Cafe La Poesia

December 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A writer’s cafe in San Telmo

La Poesia sign

After you attend the San Telmo market – a rite of passage for any traveler in Buenos Aires – you and your tired feet might wonder, “Where can I relax in a quiet place around here?” Surprisingly, you only need to walk one more block.

Although it has received some attention in travel books, La Poesia has maintained its character, bohemian environment and simple, great tastes. Located on the corner of Chile and Bolivar, one block off from the feria on Defensa street, La Poesia (“the poetry”) charms its patrons with old, wooden tables, exposed brick ceilings, walls covered with pictures, signs and quotations, and a nice balance between bar and café.

Opened in 1982, closed in the late ‘80s and reopened four years ago, La Poesia has plenty of history. If Jorge Luis Borges didn’t sip coffee here, his admirers did. His quotations adorn the walls, invoking Argentina’s literary past.

At the risk of sounding cliché, I think La Poesia is a classic, romantic Argentine café. It’s open till 4am Fridays and Saturdays, and is often filled with friends chatting for hours and readers combing through novels. Furthermore, a local, Porteño crowd offers an authentic atmosphere. There isn’t an English menu. The place seems destined for a scene in a Woody Allen film.

If the downstairs is bustling with the feria crowd, a staircase to the left of the counter leads to the high-ceiling upstairs, which I’ve always found quiet with nice views of the street corner (sometimes the upstairs is closed early in the week).

La Poesia inside

Micro-brewed beer in Buenos Aires!

Argentina has excellent wines. Great Malbecs are available here for very affordable prices. When it comes to wine’s brother – beer – the quality is not the same across the board. Simply put, good beer can be hard to find in Buenos Aires.

La Poesia brews its own beer – I recommend the Colorado, a red-tinted lager with a smooth flavor served in a cold mug. They also have a stout and blonde ale. Judging by the surrounding tables last night, people came for the beer.

Coffee drinkers look no further too. One of your trip’s best deals in Buenos Aires is at La Poesia. Order the “café con leche, pan casero con dulce de leche y manteca.” Coffee with hot milk, a loaf of toasted homemade bread and ample portions of butter and dulce de leche make this a simple pleasure you might order twice. I have.

Poesia’s Irish coffee is also well done, large and comes with a small side of cornbread.

The menu at La Poesia can be dizzying. Pages of sandwiches and tapas initially made me feel like I was at a Greek diner in the U.S. where they serve everything under the sun. Like its beer and coffee though, a keep-it-simple mindset will lead you in the right direction. I recommend their meat and cheese plates, or an antipasto plate, chuck full of olives.

Whether in San Telmo for the feria or perusing the streets of Buenos Aires like Borges, take a break at La Poesia. Sip your café con leche, nurse your beer and let life and its worries fade away.

La Poesia bread

Finding Cafe La Poesia

Getting there: The address is Chile 502 in San Telmo. From Recoleta or Palermo, take the D Line subway to Catedral station and walk six blocks from Plaza de Mayo down Bolivar Street. Bus lines 29 and 45 also stop nearby.

When to go: Monday – Thursday, and Sundays: 8am – 2am; Friday and Saturdays 8am – 4am. I prefer going at night, but the daytime offers more people watching.

San Telmo Sunday Fair / Feria

September 29, 2007 by · 17 Comments 

Buenos Aires Antiques and Beyond

Colorful Soda Siphons at the Feria de San Telmo, Buenos Aires

The Feria de San Telmo is one of the most notable and popular events that takes place in Buenos Aires. Nestled in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, the San Telmo Fair is bustling with unique artisans and antiques every Sunday from about 10am to 4pm (depending on the season and the weather). Perhaps its greatest qualities, besides the architecturally beautiful neighborhood which it calls home, are its exclusive goods and reliable nature. Never a Sunday will there be without tourists pouring into the cobblestone streets of San Telmo for one of a kind antiques, trinkets, art, tango and delicious food.

