Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ode to San Telmo

My favorite thing about my entire experience in Buenos Aires? Living in San Telmo. Hands down.

It's not for everyone. All the cool people live in Palermo. San Telmo is dirty, dangerous, and covered in dog poo. None of the "coolest" bars are here. Everything is poorly marked. Most of the stores and kioskos require you to ring a doorbell to get in, or have bars on the doors that you have to reach through to buy a Coke or a pack of gum. It's not exactly luxurious, but it has a historically-rich and shabby-chic appeal that I find downright lovable.

In fact, looking off my balcony at the trash-littered streets and the sketchy types standing on the corner below me, make me incredibly happy and can always get a smile out of me. It's so real. When I am in San Telmo, I feel Buenos Aires in a way that I don't feel in Palermo or Recoleta or Belgrano or even downtown. They are places that are absolutely beautiful in their own right, but often make me feel like I could be in any international city. In many ways, for me anyway, San Telmo is Buenos Aires.

San Telmo, along with la Boca, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. By Buenos Aires standards it's a small neighborhood, and it's characterized by beautiful, (albeit run-down) colonial architecture, older locals recalling the good old days, and plenty of young, artsy bohemian types hanging around. It is home to a bursting tango scene, tons of art shops and galleries, cheap and amazing restaurants, and some of the best antiques shopping in the world.

My experience during these past nearly 10 months in Buenos Aires has had its ups and downs. There have been days when I've been really happy, and others when I've been miserable. Such is life. But one thing I've never regretted is my decision to live in San Telmo. It wasn't recommended, and even I myself wasn't quite sure why I was choosing it, but my apartment seemed nice and the area had a certain mystique that I just by instinct felt like I would jive with. All these months later, choosing to live here remains the best decision I've made during this entire experience.

I've compiled a small list of my favorite things in and about San Telmo, this barrio that I love so much.

Bar El Federal: (Peru y Carlos Calvo) Not only is it either the oldest or one of the oldest restaurants in San Telmo, but it's also fantastically grungy and perfect. The waiters give awful service, but never get an order wrong. The coffee is great, the decorations rustic and dusty, like being in an old cantina. It's one of my favorite places to sit for hours... and I do. I also live directly across the street, so it's one of the first things I see every morning.

La Poesía: (Bolivar y Chile) El Federal's sister restaurant. Same menu, same owner, different location, better service, plus a piano you can play if you're so inclined. Every table carries a plaque that lists a famous local person that used to sit there and what they used to work on (plays, books, etc)... neat.

Pizzeria Pirillo: (Defensa y Independencia) One of my more recent discoveries, which is a crying shame. It's so small that I've been walking by it for 9 months without noticing. Hole in the wall pizza joint, standing room only, selling slices for $3.25 pesos of either pizza, fugazetta (a pizza with cheese and onions), or faina (a baked chickpea yummy pizza thing). The make huuuuuuge round pizzas and then cut slices randomly out of it, so they're not necessarily in the shape of a triangle. Greasy, cheesy, perfect. It's been there since 1932 with the same, magical ovens. Marry me, Pirillo.

El Desnivel: (Defensa y Giufra) BEST STEAK IN BUENOS AIRES. I don't care what your guide book says. They are cheap and unpretentious and you'd be an idiot to miss out.

The Sunday feria and antiques market: (Plaza Dorrego and all along Defensa) There is nowhere else I'd rather be on a Sunday afternoon than right here in San Telmo at the feria. Every sunday, Plaza Dorrego becomes a diverse and very impressive antiques market, covered corner to corner with old jewelry and dishware and keys and musical instruments and bottles and coins and anything else you can think of. Calle Defensa, all the way from Plaza Dorrego to Avenida de Mayo, is covered with artisans and street vendors selling their clothes, jewelry, mates, toys, hand-painted signs, knick-knacks and a million other little things, while bands play all along the street, street performers strike poses, and a drum circle is always in progress. You can snack on a delicious pan relleno or fresh roasted nuts, or sip a glass of fresh squeeze orange juice while you enjoy the music and the vibe.

One of my favorite local groups, Orquesta Tipica Ciudad Baigón, performing tango music at the feria:

The choripan place on Carlos Calvo y Bolivar: AWESOME. Filled with disgusting old men. Piles of meat. $5 pesos for the choripan of your dreams. Open pretty late, just gets sketchier and more delicious with every passing hour.

