an hour and marched from the Obelisk to Plaza de Mayo, where organizers recited speeches about the persistent machista (male-dominated) attitudes that exist here and threaten the women of Argentina, not only in the form of violence but also cultural suppression (over 10% of women are unemployed, with a gender pay gap of 30-40% and 20% of salaried women being employed as low-paid domestic workers).  It is a sad reality, but misogyny and gender-related violence continues to be one of the greatest challenges this country faces.

14-18 November 2016: Artisanal Ice Cream Week

With over 6000 artisanal ice cream shops sprinkled over the city, it is clear that meat is not the only defining delicacy on the porteño menu.  Each year in late November, the city bows to its Italian immigrant traditions and turns the Obelisk into a giant gelato stand, with flavors being made fresh and all the proceeds benefiting local children’s hospitals.  In 2016, its 32nd year, the festival drew a crowd of over 4000, with the favorite flavors being (in order): dulce de leche, chocolate, and strawberry (frutilla).  

Far from enjoying their creamy treat from a waffle cone, the preferred delivery method in Buenos Aires is in that styrofoam container known simply as un cuarto – a quarter kilogram of the sweet stuff, because *real* artisanal ice cream is always sold by weight, never volume.  Our advice: don’t get into an argument with an Argentine about who sells the best ice cream in the city, because they all have a personal favorite… and they’re all right!

A quarter kilo of dulce de leche & chocolate ice cream

29 November 2016: A Tribute To The Chapecoense Football Team

Football is serious business in Argentina.  90% of the populace here claims allegiance to a club, and a woman cheering against her boyfriend’s team is automatic grounds for a breakup.  When the national team wins the entire city stops to celebrate, and Diego Maradona (their coach and ex-star player) is still every bit as much of a god as he was in the early 80’s.  But on the tragic night of November 29th, 2016, Argentina showed that their true allegiance is to the sport itself rather than any national rivalry.  That was the night that 71 people perished on a Medellín, Colombia mountainside from a chartered flight carrying the players and staff of the rising star team from Chapecoense, Brazil.  

The scrappy underdogs had beaten incredible odds to make it to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, but their lives were lost at the hands of a careless pilot who failed to make a refuel stop.  Football fans the world over went into mourning, and Argentina lit up the Obelisk in bright green – the team’s jersey color – in solidarity.  It was a moment that no porteño will soon forget.

7 February 2017: The ‘Tetazo’ Topless March

What started as 3 women being threatened with arrest (*link NSFW) for bathing topless on a popular beach on the outskirts of the city on January 28th turned into a massive protest (*link NSFW) in the Plaza de la Republica – the small park surrounding the Obelisk – a little over a week later.  That incident renewed a longstanding national debate about the inequalities that still exist between men and women in Argentine society, where women’s scantily-clad bodies are routinely used to sell products in advertising alongside being portrayed as lewd for acts such as breastfeeding.  

It was hard to ignore that the protesters had a valid point when a large number of men showed up merely to ogle the bared-chests, with some climbing flagpoles to get a better look and one man exposing his genitals, sparking outrage among the crowd. While legislators continue to debate the legality of topless sunbathing for women, one thing is clear: machismo, at least for now, is here to stay in Buenos Aires.

25 March 2017: Earth Hour Shuts Down The Obelisk

Buenos Aires has come a long way in the last year in their environmental conservation efforts. Instituting a ban on plastic bags in grocery stores at the beginning of 2017, installing dedicated bus lines to cut air and noise pollution, conducting a city-wide trash collection overhaul, and replacing streetlights with energy efficient LED bulbs are just a few of the improvements the city has undergone.  Though they still have a long way to go, it is clear from the notable lack of protests at the hands of a people that aren’t afraid to take to the streets that the majority of Argentines consider themselves in favor of measures that protect the environment.  

Since 2015, the city has been participating in Earth Hour: a yearly event taking place in over 170 countries that flicks the switch on the lights that power major monuments around the world.  This year saw not just the Obelisco, but also the Monumento a San Martín, the Monumento a los Españoles, and the Floralis Genérica go dark for an hour.  Now if they could only innovate a new, biodegradable material to replace that standard styrofoam ice cream container.