The San Telmo Fair, in Plaza Dorrego

Set your alarm, it’s morning in San Telmo

The true Feria de San Telmo is in Plaza Dorrego, although, it spills out into the surrounding blocks making it almost impossible to see the entire fair in just one Sunday. Plaza Dorrego houses mostly antique booths where one can find any number of valuables. Some, like original matchbox cars, gramophones and old telephones, which are still fully functional, may fetch a more expensive price, but the authenticity and uniqueness of these antiques make it well worth the extra pesos.

Antique telephones at the Feria de San Telmo

Many booths house truly one of a kind relics where a handmade backgammon board, full dinette sets and antique garments make you feel like you’re looking through your grandmother’s attic rather than a street fair. Antique knives, old jewelry and a myriad of figurines earn a spot in nearly every booth and soda siphons, artwork, mate trinkets and leather goods are in abundance. While the latter may begin to feel redundant all of these effects are an excellent example of Buenos Aires’ charming nature and rich history, and all of them deserve a spot on your shelf.

The Feria de San Telmo isn’t a time to speed shop, as walking too quickly through Plaza Dorrego may cause you to miss the very thing you’ve been looking for. Each booth ultimately has something different to offer and time well spent will turn up something to earn you “Ooohs and Ahhhs” the next time you have guests over.

Puppets at the Feria de San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Take a load off while you load up on anything you want

If you’ve built up an appetite, Plaza Dorrego is bordered by quaint eateries, cafes and bars. One of the varying prices and styles is sure to offer you the exact mid-day break you are looking for. For a taste of home with Argentine style, you can always meander your growling tummy down Defensa Street, an excellent way to view more of the fair. On Defensa, pick up some choripan (a chorizo sausage sandwich) to go and maximize your time munching away happily as you continue shopping (one of the few ways you’ll find mobile food in Argentina). Of course, Buenos Aires never disappoints with a lack of restaurants and a few blocks up or down Defensa and you’re sure to find a place that fits your mood.

Don’t spend it all in one place

If you need a break from the brassy pots and old-style belongings, Defensa provides a more modern attempt at souvenirs. Naturally, leather goods and alpaca furs still pop up from booth to booth, but younger artisans with interesting clothing designs and modern jewelry are a welcome change from the antiques of Plaza Dorrego and the antique stores lining Defensa. If you have room in your suitcase or a place in the corner of your room, quirky lamps and art pieces are a must see. If your outfit needs jazzing up, then the scarves, hats and purses will surely catch your eye.

Brass pots and things in Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires

It’s a beautiful Sunday, enjoy the view

If you happen to remember to take your eyes off of the endless maze of booths and gaze upward, the architecture of San Telmo is spectacular and a relic all on its own. San Telmo boasts extremely beautiful buildings that stand as they were, when they were built over a hundred years ago. In fact, the walk from Plaza de Mayo towards Plaza Dorrego is almost as rewarding architecturally as it is for day shopping. Another reason to perhaps leave the house early, and take your time.

If you’ve somehow managed to enjoy all the fair has to offer, and remembered to take Defensa all the way to Parque Lezama, which has its own street fair and flea market, let yourself wander through more of the surrounding blocks. San Telmo’s quaint and quirky nature is spellbinding, and a right turn here or left turn there, and a ten-man orchestra has attracted your attention.

Street entertainers in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Many of the street performers here deserve a closer look and many of them are geared towards the kids. (It’s important to mention as well, that you certainly won’t leave without catching a street tango performance). Be sure to mark the map with any museums you pass along the way. These gorgeous buildings are eye catching and if they’re not open on Sunday they deserve a day for themselves during the workweek.

Getting there is half the fun

If you’ve taken advantage of San Telmo the way it’s intended, you might need an extra suitcase home and more shelf room once you arrive. The best way to tackle the fair is walking from Plaza de Mayo down Defensa. It’s a wonderful transition from the city and an architectural delight. However, if you prefer to start closer to Plaza Dorrego and jump-start your antique splurge, there is a Subte (subway) stop on the C line at Avenida San Juan, about 6 blocks away from the fair. Like any true gem of a city attraction, don’t expect the fair to jump right out in front of you. From the right (or rather, wrong) side street you can almost miss it, making the San Telmo fair a real Buenos Aires treasure.

