THE HIDDEN BUENOS AIRES
Tucked within the bustling streets of Buenos Aires, a city outwardly known worldwide for its European-esque architecture, its steak, and the tango, lies a hidden network of cultural experiences - restaurants, bars, stores, galleries, and more, available only to those in the know. The elusive & prohibition-like speakeasy concept might be tired in other cities around the world, but here in Buenos Aires, history, economy, government, and culture have made such practices necessary. Plus, most can't deny that the intrigue and challenge provides a bit more fun to what would otherwise be a normal day or night out.
For a flash back in time and for some seriously delicious cocktails, the swanky speakeasy, Frank's, located in Palermo Hollywood has quickly risen out of complete anonymity. Scour their Facebook page for hints to the week's password under #pistasFranks, provide said password to the hostess who in turn provides a code that you punch into the phone in the phone booth. The back side of the phone booth slides open, revealing the elaborate bar behind. [Frank's, Arevalo 1445, Open Tues-Thurs 9pm-3am and Fri-Sat 9pm-4am] Beneath an unassuming flower and wine shop in the Retiro neighborhood is the restaurant/lounge Floreria Atlantico, another hidden Buenos Aires favorite. Pop through a refrigerator and descend the stairs to this historically inspired space. [Floreria Atlantico, Arroyo 872, Open Daily, 7/8pm - 2/4am]
Photo by Stephen Walsh.
Enjoy a, sorry to say it, but pretty mediocre sushi dinner at Nicky's before you can be invited into the hidden Harrison Speakeasy located behind the restaurant. The bar instantly transports you back to the 1920s with jazz tunes, antiques, and some tasty cocktails. [Nicky Harrison, Malabia 1764, Open Tues-Sat 10pm-1:30 or 3am] New to the scene, but from the same team as Nicky Harrison comes Uptown, less of a speakeasy concept and more of a cool bar that actually is underground. The bar is modeled after a New York Subway complete with the Subway entry to descend into the space, hallways with the classic subway tile, a real train car, and of course a spacious bar serving up cocktails and a New York neighborhood inspired food menu. [Uptown, Arevalo 2030, Open Tues-Sat 8:30pm-4am]
Photo by Stephen Walsh
Looking for a multi-course meal in the home of a big deal chef? Puerta Cerrada (closed-door) restaurants are scattered throughout the city, often behind unmarked doors, offering a more intimate dining experience and the opportunity to get to the know the chefs on a more one-on-one basis. Tasting menus typically are offered with optional wine or beverage pairings and are complemented with attentive service and cozy charm. Some favorites include Casa Felix, Casa Salt Shaker, and I Latina (this one is technically a former closed-door restaurant, but is still rezzie only). Not quite a Puerta Cerrada, but hidden nonetheless behind a graffiti-ed wall in Palermo Hollywood is one of Buenos Aires best restaurants, Tegui. More of a supper club in various locales around town than a true Puerta Cerrada is the recently opened Bread & Butter, the brain child of Argentine chef Isodoro Dillan and British girlfriend Vanessa Bell. Simply send a private Instagram message to @breadandbutterba to reserve your spot - currently only open on Monday nights with more days potentially coming in the near future.
This shrouded Buenos Aires world is not exclusive to food and drink, but also extends to the literary and design realms. Walking through the offbeat, up-and-coming Chacarita neighborhood one day, I came across a beautifully crumbly brick & stone building parked on the corner of Charlone and Santos Dumont. No windows to peek inside, but just a simple black sign with the name Falena, a wooden door, and a doorbell indicated that there might be something within. Having little to nothing on my agenda for the next few hours, I rang the doorbell fully expecting to be yelled at for interrupting someone's privacy. Much to my surprise a smiling young woman opened the door and waved me inside. Supreme happiness promptly permeated by whole being as I found myself inside a modernist's dream - part bookstore, part wine bar/cafe with vaulted brick ceilings, a courtyard with rotating glass panels creating the perfect indoor/outdoor environment, steps to a lush roof terrace, and a cozy fireplace for curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. The ultimate clandestine bookstore. [Falena, Charlone 201, Open Mon-Sat, 1-8pm in Winter Months]
Secrecy abounds with hidden fashion showrooms throughout town, giving a sense of exclusivity to buyers hoping to walk away with original pieces, rather than the same Zara shirt every girl on the street is wearing. The concealed showroom, besides oozing cool, is also practical - cheaper and safer than their right on the street counterparts, allowing designers and artists to try their hand without overly bureaucratic government intervention. Here again we meet Vanessa Bell (see above), a British implant with Argentine roots who runs Creme de la Creme, a bespoke shopping tour and trend-hunting experience. Taking advantage of her wide network of artists, designers, antique dealers, gallery owners, foodies, perfumers, vintage lovers, and more, she puts together a tailored tour, one you wouldn't be able to put together on your own.
Whether you're looking for an innovative nightcap, a cool vintage cape, or an intimate meal, Buenos Aires and its unique backstreet culture has something to offer, you may just have to delve a bit deeper. I promise the reward is worthy of the investigation.