El Obelisco de Buenos Aires

Tango, grilled meats, fútbol, and women’s rights: just a few of the defining cultural facets of Argentina’s modern times.  Clearly, if you want to get a bird’s eye view of the social landscape, a very good place to start is the steps of that sky-scraping symbol of porteño pride – El Obelisco.

View of the Obelisk seen from Av Diagonal Norte

Galerías Pacífico Shopping Mall

September 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Historic Shopping Center in Buenos Aires

Housed in a lovely Beaux Arts building in downtown Buenos Aires, the Galerías Pacífico Shopping Mall is a great place to visit for much more than just shopping. Originally constructed in the 1890’s as the BA headquarters for the Parisian department store, Le Bon Marche, this prime spot on the Florida pedestrian street has changed through the years, but retains a nostalgic elegance, making it a dazzling place to shop.

beautiful shopping malls in buenos aires
[Photo credit: Wally G’s photostream/ /CC BY-BY-SA 2.0]

Modeled after the great Italian arcade Gallerias Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, the building was commissioned exclusively for Le Bon Marche. The department store never occupied the entire building however, as it struggled to compete with the English store Harrods just down the block. (The Harrods building now lays empty, after closing over fourteen years ago.) As a result, other companies and stores occupied parts of the Galerías. It was the first home of the National Museum of Fine Arts, a hotel moved into one corner (now the luxurious Esplendor Buenos Aires), and the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway converted some of the building into offices, thus the Galerías Florida were renamed Galerías Pacífico, since the rail line reached from Buenos Aires, through Chile, to the Pacific Ocean (el pacifico).

Beautiful ceilings and dark basements

mural in mall Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: Barcex’s photostream/ /CC BY-BY-SA 2.0]

At the nexus of the galleries you’ll find impressive murals painted on the interior dome. Commissioned in 1947, these murals were painted by five of Argentina’s greatest artists at the time: Antonio Berni, Juan Carlos Castagnino, Manuel Colmeiro Guimaraes, Lino Enea Spilimbergo, and Demetrio Urruchua. The murals reflect universal themes like brotherhood and man’s relationship to nature, and it’s an interesting study in the unique styles of each artist within the same medium. Keep an eye out as you stroll through the rest of the mall for some more contemporary murals, as well.

Like many other beautiful sites in Buenos Aires, the history of the Galerias is tainted with the stain of the last military dictatorship. In the late 1980’s, a film crew ventured into the basements of the mall, and one of the cameramen recognized the the space as the site where he was held and tortured as an ex-desaparecido in 1976.  The basement still bore ghastly evidence of torture, such as markings made by the imprisoned, including dates and pleas for help. The building was declared a National Historic Monument in 1989.

High-end brand shopping in downtown BA

After lying abandoned for a while, the galleries were converted into a shopping mall in the 1990’s, while Argentina was experiencing an economic boom. Today, the stores in Galerias Pacifico are basically the same ones you can find in other malls throughout the city, or walking down Santa Fe avenue, and around Palermo. Foreign brands like Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, Estee Lauder, and Swarovski have shops among the many Argentine brands, and you can stop for cafe or lunch in the cafes and restaurants both on the bottom floor, and up high under the glass ceiling. Here’s a full listing of stores.

Galerias Buenos Aires shopping

[Photo credit: Miguel Cesar’s photostream/ /CC BY-BY-NC-SA 2.0]

While you’re there, don’t miss the Centro Cultural Borges (Borges Cultural Center), which features many wonderful exhibits. Also stroll down the pedestrian Calle Florida for more shopping and lots of interesting people watching (rushed business people, street vendors, travelers, money traders, and buskers all converge here).

For a preview of the Galerias, check out this video, and read more on Wander Argentina.