San Telmo Fair, Plaza Dorrego

Location of the Feria de San Telmo

Plaza Dorrego, corner of Defensa & Humberto Primo, San Telmo

Bar El Federal

July 3, 2007 by · 7 Comments 

El Federal: People watch, relax, socialize, or dine

Bar El Federal filete sign
[Photo Credit: Villamota]

Grab a buddy and head to El Federal, one of Buenos Aires’ most beautiful and classic cafes (in operation since 1864), for a relaxing afternoon coffee, lunch, or dinner. It’s a pleasure to sit in this café and admire the vintage ads decorating the walls, under a glow of soft lights. Bar El Federal is a perfect example of how the city has made an effort to preserve its cultural patrimony by maintaining old establishments in good condition.

El Federal also has a beautiful lowered bar (giving you the strange perspective of looking down on the bar staff) with an amazing carved wood and stained glass arching mantel above (see photos later in this post), an open kitchen which you can sneak a glance into if you sit in the back, two rooms full of sturdy wooden tables, and even a quaint little bookstore hidden within. The crowd is a mix of porteños relaxing with friends and family, tourists with their heads buried in Lonely Planet guide books, and eclectic San Telmo ‘locals’ from all over the world.

A classic café with cuisine that suits all tastes

Sit down at one of the tables and eventually a waiter in a crisp white shirt and black pants will bring you a menu longer and denser than a Borges novel. Whatever your appetite is calling for, Bar El Federal has it, and it will be prepared with fresh, simple ingredients. In general, their offerings fall into the category of cocina porteña: Italian favorites such as fresh homemade agnolottis, spaghettis and raviolis topped with tomato, pesto, or cream sauces; pizzetas with any imaginable toppings, milanesas, hamburgers, omelettes, and sandwiches.

Beautiful bar at El Federal
[Photo Credit: Paula Moya]

Elaborating on the topic of sandwiches, this cafe tops the charts in the vast quantity and variety of sandwiches you can choose from. There’s even an entire half-page in the menu dedicated to turkey sandwiches, which is not really common in Buenos Aires, as it is rare and very expensive. Then there are the medialunas rellenas, which are croissant sandwiches filled with cheese, ham, and other ingredients. They have traviatas, a sandwich made with crackers instead of bread, for a lighter option. You can choose from classic sandwich ingredients such as ham, cheese, salami, steak, sausage, hearts of palm, and more.

Worth mentioning are the picadas, large plates of finger foods that are served with bread baskets and make a wonderful light but satisfying dinner with some wine. El Federal offers some especially creative selections, such as sautéed eggplant, fried raviolis, peanuts, walnuts, olives, ham, cheese cubes, and goat cheese. The picadas are a great choice if you aren’t in the mood for a hot meal, and they are ideal for eating slowly during great conversation or romantic whispers with your date.

El Federal serves fresh homemade Spanish tortillas, and their salads are also notable, which range from specialties such as apples, carrots, walnuts and cheeses to traditional favorites with a lettuce and tomato foundation. The main theme here is fresh and simple, so don’t expect fancy bistro salads, but you will not be disappointed with the quality.

Food at Bar El Federal

Have a coffee, bottle of wine, cocktail, or milkshake

As for quenching your thirst, El Federal is like a bottomless well. You can sip on unique cocktails like a pisco sour, caipirinha, or the classic Negroni – a mix of gin, Campari and vermouth, with a slice of lemon – guzzle handcrafted Argentine beers by the bottle, partake in pitchers of draught beer or cider, or just linger over carafes of Argentine wine. Order like a local by asking for a chopp de sidra (a mug of traditional Argentine cider, on draught). Or you could even go all out and order a bottle of champagne, which is surprisingly affordable at El Federal.

Most of the alcoholic beverages are modestly priced, and as always in Argentina, wine is the best deal you can get if you don’t want to spend a lot. El Federal offers trusty, economic wines such as Traful, Lopez, and Concha y Toro.

Busy Bar El Federal in Buenos Aires

If you are looking for something that won’t get you tipsy, try a classic espresso-based drink such as café con crema, or a tea. And El Federal features licuados, the Argentine version of smoothies and milkshakes, which are made with either water or milk, according to your taste, and consist of any combination of fruits.

