Tag Archives: san telmo

The Despedida, A Going Away Party for Argentina

8 Jul

Tonight is my despedida, or going away party, and as much as I want to see my friends one last time and share one more drink, I wish it wasn’t the last hurrah. I waved for a while on the date and place, unable to make up my mind and annoyed with the prospect of having to plan some great bash, but in the end chose on a bar in San Telmo called Krakow. I’ve never been there but have been told that it’s cool, and I reserved a private section. The bar has Polish food, various beers, and games to choose from. I’ve started to throw some clothes in my backpack, and this means that it’s real now. In just a few days I’ll be going back to the United States.

It’s so weird that it’s now my turn again for this. For the last two years (three including Ecuador) I’ve gone to countless of going away parties and deleted untold numbers of digits from my cell phone. Friends came and went, and now once again it’s my turn to go. I don’t like being the center of attention and so a despedida isn’t my style exactly, but it’s the easiest way to say goodbye to everyone without running all over town. As it is, I’ve been keeping fairly busy the last couple of days here, and I’m still overwhelmed by what I have to do before leaving. One potential issue that just came up is that this weekend is a dry weekend because of the mayoral elections on Sunday. No one is really sure if the dry law goes into effect tonight or tomorrow, however, so for the moment it hangs up in the balance.

It’s going to be another bittersweet moment for me, and I just hope all of my friends here know that I’ll never forget them and will definitely come back one day. It just depends on how long it will be.

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Last Dance in San Telmo

19 Jun

An example of fileteado design

Not to be so dramatic, but I think today was my last spin through the San Telmo Fair. I’ve never been a huge fan of going there because of the crowds of tourists and gimmicky feel to it. Yet once in a while I was always drawn there either by friends or a need to do something on a Sunday afternoon. My reason for going today was twofold: first, my friend Yerly was helping a friend by selling her crafts and asked me to bring her hot water for hot chocolate. Second, now that my time here is shorter I decided that I wanted to buy a souvenir or two.

I kind of already had my mind set on one of those fileteado prints, which is a very traditional painting design seen all over Buenos Aires. Once you’ve seen it, you know the kind, and it’s always associated with San Telmo or tango. I got in and found Yerly and a couple other friends, and for a while just sat around talking and drinking hot chocolate, amused by the people watching. Today was the 7th consecutive day that we’ve had no sun in Buenos Aires and it was nastily humid, foggy and drizzly. It’s sort of like Boston in February in that you go days and days without seeing the sun. I can’t remember it being this consecutive last year, but who knows.

Finally Yerly made a sale to a girl from San Francisco and I decided to get a move on before everything was wrapped up. It was getting colder and a lot of the artisans hadn’t bothered to show up today. I had luck pretty quickly and bought a little design for $50 ARS saying “Mi Cuarto”. I’ll put it up over my door when I move to Washington D.C. Next I bought myself a new bombilla to drink mate at the office because the one I have there is rusted and gross.

On the walk up to the Subte I spotted a guy selling $10 burritos and thought what the hell. They looked good but oh man, was it terrible. I think it was literally the worst burrito I’ve ever had, and though I’m a burrito nut, that should say something. It was way too much tortilla and not enough filling, and what was inside was bland and uninviting. Sigh. I’ll just have to wait until July to get a solid burrito.

There’s still the likelihood that I’ll head back to San Telmo again before I leave, but as for the fair, I think this is it. Tomorrow is a national holiday for the creation of the Argentine Flag by Manuel Belgrano, and that means no work (woohoo!). I’m going to take advantage of the day and visit the Museum of Fine Arts, and even though I visited it once a long time ago and wasn’t impressed, I figured I’d give it another shot.

Trying to Watch Football at a Mediocre Sports Bar

12 Sep

I don’t write too many reviews on bars or restaurants here, but after my experience this afternoon, I felt compelled to give my opinion on a place listed in reputable guide books like Lonely Planet. Like many a good American, I love (American) football and was very excited for the first week of games starting Thursday and really kicking off today. Because I’ve been out of the country for two years, I’ve been out of touch on most things sports relating, among other things, and I’m trying to change that. In Ecuador I could only watch a few games, but when I arrived in Argentina I had Slingbox which only worked for me until halfway through the season. After that my other option was El Alamo, a sports bar in Recoleta run by expats for expats.

It’s not a scene that I was particularly crazy about, but I really wanted to watch my Patriots play, but the hardest part was spending my Sunday in a dank bar when it was summer and beautiful out. I never really wanted to head back, but now that I’m in a fantasy league and trying to get back into the sport, I decided to head down there, only a 10 minute walk from my house, for the opening game. Oddly enough, I wound up at El Alamo last night for a drink and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The consecutive English songs, college football on the TVs, and general American bar scene was so familiar. I felt nice.

My joy was quickly brought to an end today as I walked over at 1:30 pm for the 2 pm kickoff (local time). I was a bit hungover and craving a cheeseburger and fries and the Patriots. That was all I wanted out of the day. I was the first patron there and unfortunately found that all of the TVs were down. I would have expected that for the opening day, they would have things ready to roll, but instead it was like they were caught by surprise.