Location and hours of the Galerias Pacifico

Av. Cordoba and Florida, City Center
Website:  www.galeriaspacifico.com.ar/eng/index.php
Phone: 5555-5110
Hours: Monday – Saturday 10am – 9pm
Sunday – 12pm – 9pm

Centro Cultural Jorge Luis Borges:
Located on the corner of Viamonte and San Martin, City Center

Teatro Colon

June 9, 2008 by · 17 Comments 

Splendid old opera house in Buenos Aires

Teatro Colon

Back in 2006 took the opportunity to take in a performance at the Teatro Colon (Colon Theater) which many say is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Buenos Aires, as one of the most famous opera houses in the world.

I had been prompted to get along to the Colon by the fact that it was closing for reconstruction work at the end of October 2006, with original plans to reopen on May 25, 2008, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the theater. However, in the end the renovations took almost twice as long as expected, and so the Teatro Colon instead reopened on May 25th 2010, the 200th anniversary of the May Revolution, when Argentina split from the Spanish to become an independent nation.

It was a long wait until the re-opening, and knowing Argentina and it’s reputation for tardiness, I correctly doubted works would be completed on time, so it was important for me to check the legendary theater out before the prospect of a long wait.

To bring us back to the present for a moment, the Teatro Colon reopened its doors, as expected (the delayed forecast!), on May 25th 2010, after almost 4 years of renovations. And it’s now more beautiful than ever.

Show tickets are available either at their ticket office (entrance on Tucumán 1171), or buying online through the Tu Entrada website, using the following link: Buy Teatro Colon Tickets Online Here for Opera, Ballet, other Concerts & Guided Tours (after purchase you will still need to collect the tickets from the ticket office from 2 hours to 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the show). The ticket website is thankfully now working in English (see the language option in the top right corner of their webpage), after many years of only being available in Spanish, making things a little easier for visitors to the city to buy tickets.

The Concert

Back when I visited in 2006, my companions and I saw a concert from the Camerata Bariloche orchestra, playing pieces from Strauss and Beethoven, which was all very pleasing to the ears (I have to admit I’m not much of a classical music fan), but the star of the show was of course the venue itself, which was resplendent in its rich scarlet and gold decoration, along with several forests worth of beautiful wooden construction that make up the auditorium, with hints of Italian, Greek, German and French Renaissance design. And that was before the renovations, when it was looking a little tatty. The place is now back in pristine condition.

It’s all very impressive when you are looking down, way, way down, from above, in the ‘Paradise’ (‘Paraiso’ – the 7th and final seating level) area, which are the cheapest tickets in the house, but still offer an interesting view and due to the famed acoustics of the Colon, it sounds great from wherever you are sat.

Teatro Colon Buenos Aires

For the record, I turned up in smart shoes, trousers, a shirt and tie, taking note of the dress code I saw in the ticket office earlier that day. I was easily the most over dressed person in the ‘Paraiso’ area – but in the more expensive areas I did see some well dressed ladies and gentleman. I think in reality you could go along dressed as you please – I saw quite a few people in jeans and t shirts.

Colon Theatre

Some Teatro Colon History

The famous venue is not without some interesting history. It opened in 1908, almost 20 years after the first cornerstone was laid in 1889, under the direction of architect Francesco Tamburini. You might understand why I thought the recent restorations may not be completed on time when I tell you that the theatre was originally due to be opened in 1892!

But to be fair, a series of tragedies did complicate the process. Tamburini died soon after construction started, and his friend Vittorio Meano took over the project. Who also promptly died (murdered in a love triangle ‘gone wrong’ – though actually I’m not sure if there are many love triangles that ‘go right’). The architects were followed to the grave by another Italian guy, Angelo Ferrari (assassinated), that had been partly funding the building works. Italians dropping like flies…

Fortunately, a Belgian, Julio Dormal, came in and finished the job, breathing a sigh of relief as the finishing touches were made without event. This further confirmed my feeling that Belgians are in fact some of the greatest people on this planet, not only producing the best beer in the world and some of the finest chocolate, but also bucking architectural death trends without batting an eyelid. And that’s not to mention the waffles! I used to drink to Dormal and his kind whenever I could (sadly no Belgian beer) inside another of his many BA constructions, the Confiteria Richmond cafe, on pedestrian Florida Street (near Lavalle), but sadly that classic cafe closed to the public in 2011.

