Essential Buenos Aires

Think about it: twenty-minute taxi rides for $7, versus $40 in London for the same distance; dinner with wine in an excellent restaurant – how about $30 for two (a fifth of the price in New York)? Only the tip-top hotels are as pricey as everywhere else (if you simply must have five stars). Not that you’re likely to be spending much time in your room with all the cafés, bars and shopping.

Truth be told, Buenos Aires is not a museum town, although there are a few worth visiting. It’s far more likely you’re going to be sleeping much of the day if you’re game to test the incredible night life, especially the clubs and tango parlors (milongas) where the action doesn’t get started until well after midnight no matter what day of the week it is.

Now, back to the sexy stuff. No doubt about it, this city has the most gorgeous people you’ve ever seen this side of Tinseltown or the beaches of St. Tropez in high season.

Beautiful, affordable, sensual B.A. – what are you waiting for? Viva Buenos Aires!

Wags like to say it’s “harder to get in than to get out” of this astounding necropolis containing the remains of the deceased from the city’s most prominent families. The mausoleums, which range from massive bronze and marble piles to stark modern shrines, are a morbid but endlessly fascinating tourist attraction that is best avoided on weekends when the crowds looking for s crypt can be off-putting. (Tip: buy a copy of “City of Angels,” a guide filled with delicious tidbits about the entombed. My favorite: Senor Gath, “said to be buried with an electric can opener in his hands in case he wakes from death. Something we presume he has not used to the present time.”) Guided tours in English at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Junin 1760, Recoleta, 4803-1594

Recoleta Walking Tour
Explore the architectural masterpieces of the city’s grandest neighborhood by starting at the imposing Belle Epoque French Embassy (Cerito 1399), then take in the Palacio Pereda, now the Brazilian embassy (Arroyo 1133). Nearby Avenida Alvear boasts the imposing Vatican embassy (No. 1637), next to the Palacio Duhau (No. 1661), recently renovated into an impossibly chic Park Hyatt Hotel. (Tip: don’t miss the rather spooky Residencia Maguire’s strange mix of Gothic, Art Deco and nautical motifs at No. 1683.)

Museo de Latinamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)
This impressive modern structure boasts works by Diego Rivera, Wilfredo Lam and other modern Latin American artists. (Tip: great giftshop and cafe/restaurant.) Av. Figueroa Alcorta 3415, Palermo, 4808-6500, www.malba.org.ar.

Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo
This sumptuous 1911 mansion provides a fascinating glimpse of the style in which Argentina’s wealthy upper class once lived. (Tip: don’t miss works by El Greco and Manet.) Av. de Libertador 1902, Recoleta, 4806-8306.

Plaza de Mayo Area
Don’t miss a stroll through B.A.’s colonial heart, especially the Casa Rosada presidential palace and famed balcony (where Evita “cried for Argentina”), Catedral Metropolitana and several museums. (Tip: if you are in the Plaza on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., be sure to watch the famous “Mothers of Reinvention,” a dwindling group of elderly ladies who continue to protest the disappearance of family members during the military government of the 1970s.)

Museo Evita
This somewhat creepy museum will fascinate anyone interested in the life and times of Argentina’s most famous daughter. Check out her shoes, fabulous Dior gowns and videos of her early acting career, speeches to the assembled descamisados and over-the-top state funeral. Lafinur 2988, Palermo, 4807-9433.

Palermo Viejo
Start with a drink in one of the cafes on Piazoleta Cortasar, then lose yourself in this boho neighborhood of shops, restaurants, cafes and clubs.

Feria de Mataderos
This wonderful festival in a barrio near the western city limits features local food, live music, chacareras folk dancing and skilled gauchos riding their criollo breed horses. An utterly charming experience. Open Saturdays (Jan.-Mar.), 6 p.m.-1 a.m.; or Sundays (Apr-Dec.), 1-7 p.m. (Tip: Arrange your return taxi in advance.)
Lisandro de la Torre and Av. de Los Corrales, Matade, Mataderos, 4374-9664.