As several employees struggled to figure it out more people showed up and scratched their heads as kick off drew nearer. A grumpy waitress with a cast on one arm asked if I wanted anything and I ordered the desired cheeseburger and fries, but she said the kitchen was closed. Two cooks didn’t show up and they had no bread. I’d have to wait an hour. It was hard to call it anything other than amateur hour. Now, I’m aware that everyone has off days, and that you can’t predict cooks calling in sick or satellite feeds not working out. But the night before every TV was on, and knowing that the bar would fill up should have been obvious to an expat bar scene where they make their killing on football Sundays.

Finally a few TVs were put on, but all we had was sound while soccer showed. I pulled together a New England corner booth, with three others wanting the Pats, and while we waited the wrong broadcasts came on. We could hear that the games had begun and were missing the action. I got there a half hour early to make sure I saw it all. It appeared as though they called in reinforcements to figure out the TVs, and we were told that our game would be in the back corner of the bar by a drafty window. So we shifted positions, and now that the bar was filling up nicely it was hard to get a good seat. With flat screen HD TVs, the best they could do for the Pats game was a feed from Slingbox (an Internet feed). Basically, it was like watching crappy quality stream videos at home. For that I went to a sports bar.

After a long wait I got my cheeseburger, and just in time because I was on the verge of getting sick. I hadn’t eaten all day and was dehydrated, but the greasy fries and giant burger looked incredible, just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps the Alamo had redeemed itself. I took a few bites and was loving it until I saw a cockroach crawling around on the bar by my ketchup packets. Yep, immediate fail. I know this isn’t the United States and the health inspector might not be quite as strict, but I don’t want to find cockroaches by my food that is supposed to be better than what I can make at home. I continued to eat my food because I’m not too high maintenance, but took a mental note that it was definitely necessary to write a review.

The final blow came when with seven minutes left in the 4th quarter, the lousy Internet feed cut out to a different game. Luckily it wasn’t a very close game, but there was still no explanation for why the channel changed, and the bartender couldn’t get it back, or at least didn’t try very hard. By that point enough people were there so that they couldn’t be bothered to focus on one game. But why would I wait through all of that mess and then not see the ending? It’s so unsatisfying.

In the end, the food was still pretty good (when forgetting about the cockroach looking for a handout). The drinks are fairly cheap and the scene, while aggravating at times, can be refreshing after months or years in Latin America. But it’s not the only expat sports bar in the city. For example, The Northside Bar in San Telmo has good food, atmosphere, and fair prices as well. I watched some World Cup games there in July and if I had the energy to make it down there after the fiasco today, I would have. So keep these things in mind when looking for a dank place to watch a game next Sunday.

The Birthday Weekend Comes to an End

25 Jul

On Friday I turned 24, and walking into the office in the morning with a bag filled with croissants (the tradition here is the birthday person brings in food), my friend Vero immediately came over to tug on my earlobe 24 times. Apparently that’s also a tradition in Argentina, and by the end of the 24 tugs my ear was red and ringing, but I guess it beats the punches I would have expected. The day passed by easily enough, and two of my coworkers took me out for a lunch at a grill near the office. The plan at night was to go out to dinner and then hit up some salsa dancing in San Telmo. Though salsa isn’t very popular here, it’s more of a niche thing that people do sometimes for a different night. My birthday was the occasion this time around.

With some friends I headed to Cumaná in Recoleta. The restaurant is located on Rodriguez Peña 1149 y Avenida Santa Fe and is known for good food, a friendly atmosphere, and cheap prices. We got there are 8 pm which is pretty early for Buenos Aires, but still had to wait an hour for a table for eight people. Waiting outside in the cold, everyone slowly showed up, including Liz, a former volunteer from Ecuador who is working in Montevideo for a couple of months. She used the birthday excuse to come to Buenos Aires for the weekend and hang out.

Once inside and with the table squared away, we ordered out dishes. Ironically they forgot to bring out my dish but quickly brought it up once I spoke up, and we had a really nice meal. I was even caught off guard by the birthday ice cream/brownie dessert, and the entire restaurant started to sing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish. After the dinner we went down to Cuba Mía, a salsa club down in San Telmo on Salta 508 y Venezuela. I’d been there a couple of times back in October and November but hadn’t been back since. It started out with a pretty elaborate show, but finally they cleared the tables to allow for dancing.

Overall it wasn’t a ridiculously crazy night and only a handful of friends made it out, but that’s all I really needed anyway. I’ve never had so many people ask me my age on my birthday and follow up the answer with, “Go to hell, asshole.” Apparently I’m still a young guy, or only know older people. Or both. Saturday was a tired and hungover day, understandably, but I walked around with Liz in the afternoon by the Recoleta Cemetery, and we were able to catch up. The last time I’d seen her was September of 2008. For the night we had plans on going out, but after a dinner in Palermo and hanging out with my friend Javier back at the apartment, we were too tired to do anything. In the end it was a better decision because I was still exhausted from Friday night.