The Colon Finally Opens…

But back to the theatre. It finally opened on 25 May 1908 with a performance of Verdi’s Aida, and never looked back, as it became one of the world’s premiere centers of opera. Over the years the Teatro Colon has hosted such musical greats as Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, French opera singer Jane Bathori, Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, Greek soprano Maria Callas, the legendary Luciano Pavarotti, Argentine Tango bandoneon maestro Astor Piazzolla and even Weird Al Yankovic. OK, I made that last one up, but it would have been interesting.

Colon Theatre Buenos Aires

Previous Colon Theater

There was actually a Colon theatre before the current one, which had opened in 1857 on the edge of Plaza de Mayo, and served Argentine aristocracy well for a good many years until the current Colon was opened in 1908. These days in the old Colon location you’ll find the the Banco de la Nacion – the national bank of Argentina, an imposing structure that looks down upon the tourists that buzz round the Pink House.

Teatro Colon Stage

Perfect Acoustics

The current theatre, located in the City Center (in the unofficial sub-barrio of Tribunales) and visible from Avenue 9 de Julio, has virtually perfect acoustics. This is one of its main attractions, the sound reaching each and every audience member perfectly – so you can save money and still enjoy the concert, even if the orchestra do look like musical ants from the loftier vantage points.

If that doesn’t sound like a nice visual experience, you can always take in the music while staring at the beautiful surroundings, such as the decoration around the top of the stage, the huge, dazzling chandelier, or the ceiling frescoes that surround it. Though sadly the latter are not original, due to damage caused by damp in the 1930s. Instead they were painted in 1966 by famous Argentine muralist Raul Soldi, whose work can also be found on the ceiling of the wonderful Galerias Pacifico shopping center, on Florida street (on the corner of Avenida Cordoba).

Teatro Colon Verdict

I very much recommend that any visitor to Buenos Aires pay a visit to the Teatro Colon – especially now that this great attraction has been restored to its former glory. If you don’t have the chance to catch a show there, then you can always go for a guided tour of the building during the daytime, for which tickets can be bought through the Tu Entrada website (click on Visitas Guiadas), or by visiting the theater in person when you get to Buenos Aires. They run on the hour, every hour, from 9am to 5pm, although only a few of the tours through the day are given in English – you can check those times on the Tu Entrada website.

Or if you are really tight for time, the Teatro Colon is still there on Avenida 9 de Julio (although that is the back, go around onto Plaza Lavalle for the front view) to be appreciated from the outside, and that’s not such a bad view in itelf…

Exterior of the Teatro Colon

For more detailed information on the Teatro Colon, check out the history section of the official Colon website. And of course, Wikipedia is always good.

Location of Teatro Colon

Teatro Colon, Tucumán 1171, Tribunales (City Center)

Telephone: (54-11) 4378-7109

Avenida Corrientes Bookstores

July 24, 2007 by · 11 Comments 

The famous bookstores of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires bookstores on Avenida Corrientes

Buenos Aires is no doubt one of the most literary cities on the planet. The people here know the value of a good book, whether it’s poetry, fiction, art, anthropology, self-help, or psychology (not only can you bet that most porteños have read some Freud, but there is even an area of Palermo – Villa Freud – named after him).

If you wish to properly observe this social fact, you absolutely must visit the bookstores of Corrientes, the famous avenue that bristles with the action of theaters, cinemas, cafes, shops, and people with their noses stuck in used copies of anthologies of Argentine history or poetry.

Buenos Aires’ bookstore hotspot

Every bookstore has its own history and character, but all of them proudly display extensive collections of works by Argentine and Latin American authors and artists, as well as North American and classical European works, calendars, and CDs. Very few of them have any English language sections, although if you dig around you should find a few English offerings.

Most of the bookstores deal primarily in new books, but you’ll find some used books as well. With books scattered here, there and everywhere, presentation is not a priority – very different to more upscale bookstore chains in Buenos Aires like Boutique del Libro or El Ateneo.