If you want a real dessert, Bar El Federal will not disappoint: it also has an extensive list of sweet concoctions, including strudels, pastries, and European-inspired creations of chocolate and fruits. Especially mouth-watering is the apple, pear, and cinnamon strudel, which is baked nearby and brought in fresh daily.

The service at El Federal is relatively slow, but it’s not the kind of place where you’ll want to rush through a meal or drinks. Enjoy the old-fashioned setting and the background noise of the kitchen sizzling meats and forks clinking on plates, while you experience the laid back lifestyle that Buenos Aires is so famous for.

Bar El Federal, San Telmo
[Photo Credit: Paula Moya]

Location of El Federal

Peru, corner of Carlos Calvo, San Telmo

Tel: 4300-4313

Cochabamba 444 Tango Milonga

June 22, 2007 by · 7 Comments 

An authentic milonga in San Telmo

Red Hot (Leggings) on the Tango Milonga Dance Floor

*If you want to check out some authentic tango salons in Buenos Aires, the easiest and most fun way to do so is on a private tango nightlife tour, where your personal guide will show you the local scene and explain everything that is going on to you, taking you to the best places on the night of your choice. For more information, click here.*

For an authentic tango experience in Buenos Aires, there are many options beyond the professional Argentine Tango Shows. For a different side of Tango, head to Cochabamba 444, the San Telmo milonga where the city’s best tango dancers come to strut across the dance floor with people of all ages, walks of life, and nationalities. The bar is dimly lit by chandeliers with yellow bulbs, giving an aura of antiquity that takes you back to Buenos Aires in its Golden Age of high-society and sizzling tango bars. It’s located on a quiet street just three blocks from Plaza Dorrego, where the Sunday antiques fair is held.

Tango dancers at the Cochabamba 444 milonga in San Telmo

Buenos Aires tango lessons

If you’d like to try out your dancing shoes, tango lessons are offered Thursday and Friday nights at 8pm at Cochabamba 444 (arrive a little late and there’ll be no problem – this is Argentina, after all). The teacher gives the class in Spanish, but if your Spanish isn’t great have no fear, because there is bound to be some English-speaking expat or even an Argentine who will happily translate for you as you whirl around the floor (or trip over your own feet, as the case may be). There may be better places in Buenos Aires for instruction on dancing tango than Cochabamba 444, but this milonga is really known for is its atmosphere and music.

Dance the night away, or just watch and enjoy

If you just want to come to watch the dancers and enjoy the music, you can show up around 10pm or 10:30pm and grab a table near the modest bar in the back. The bar serves bottles of cheap wine and things to munch on like empanadas, and picadas (plates of meats, cheese, olives etc), all at very low prices, even by Buenos Aires standards. Overall, the bar is populated by Argentines who are serious about tango, but there are certainly some foreigners on the scene too.

Once the music starts, even the most unassuming of patrons will whisk out on the dance floor and dazzle you with their grace, covert sensuality, and intensity. There’s a method to the madness, though: the culture of tango is outlined in strict rules that you can only learn from being a part of it. For example, the men always ask the women for a dance, and sometimes it’s done subtly with just a raised eyebrow. And once a couple is dancing tango, they will continue as partners for an entire song set.

A traditional Tango band belts out some classic tunes

Cochabamba 444: a performance worth coming for

Toward the end of the night, Cochabamba 444 will typically offer some sort of performance. It’s usually a traditional live tango band, who will bang out classic tunes with style on a stand-up bass, bandoneon (the type of accordion used in tango), and piano. Sometimes, however, you might get lucky and see a hilarious puppet show or a singer belting out some soul tunes.

Make note that Thursday night is arguably the best night to go, although you will probably also see some spectacular dancing and live music on Fridays too.

Make note, dress is casual but it’s best not to wear jeans and sneakers, as tango culture is somewhat more refined and traditional. You may not easily meet other travelers or Argentines at Cochabamba, but you will certainly observe a beautiful dance, authentic tango culture, and stirring musical performances.