STAY

Faena Hotel + Universe
No doubt about it, the hottest place to stay in B.A., especially if you’re young, hip, beautiful and rich. The buzz never stops about this ultra-chic, beau monde hangout, starting with ‘s dark, dramatic hallways and minimalist guest rooms dressed with heavy red velvet portieres, white leather furniture and cut-glass mirrors. If you’re wondering about the “Universe” part, that’s creator ‘s concept of cocooning each guest within an environment of restaurants, boutiques, nightly tango cabaret, top notch spa, gym and sexy outdoor pool where individual “relationship managers” fulfill every need (via your own hotel cell phone) rather than pesky desk clerks and concierges. (Tip: Avoid rooms facing poolside unless you like throbbing house music until 2 a.m.) Rooms $500-600; apartments (many privately owned) $750-$5,000 (plus 21 percent tax). Martha Salotti 445, Puerto Madero, (54-11) 4010-9000, www.faenahotelanduniverse.com.

Alvear Palace Hotel
If your idea of heaven on earth is the Paris Ritz, you’ll love this grandest of Buenos Aires hotels in the heart of the Recoleta shopping district. Artwork, antiques and superior service are the hallmark of any “palace” hotel and the Alvear rarely disappoints — one reason why it remains a perennial favorite for visiting royalty, heads of state, top business executives and established film and music stars. True, the rates are among the highest in town, but many attractive amenities are included: a gargantuan buffet breakfast in the beautiful skylit Orangerie Restaurant, spa and indoor pool, a cut-rate ($20) half-hour massage, fresh flowers and fruit, personal butler service that includes free pressing of two items, in-room Jacuzzis, 500-thread Egyptian cotton bed linens and a never-ending supply of Hermes toiletries. (Tip: great people watching during cocktail hour in the Lobby Bar.) Rooms $550-$590; suites $630-$4,500 (plus 21 percent tax). Av. Alvear 1891, Recoleta, (54-11) 4808-2100, www.alvearpalace.com.<

EAT

El Obrero
This run-down but lively cantina in semi-seedy but now trendy La Boca quarter is a classic hangout for neighborhood types (and a few hip celebs like Bono) who come for parrilla (barbecue) and other traditional dishes. Dinner about $10 per person. Agustin Caffarena 64, La Boca, 4362-2433.

La Bourgogne
Acclaimed French chef ‘s extensive menu of classic and seasonal dishes will hit the spot for those in search of the city’s primo gourmet fare. (Tip: $100 average dinners are very high for Argentina, but similar cuisine would easily be two to three times more expensive elsewhere.) Alvear Palace Hotel, Av. Alvear 1891, Recoleta, 4808-2100

Oviedo
Top Spanish chefs Martín Rebaudino and Ramón Chiliguay are known for seafood and the best paella in town. (Tip: an excellent and reasonably priced wine list makes this the place to splurge on vintage Malbec.) $25 per person. Beruti 2602, Recoleta, 4822-5415 www.orviedoresto.com.ar.

DRINK

Cafe Tortoni
The city’s oldest (1858) and most beloved traditional cafe boasts dark paneled walls, old school waiters and an ever-changing cast of characters whiling away the hours over their newspaper and cafe con crema. (Tip: mid-morning is a safe bet to avoid tourist groups.) Av. de Mayo 722, Micro Centro, 4342-4328.

Home Hotel
There’s no place like Home, especially if you’re sipping a cocktail with a hot date in this sleek hotel’s beautiful patio garden. (Tip: the infinity pool is a cool place to dip your feet after a long day of sightseeing or shopping). Honduras 5860, Palermo Viejo, 4778-1008. www.homebuenosaires.com.

La Biela
Supreme people watching on the terrace of this famed Parisian-style cafe near Recoleta Cemetery. Av. Quintana 600, Recoleta, 4804-0449.

Milión
This lively, late-night hangout for the capital’s beautiful people is located in a classic French mansion stunningly transformed by stage lighting, hip art and a lush garden. (Tip: tables are often reserved by regulars, so ask your concierge or a well-connected friend to book for you.) Parana 1048, Recoleta, 4815-9925.

SHOP

I went early to the famed Sunday morning flea market in the San Telmo neighborhood’s Plaza Dorrego but soon fled the crowds, heat and noise to browse in the antiques emporiums on nearby Defensa street. Some are little better than junk shops, others brim with treasures. Try HB Antiquedades (Defensa 1016, 4361-3325) for high-end furniture. Also visit Silvia Petroccia (Defensa 1002, 4362-0156), where stocked up on Phantom of the Opera-style mirrors and candelabras. Above all, don’t miss the world-class Art Deco furniture, sculpture and art glass (Lalique, Daum, Schneider) at Guevara (Defensa 982, 4362-2418).