Today was low key still, with cold, gray and rain. I showed Liz around by the Microcentro, Plaza de Mayo, and into the Casa Rosada for a bit before seeing her off. So now the weekend has ended quietly, and after a small steak dinner tonight that I’m going to cook, it’s back to work and the regular grind on Monday. The next milestone to look forward to is a year anniversary in Argentina next month.

4 Cool Boutique Hotels in San Telmo

2 Jul

Yesterday I went on some site visits in San Telmo to see four boutique hotels. For those who don’t know what a boutique hotel is, it’s basically a small establishment that generally has more luxurious facilities and services, catering to minimal clients. This allows service to be much more personal and effective. The four hotels that we visited were Hotel Babel, Mansion Vitraux, Telmho Hotel Boutique, and Sagardi Loft Ostería.

The company that I work for deals with many boutique hotels, but I don’t get to see them all firsthand, so it’s really exciting and worthwhile when I do actually get to visit these places. It makes my job much easier, to say the least. Here’s what I thought about the hotels.

Hotel Babel

To start, I’m just going to say that it seems like almost every street in San Telmo is cobblestoned, so I’m only going to use that adjective once here, but apply it for all of the following hotels.

Peering in off the cobblestone street (one and done) you would get the impression that you’re looking into an art gallery or hipster café where you need to know Italian to order a cup of joe. But that’s more of a bad call which is overturned once you walk in. A well lit lounge/bar boasts chairs, couches and reading material on both the left and right, with a stairwell and glass wall splitting the uprights leading to rooms upstairs. The bar in the left corner offers a welcome drink as music is played, and you are able to connect to the Wi-Fi to catch up on emails. Once a month this hotel actually hosts wine tastings and art exhibitions as well, with art being continuously rotated.

Its cozy atmosphere almost makes it seem like a hostel, but the luxurious rooms say anything but starving backpackers. Not exactly in the “heart” of San Telmo (though it’s such a small neighborhood that it really means nothing), you might just get some rest and quiet here. With an inner courtyard to sun in, you can find many reasons to be happy.

Potential Age Group: Younger, trendier

Mansion Vitraux

Not to be outdone, around the corner Mansion Vitraux has an ultra-modern lounge with tear drop lighting leading to each of its 12 distinct rooms and basement wine bar where breakfast is held and wine tastings take place whenever the guests want. The hotel also features a Dutch Spa with color changing lights which dim the hue of water, a small gym with a flat screen TV, and a rooftop deck with a Jacuzzi and small pool. From above you get a nice view of San Telmo’s rooftops, which may or may not inspire you depending on the weather. Another one of those classic San Telmo mansions that has had a twisted history, this building is now up there as one of the nicest in this part of town.

Potential Age Group: Younger to middle aged

Telmho Hotel Boutique

For some reason, I got the feeling that I was in a Stanley Kubrick futuristic movie at this spot. A traditional “chorizo” (sausage) house of San Telmo, Telmho Hotel Boutique is very narrow but long, with high ceilings to make up for the limited width. The best part of this hotel is the one room which sits directly over Plaza Dorrego, where the famous San Telmo Sunday market is held. The balcony juts into the street and boasts some prime real estate come the weekend, though I have to imagine that it gets loud too.

Tighter spaces would make it tough for older or handicapped guests to get up and down the steps to the loft bedroom, but a younger couple might find it pretty cool. With an excellent location and a nice rooftop deck that gives a total panoramic view of the neighborhood, it has pros and cons worth figuring out through your own experimentation.

Potential Age Group: Younger, trendier

Sagardi Loft Ostería

Just around the corner from Plaza Dorrego is Sagardi Loft Ostería, which is actually joined with a Basque cuisine restaurant downstairs, considered the best one in Buenos Aires. First I’ll start on the restaurant. The second I walked in I was taken back to my days in Sevilla and the tapas bars, and my heart longed for a small beer and some traditional Spanish food. Even though Basque cuisine is quite distinct, pintxos (pronounced peen-chohs) are similar to tapas but served over bread. The open space in the bar allows you to lean back and see the pintxos offered and pick what looks good. Currently, the rate is $8 ARG per pintxo, but keep your eye out because inflation is in full effect and prices change often.

Up the steps to the side of the restaurant and you enter the hotel, with its large suite with balcony to the street and interior rooms spreading off of the nicely adorned open courtyard. Again, this hotel features loft rooms, with couches on the bottom floor and the beds above. These rooms have small kitchens for making coffee and maintain portions of the old brick wall, keeping in touch with the roots. The rooftop pool and grass nook is the real gem, giving the sense of backyard splendor in the middle of the city. Literally across from the Belén Church, it seems like you could reach out and touch it. In the spring and summer, this has got to be an amazing spot to lounge.

Potential Age Group: Younger to middle aged

So there you have it, four great options for lodging at boutique hotels in San Telmo. There are many more as well, but I just haven’t seen them yet. I still find myself impressed with how far hotels have come and how so many little details are taken care of by these small establishments. These are the kinds of things that can really make the difference between an OK stay and the place you will tell your friends, “You have to stay here.” If you ever do stay in these hotels, let me know what you think.