If you don’t read Spanish, it is still enjoyable to peruse the stores simply because they are unique in their atmosphere and awesome in their vast quantity of texts. You could always get a children’s book or calendar as a souvenir. Or maybe it’s about time you learned to read Spanish… after all, it’s a language that is truly rich in expressions and has hundreds of years of literary heritage.

A typical Avenida Corrientes bookstore

Here are some excellent spots for book-hunting on Corrientes. The best way to visit them is to start at the Obelisco (subway station Carlos Pellegrini, on Av. 9 de Julio) and walk up Corrientes going westward (towards Av. Callao). The places listed below go in order from east to west so you can follow them like a walking tour. You could spend thirty minutes briefly poking your head into them, or an entire afternoon going through the immense selections.

Obel Libros

This modest bookstore has been in operation for about a decade and is run by a friendly middle-aged man who will be excited to practice his English with you. The special items you will find here are encyclopedias for students, books focusing on Latin American social and economic matters, and used novels.

Cuspide Libros

If you want professional guides for things such as computers, culinary arts, tourism, and hostelry (in Spanish, of course), Cuspide offers a wide range of these books. It also has the usual offerings of cheaply produced novels and non-fiction books.

Libreria Lucas

Liberia Lucas bookstore on Avenida Corrientes

At Lucas you will find a good selection of well-kept used books, which might interest collectors or book sellers. Also here are plenty of children’s books.

Libreria Hernandez

There are two Hernandez locations on Corrientes, within a few blocks of each other. A very extensive selection of books is offered, with topics such as Latin American revolutions, Che Guevara, economics, politics, Peronism, Argentine history, religion (you may notice that there are a lot of books about Judaism, a subject Argentines are fascinated by, due to the large Jewish population here), self-help, and psychology.

Are you looking for a gift?  Pick up one of the colorful cookbooks with recipes for traditional porteño favorites. You may even find a few cookbooks in English, or even one that explains methods for the traditional Argentine asado (barbeque). Also at Hernandez is a great collection of art books, with a focus on artists from Argentina and Buenos Aires.

Liberia Hernandez bookstore on Av Corrientes

Libreria Libertador

Don’t miss this classic Corrientes bookstore, with its unbelievably cheap classics by Spanish and Latin American authors, poetry collections, children’s books, and offerings by Shakespeare, Kahlil Gibran, Henry James, and more. The prices are low enough that you might buy books even if you can’t read Spanish.

If you are traveling around Argentina, you might also look for the nicely done travel guides published by the newspaper El Clarin. They can come in handy and are much lighter than the Lonely Planet you are probably lugging around.

Also at Libreria Libertador there are random items such as dollhouse parts and furniture, calendars with themes of Argentina and Buenos Aires, old magazines that will delight collectors, heaps of crossword puzzle books, CDs by composers such as Beethoven and Vivaldi with booklets providing information about the music, and, if you dare, a backroom full of dirty magazines and videos.

Magazines and Puzzle books also abound

Posada Libros

This enormous bookstore stretches back into a building big enough for two businesses. You’ll find the usual suspects here: cheap novels, books on the humanities (philosophy, anthropology, religion), CDs (Latin and classical music), and so on. Mainly it’s worth visiting Posada Libros just to see so many books in one place.

Between the Bookstores

Once you’ve tired of the Corrientes book-walk in the Buenos Aires City Center,  you most definitely deserve a break. If you get hungry, head to Pizzeria Guerrin (touted as one of the best pizza restaurants in Buenos Aires), or for a mid-day coffee break, to El Gato Negro (a beautiful old cafe and spice shop).

While you are bookstore-hopping, watch out for the plenty of artisans who set up their displays on the sidewalks of Corrientes. Also you’ll walk by some of Buenos Aires’ famous theaters – inquire there about the latest spectacles.

