Barrio Hopping in Buenos Aires

With the energy of New York, the architectural feel of Paris, and the chaotic pace of a major Latin American city all rolled into one, Buenos Aires is in a class of its own.

Travelers have flocked to this city for more than a century to sample Argentina’s famous wine and beef and to be seduced by what is arguably the most sensual dance in the world, the tango.

Today, Buenos Aires is gaining acclaim for something else as well: its never-ending nightlife. Dinner reservations before 10 p.m.? Forget about it. You’ll be shocked to see people order a steak at midnight but even more surprised to find queues to enter boliches (clubs) at 6 a.m.

I was blessed with the opportunity to spend a year in Buenos Aires recently, and I have to say that it’s the first city I’ve ever truly loved. And while I had my share of late nights, I always enjoyed kicking off the evening by taking advantage of the world-class restaurants that light up the best neighborhoods around town.

The best part? Staggeringly affordable prices and reasonable exchange rates enable most travelers to live well beyond their means, experiencing the finest things the city can offer.

Though my time there has come to an end, my heart still longs for choripán, fernet, the colorful profanity of Argentine football matches, and magical nights filled with laughter, music, and dancing. Here’s my love letter to Buenos Aires, and my recipe for a hedonistic long weekend in the Argentinian capital.

>> Barrio: Palermo

Dinner: Don Julio

This is Argentina, which means A-one beef and wine at bargain prices. There are many famous parrillas (steakhouses) in Palermo, but Don Julio always comes out a winner. Be sure to order a morcilla (blood sausage) to whet your appetite before your bife de chorizo (sirloin) and to complement your meal with a Malbec. Tip: Make reservations; the lines here can be brutal.

Cocktails: Rey de Copas

After taking a post-meal stroll through the tree-lined streets of Palermo to aid with digestion, it’s time to begin your night of revelry at Rey de Copas. None of their house specialties will disappoint; nor will the unique artwork, crafted by the owner himself, that brightens the space.

After Hours: Magdalena’s Party

Kick things up a notch by hopping over to Magdalena’s Party, where a canopy of vines and white lights casts a protective dome over the street-side seating, creating a low-key ambiance in which to mingle with fun-loving folks from all over the world. If it’s Tuesday, consider moving the party to the Kika Club for Hype. Magdalena’s is the official pre-via (pre-party) for Hype, and a short walk away. Tip: You can get in for free before 1 a.m. But remember to pace yourself; it will be a long night.  

>> Barrio: El Abasto/Recoleta

Dinner: Pierino

Experience Argentine Italian food at its best by heading to Pierino in the Abasto neighborhood, located just two blocks from the famous shopping mall. (Tip: Try the meatballs.) If you need a pick-me-up after your meal, head to nearby El Banderín for an espresso. This corner coffee shop will charm you with its football banners spanning the ages of the sport. Argentines are fanatical about their football and you can feel the history here!

Cocktails: Milion

After you get your caffeine fix, catch a cab to the tony Recoleta barrio for some of the best cocktails in the city at Milion, located in a historic mansion in the heart of this happening ‘hood. Sip high-craft cocktails while surrounded by the amazing architecture Buenos Aires is famous for.

After Hours: Jack the Ripper

If you’re still in the mood to relax with a drink and some quality rock-and-roll, head over to Jack the Ripper. If, after that, you are still itching to paint the proverbial town red, you can stay local in Recoleta and check out Shamrock, an Irish pub known for its basement DJs. Tip: Visit the bar upstairs if you need to give your eardrums a break.

>> Barrio: San Telmo

Cocktails and Dinner: La Brigada

Start your night off right in San Telmo with an alfresco cocktail in Plaza Dorrego, an atmospheric 18th-century square famous for its live tango performances. Settle on any place that feels right (cafés line the square, many with rooftop views), but when hunger strikes I recommend heading to La Brigada, one of my favorite places for steak in all of Buenos Aires. Tip: Call ahead for a reservation.

You can’t visit Buenos Aires and not see a tango show, and Viejo Almacén makes every effort to make you feel like you’re a time-traveler watching a century ago during the dance’s golden age. Tip: Book in advance.

After Hours: Gibraltar

After the last bows have been taken, take time to wander through San Telmo to Gibraltar. You can relax on the couches or post up at the bar to sample local beers in this classic pub. In true Buenos Aires fashion, strike up a conversation with your fellow patrons, who will be more than happy to send you off in the right direction. The night, after all, is still young.

Ben Long is a writer and photographer from West Virginia, who is currently working and adventuring in Central America for a travel start-up called SATrails. See more of Ben’s photos on Flickr and follow his story on Instagram and Twitter @benlongtales.