FOR THE LADIES The stylish grandes dames of Recoleta swear by the following for chic apparel

Martin Churba Tramando: You’ll definitely make a statement in this designer’s colorful Andean-style clothing. Rodriguez Pena 1973, Recoleta, 4811-0465, www.tramando.com.

Paula Cahen d’Anvers: Women who wear white swear by the leather handbags and clothing made from supremely soft cotton. Av. Santa Fe 1619, Recoleta, 4811-3176.

Rapsodia Moderately-priced jeans and all manner of Indian and floral-patterned items. Patio Bullrich, Av. del Libertador 750, Recoleta, 4814-7458, www.rapsodia.com.ar.

Trosman: Jessica Trosman’s cutting-edge designs are the talk of le tout B.A. Patio Bullrich, Av. del Libertador 750, Recoleta, 4814-7411, www.trosman.com.

MENSWEAR
Balthasar: Unique shirts and scarves of the finest quality. Gorriti 5131, Palerma Viejo (among other locations), 4834-6235, www.balthasarshop.com.<

Etiqueta Negra: Uber-cosmo duds with polo panache. Posadas 1229, Recoleta (among other locations), 4814-7430.

LEATHER

Qara :Calfskin and suede luggage, belts and bags with contemporary edge. Gurruchaga 1548, Palermo, 4834-6361, www.qara.com.

Guido: Stock up on high-quality, handmade shoes at one-third the U.S. price. Av. Quintana 333, Recoleta (among other locations), www.guidomocasines.com.ar.

EQUESTRIAN

Arandu: Exquisite leather saddles, boots, jackets and hats; hand-tooled silver. Paraguay 1259, Recoleta, 4816-6191, www.tal-arandu.com.

Tango Fever

There are basically two choices to savor tango in Buenos Aires : the “tango show,” and the tango parlors (locally known as milongas). If visitors have more than one evening in Buenos Aires, the best plan might be not to make a choice, but do both.
The city’s superlative tango show is “Esquina Carlos Gardel.” Named after the legendary 1930s tango crooner and heartthrob and located in the somewhat gentrified Abasto neighborhood (the city’s equivalent of Les Halles in Paris), the production caters to upscale tourists (and their Argentine hosts) in a large 1930s-period hall. The tango is first class; the dancers, orchestra and singers are excellent and attractive, and the pace of the program equally diverse and entertaining. The so-called “VIP lounge” is worth booking. One can dine there around 10 p.m., and enjoy the show (which ends around midnight) with the best balcony view of the stage.

The parlors are traditional meeting places for local tango enthusiasts. The best-known of them (El Beso, Grisel, Porteñito Bailarín, and Confitería Ideal, among others) hosts a particularly popular milonga, or tango party, at least once each week. Hotel concierges generally know which are the “hot” parlors on any particular night. My favorites are Confitería Ideal, with a decaying décor reminiscent of a Parisian restaurant/dance parlor (Suipacha 384, 5265-8078); and Porteño y Bailarín (Ríobamba 345, 4932-5452), with a charming brothel-like ambiance and terrific dancers – from twenty-somethings to experienced seniors in their 60s and 70s.
~ International businessman Maximo Flugelman lives in Washington and Buenos Aires.

Out on the Town

Buenos Aires has some of the most exciting nightlife in the world. The portenos (that’s what we call the city’s residents) love to go out every night of the week – but you have to remember that nothing much gets underway until 1 a.m.

Get started at Tequila, where the glitterati – including the international polo crowd on Wednesdays in November and December – stop by for a drink before going clubbing. Av. Costanera Norte and La Pampa, 4781 6555.

On Thurday night, Rumi, in the northern suburb of Nunez, is the best dance party in town (after 1:30 a.m., of course). Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 6442, 4782-1307

I also like Asia De Cuba (good on Wednesdays), where you can have dinner around 10 p.m. and then stay on for the night scene ’til 5 a.m. Pierina Dealessi 750, Puerto Madero, 4894-1328, www.asiadecuba.com.ar.<

Crobar is the capital’s biggest club. It’s great on week-ends and you can get lost exploring the many dance areas and VIP rooms. Av. del Libertador 3883, Palermo, 4778-1500. www.crobar.com

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