Location of Avenida Corrientes Bookstores

Various stops along Avenida Corrientes, between Avenida 9 de Julio & Avenida Callao, City Center

Cafe El Gato Negro

July 15, 2007 by · 3 Comments 

This black cat in Buenos Aires might not be so unlucky…

El Gato Negro Cafe and Spice shop

On a chilly fall or winter day in Buenos Aires, there is nothing more likely to give you warmth and a big smile than having a delicious spiced tea or coffee in El Gato Negro, one of the city’s most historical establishments. The cafe was originally a spice store founded by a Spanish settler in 1929 who spent years traveling in Asia and Siberia, collecting exotic spices and flavors. He brought them to Buenos Aires and named this cafe El Gato Negro after another famous cafe back in Madrid.

Now El Gato Negro is a reminder of the city’s European roots, and a wonderful place to read a newspaper or the book you recently bought at one of Avenida Corrientes’ many bookstores, or even to enjoy a gourmet dinner in its elegant upstairs dining room.

Teas and spices on the shelves of El Gato Negro

Heady aromas of teas, coffees and spices

As you walk into the cafe, you are instantly overcome by the mixtures of aromas. Freshly ground coffee, cardamom, black and green teas, and ginger swirl together in the air, hovering over the people sitting at tables or buying bags of spices at the counter. You almost have the sensation of being in an Arab market in the middle of Buenos Aires. Grab a seat and be prepared to relax for an hour or two in the company of a hot drink.

The truth is that El Gato Negro does have rather daunting prices for its offerings, partly due to the fact that it is a fairly touristy environment these days (as with most historical locations), but also because its coffees and teas are mostly imported and of high quality. A delicious delight like the cafe al jengibre, with freshly ground coffee, cream, ginger, honey and cinnamon, may cost more than a cafe con leche across the street, however,  El Gato Negro is worth a visit if only to experience its lovely old world atmosphere.

El Gato Negro, Buenos Aires City Center
[Photo Credit: adapar]

Try delicious treats like Irish coffees or vanilla-cinnamon infused teas

Other treats to try here are their Irish coffees, which offer a bit of alcohol to warm you up on a chilly day, and their loose leaf teas and infusions, such as vanilla-cinnamon, green tea-orange, green tea-ginger, and mint. Don’t miss specialties such as the cafe cardamomo with fresh cardamom seeds or their delightful cappucino. To accompany your bevarage, El Gato Negro has some tempting desserts and pastries, such as brownies, medialunas, and alfajores.

If you come to El Gato Negro for a light lunch, you could order a sandwich with ham and cheese,  some picadas (ham and cheese platters), or one of their gourmet sandwiches with steak, chicken, or cheese .

El Gato Negro is an acclaimed cafe notable, recognized for its historical importance in Buenos Aires. Most of the original wooden furniture has been preserved, and its a fabulous place to sit and watch people come in to relax after an afternoon of dizzying shopping on bustling Avenida Corrientes in the city center of Buenos Aires.

Inside El Gato Negro Cafe

An interesting range of food, but at a price

El Gato Negro also has a restaurant area upstairs that serves full-course dinners at rather lofty prices, not pleasing to travelers on a budget. Here you will find unique bistro-style dishes and a full wine-list that should please any palate. Among their starters, El Gato Negro has caesar salads with shrimp, regular salads, and a spiced mushroom tart. Main dishes range from the scalloped pork with curried corn pudding, to fish in almond sauce over herbed couscous.

For desserts, try the parfait de Cassis or the chocolate mousse with walnuts. All in all, El Gato Negro is a place for fine-dining in a unique setting, and it’s worth the prices if you really need to eat something besides bife de chorizo con pure de papas for a change. The wine list has good Argentine favorites like Benjamin Nieto and Santa Julia, or opt for a more economical glass of house wine.

Take a little of El Gato Negro away with you

If you are souvenir-shopping, El Gato Negro has lovely little spice tins and boxes with their signature black cat over a lush red background. Or, if you are staying long-term in Buenos Aires, this is a good spot to find things that can be difficult to obtain elsewhere in the city, such as exotic spices, soy sauces, couscous, dried mushrooms, fresh and dried spices from all over the world, spice mix for making asado, or dried candied fruits such as kiwis, pears, and pineapples.