[Article written by Rachel Singer]

Location of Cochabamba 444

Cochabamba 444, between Defensa & Bolivar, San Telmo

Plaza Dorrego

November 7, 2006 by · 22 Comments 

Buenos Aires “Must Do”

San Telmo Outdoor Market

Spending a Sunday in and around Plaza Dorrego is one of the few things that ranks as a ‘must do’ sightseeing attraction for visitors to Buenos Aires. On the seventh day of the week, when the rest of the city is resting, the city closes much of neighboring Defensa street to traffic, and this part of San Telmo explodes into a mass of around 8,000 people, locals and tourists alike. They come to peruse antiques and knick knacks, watch the outdoor tango dancing and other performers, sit for a coffee or beer outside a classic old cafe, or just aimlessly wander around the interesting chaos. This, more or less, is the Plaza Dorrego Sunday market, also known as the Feria de San Telmo.

Some San Telmo History

The Dorrego Bar in San Telmo

Plaza Dorrego is one of the oldest public spaces in the city, dating back to the 18th century, when it was an area reserved for the wagons that brought in produce to Buenos Aires from all over the country. Just before the turn of the 19th century it was turned into a public square. The coffee shops and bars surrounding the Plaza only sprung up in the 1930s, when it became an area for wine, song and dance, as it remains today. Bar Plaza Dorrego is the most famous of these establishments, with its lovely old wooden fixtures and counter, although the former has been etched with graffiti over the years – but then many would say this adds to its charm.

Plaza Dorrego Sunday Market / Feria de San Telmo

Tango Dancers in Plaza Dorrego, San TelmoThe market started in 1970, and it is still going strong with more than 270 stands offering antiques, phonographs, period clothes, jewelery, old books, crafts items and other knickknacks. It is open on Sundays from around 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. While this fair is going on, Argentine tango and folklore singers and dancers, and other performers, put on outdoor shows throughout the day.

If you have no more than a casual interest in tango, then Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday is an excellent time and place to enjoy an introductory sampling of the dance, if you don’t want to go full-out and pay for a proper Tango dinner-show in Buenos Aires. Also, in the late afternoon and early evening, after the stalls begin to pack up, free impromptu outdoor Tango lessons are often given in Plaza Dorrego, which can be quite good fun if you are not ashamed of making a fool of yourself in public.

If you don’t want to get that involved, it is nice just to sit at one of the bars that surround the Plaza and take in the action from there, while partaking of your favorite liquid refreshment.

Antiques Fair

Initially the outdoor market was antiques only. These days, to cater for visitors, all kinds of other knick knacks and local crafts are available in addition to the more expensive antiques. But despite this small change in the outdoor market away from tradition, this area of San Telmo still remains very much the antiques quarter of Buenos Aires.

Odds and ends in Plaza Dorrego Market Stall

San Telmo Indoor Market

Keeping up the antiques theme, nearby to Plaza Dorrego, surrounded by the streets Bolívar, Carlos Calvo, Defensa, and Estados Unidos, is the San Telmo Indoor Market, a massive iron structure built back in 1897, which fills the whole block. Back then it was a produce market, but when the outdoor fair started in 1970, it soon shifted to antiques, and these days it is just as interesting to wander around as the outdoor version. It is also quite poignant to see a few of the food produce stalls holding on to their past trade, side-by-side with the antiques. Some of the smells are not what you would usually expect when looking at such valuable old pieces.

San Telmo market

[Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/denise_mayumi/3216605354/sizes/m/in/photostream/ CC BY 2.0 ]

Defensa Street

The nearby street of Defensa is also full of antique shops, most of which contain items far out of many tourists’ price range. However, they still make for a nice spot of window shopping, looking through the Argentine and European period pictures, 18th and 19th century furniture, jewelry, colonial silver and classic toys. In fact, this area of San Telmo is now considered one of the most important antiques centers in the whole of Latin America. And yet strangely, there seems to be an obsession with selling plain old soda siphons, as pictured below (although actually, they can be quite beautiful when many different colored siphons are all displayed together on one stall).

Soda Siphons in Plaza Dorrego Market Stall

Whether or not you do buy anything, you are still sure to have a great time in and around Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday – a true Buenos Aires experience.

Location of Plaza Dorrego

Corner of Defensa and Humberto Primo, San Telmo

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