Culture, dining in the air in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

By David Bonetti, Special to the Light

They named it right. The air in Buenos Aires is good – sweet, fragrant and moist. One of my great pleasures there was sitting on my balcony at night, drinking a glass of Mendoza sauvignon blanc, and breathing the delicious air.

I went to Buenos Aires to try to reclaim my life. I wanted to go to a big, sophisticated city I had never been to before, and I wanted it to be warm. I wanted to go some place with street life. I wanted to rediscover and free my inner flaneur. And, I wanted someplace inexpensive to live for a while.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

I couldn’t have chosen a better place. It was late summer there when I arrived, hot and humid but, with that refreshing air, pleasant. It was early autumn when I departed. You could still eat dinner outside, although portenos, as the residents call themselves, shivered from the cold, which averaged 75 F at night.

With 12 million people, Buenos Aires is as big as London and New York. It is a relatively new city – Boston and Philadelphia are older – and it is culturally rich and cosmopolitan. There are more psychiatrists and plastic surgeons per capita than any other city in the world.

It is called the most European city in Latin America, but it seemed to me to be a hybrid between old and new worlds. It has the graciousness of Paris and the dynamism of New York.

What did I do? I walked through the glorious parks. I visited the zoo and botanical garden. I went to museums. I ate steaks and French fries, and I drank red wine. I went to the opera. I went to a jazz club, and I went to milongas – tango dance halls. At one, the live band was post-Piazzolla. The singer, singing passionately of love gone wrong in a resonant baritone, was hot.

Here are some recommendations:


Buenos Aires doesn’t have an art museum with a rich comprehensive collection, but the National Museum of Fine Arts is worth a visit for its historical Argentine collection. It also has a respectable collection of 19th and early 20th century French and Italian art, including a great Tahitian Gauguin, a passel of Degas pastels and a winsome Modigliani. (Av. del Libertado 1473 in Recoleta. (

The two best museums are devoted to modern and contemporary art:

• MALBA is devoted to Latin American art. Its permanent collection has knockout works by the Mexicans Diego Rivera and his cultish wife Frida Kahlo, the Cuban Wifredo Lam, the Uruguayan Joaquin Torres-Garcia, the Chilean Matta, the Brazilian Tarsila do Amaral and the Colombian Botero, among others. It also features special exhibitions. A selection of avant-garde Cuban art from Havana was on view when I visited. (Av. Alcorta 3415 in Palermo.

• PROA is a kunsthalle (museum) without a permanent collection that hosts touring shows. I saw a large and revelatory exhibition of Italian Futurism from an Italian museum. The Buenos Aires link is that Futurist propagandist

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti visited Buenos Aires to recruit for the movement. (Av. Pedro de Mendoza in Boca.


The food revolution has not hit Buenos Aires. A lot of food is overcooked and smothered in cream sauce. But if you stick to the basics: steak, French fries and red wine, you’ll be safe. They also make great bread and a distinctive pizza, which seems to be the most popular food after tenderloin.

I recommend two restaurants, one traditional, one hip, both in Palermo, the current hot spot, for steaks:

Don Julio (Guatemala 4691) is a classic Buenos Aires parilla or steak house. I sat under an awning on the pavement on a glorious afternoon.

Was it the best sirloin steak I’ve ever had? I can’t remember one better. The platter of French fries was perfection and a green salad – lettuce, olives and a flat bean – cleansed the palate and made it all seem light. With a glass of malbec, it all came to $22, tip included.

BoBo (Guatemala 4882) is trendy but it is comfortable and the food is terrific. (It doesn’t seem to get the irony intended in the term bourgeois bohemian.) My friend Sandy and I started with three spoons of goodness, I can’t remember what exactly was in each – one featured octopus – but I’d eat it again every night if I could. Again, I had the sirloin. This time the potato was layered lasagne-style, and the green was wilted arugula. With a bottle of pinot noir, the tab came closer to $40.


Music is everywhere in Buenos Aires. Teatro Colon, one of the great opera houses in the world, was still closed for renovation while I was there, but I took a bus to nearby La Plata to see one of the best opera productions I’ve ever experienced. It was of Shostakovich’s shabby – and dissonant – little thriller, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” and the audience cheered at the end. I went to Thelonious, a funky jazz club, two milongas – there are hundreds to choose from – and an excellent chamber music concert at the National Museum of Decorative Arts, which is housed in the palace of a former plutocrat. Moby and Jonathan Richman were among the popular music performers from North America I missed, and there were, of course, so many Latin American performers, you could hear someone different every night.

Guide books:

If you go, I recommend two guidebooks, both British. The “Rough Guide” is thorough and great on history and context. “Time Out” is better on restaurants and nightlife, but weak on cultural offerings. Together they pretty much cover everything you might want to do.

I rented an apartment from I recommend it to anyone who plans to settle in for a while.