Spices for sale at El Gato Negro
[Photo Credit: aardvark]

Location of El Gato Negro

Avenida Corrientes 1669, between Rodriguez Pena & Montevideo, City Center

Tel: 4374-1730

California Burrito Co – CBC

December 4, 2006 by · 12 Comments 

***UPDATE: The California Burrito Co has since closed down in Buenos Aires. It does however still have an outlet in Argentina in the city of Rosario, and several others in the countries of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. We’ll leave this post here for posterity, in case they ever decide to come back to their roots in BA. You can read more about the company on their website.*** 

Burritos in Buenos Aires?

California Burrito Co - CBC, Buenos Aires

Yes, that’s right, Buenos Aires – the city that spicy food forgot – actually boasts a burrito restaurant whose efforts do not fall flat. The California Burrito Co, CBC for short, is spicing up the lives of residents and visitors alike. Word of mouth amongst Yanqui expats and resident food bloggers like Saltshaker (read here – Wrap it Up! In a tortilla please) have put CBC on the map as the real deal in your search for an authentic burrito in BA.

As a quick aside, for those of you who don’t know Saltshaker, he writes a food-themed blog with excellent, regular reviews of restaurants in Buenos Aires, in addition to recipes (he is also a chef by trade – with his own ‘closed doors’ restaurant called Casa Saltshaker) and his thoughts on life in BA. He really knows his stuff when it comes to food, so a Saltshaker thumbs-up for a restaurant means you are in for an excellent meal.

So if you are tiring of the usual Argentine menu suspects, head down to the city center and try your luck with Cal-Mex fast food.

California Burrito Co Counter

Yes, that’s right, Burritos in Buenos Aires

The restaurant is very clean, sleek and modern looking, and based on the pedestrian street of Lavalle in the bajo (low, sloping down to the river) area of Buenos Aires City Center. The set-up is as follows: you head up to the counter and order your combo:  select either a California burrito, a fajita burrito (has peppers & onions instead of beans), a veggie burrito, or 2 tacos (each combo includes a beverage). Then you proceed to select your meat (grilled steak, grilled chicken, beef strips or braised pork) if not going veggie; decide on your extras from a list of rice, beans, cheese, salads, sour cream and guacamole; and finally your sauce, including the spicy rojo, and the even spicier fuego, in addition to some tamer offerings.

It’s all put together in front of your hungry eyes, wrapped up in foil and chucked into a basket. Pay the man at the register and you’re off to your table to wolf it down with you bare hands, making a lot of lovely juicy mess in the process.

Yes indeed, a true BA Burrito.

Pictured is the California Burrito, with chicken, rice, all the extras that would fit, and the spicy rojo sauce. These burritos are huge, very tasty, and satisfying. The sauce is fairly spicy, and they even offer one more step up on their salsa spectrum – fuego (fire). Cool your tounge with a mineral water, fountain soft-drink or pay a little extra to indulge in a Negra Modelo or Corona beer with a slice of lime. CBC also occasionally holds Happy Hour promotions where the Margaritas are two-for-one. Not bad.

A Burrito, in Buenos Aires!

Just like Burritos in the US, only in Buenos Aires

CBC Buenos Aires StaffAmerican expats will tell you that California Burrito Co is a little bit like Chipotle in the US, which apparently is a good thing, and the two, they say, are on a par in the quality stakes.

The staff (see right) in CBC are also very friendly, a mix of the American owners and Argentine staff, and they do an excellent job of packaging up your burrito in front of you, advising you on what extras they have, and I am sure, for visitors to Buenos Aires, that there would always be an English speaker on hand to help out if you are feeling a little lost trying to order.

They are famous too! The Associated Press covered the three American CBC owners in a feature earlier this year, entitled ‘Foreign Entrepreneurs Spice Up Argentina’, which is worth a quick read, and also profiles some other expats making their way into the Argentine world of business.

Oh, and CBC also do salads for those who want to shed the flour tortilla. But don’t let health concerns get in the way of your Burrito.

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