The guy who sells Bugambilia flowers from the back of his bicycle.

Origen Café: (Humberto Primo y Peru) When you need something vegetarian and organic, or when you want to drink an ENORMOUS café con leche. Also the perfect spot to bring your laptop and spend hours using the wifi.

La Puerta Roja/ The Red Door: (Chacabuco y Chile) I was here every single weekend almost the entire time I've lived here. My friend Emilia worked here, I knew all the bartenders, they serve the amazing "chili bomb" (a shot of jalapeño-infused vodka dropped into a glass of Red Bull and chugged), and it was always good for a good time. It was basically my Cheers. These days, with most of my friends gone and Emilia no longer working there, I haven't been going much. But it'll always have a special place in my heart.

The epic quantities of trash in the street: I know I'm supposed to hate it. And I guess I kind of do. But it's also pretty uniquely disgusting, and that's saying something.

Just a wee bit of trash outside the Red Door:

Pride Café: (Balcarce y Giufra) Cute, cozy little gay-owned and operated café. Yummy coffee, plus they serve ham and cheese waffles... only in Argentina!

Calle Balcarce: My favorite street in Buenos Aires. Just so, so pretty. Cobblestones, sleepy cafes, and just a general sense of quiet. I stroll it often, just for the smell and the feel.

Guevara: (Plaza Dorrego) Coolest little hole-in-the-wall divey rock bar ever. Great music, great people, disgusting bathrooms. Get a liter of Warsteiner and dance the night away. Currently this is my favorite bar in the area... every time I go something exciting or hilarious happens!

MY APARTMENT: (Peru y Carlos Calvo) Obviously. It's the best, and even though my landlord keeps raising the price and that's obnoxious, and even though the internet is never working properly, and even though there was an iceberg growing in my refrigerator for 6 months and we don't really have a living room, it's still a place that makes me smile every time I walk in the door. My roommate Andrea is one of my favorite people ever, and standing on my balcony and looking down on the street below is one of the simple pleasures in my life. I've lived now in 3 of the 5 bedrooms here, and my current room is perfect. This place will missed.


Treezy said...

Hey lovely one! I found your blog!

Come visit me at mine (

It's a fairly new blog, but if you are keen on reading my travel stories, that is at

Hey by the way, I am visiting the West Coast of the states and Canada next May/June. Which side do you live in? Will you be there?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hi, I'm Erica. said...

Hey spammers-- get off my blog! No one wants your dumb advertisements.


And hi Theresa, awesome we can share blog stories now! Glad you found me. :-) Send on any recommendations you have-- I am just winging it in Peru and would appreciate any tips you have, especially about Cusco and Machu Picchu. Where to stay, how long to plan to be there, etc!

Treezy said...

Peru...hmmmm well go to Arequipa if you can. I loved Arequipa. I stayed at Bothy Hostel and it was mint. As for Macchu Picchu I am the worst person to ask because just a few days earlier I had messed up my back by falling down the stairs and could hardly walk and had to it by bus, train, bus. It's beautiful though!

Go to Puno for Lake Titikaka. It's super touristy but the floating islands are beautiful and great for photo ops.

Other than that, I skipped through northern Peru to Ecuador but Huacacina is supposed to be really cool and you can sand board, and there is a place called huarez which is supposed to be great for hiking.

Have fun. I look forward to reading your stories!

florencia napolitano said...

hi erica!!
i'm flor from network. I arrived at your blog thanks to facebook. I have really enjoyed all your post and even laughed at your comments about living in San Telmo. It's all true, and also I agreed with you about it's one of my favourites places in Buenos Aires.
I hope you've spent a really good time in Argentina, it's was a pleasure to share that conversations clubs and I regret not going more lessons.
I sent you the invitation to accept me on facebook. My name is Florencia Napolitano, i don't know if you remember me.. I was going to study Business Administration and you helped me to know the exactly name of the career in English jajajaja
But I have a new.. I'll change the career jajaja I will study disegn of image and sound . ( i dont know if it's the accurate mame)

well, I stop talkin at once
i hope to know about you soon and if you can leave me a mesagge on facebook's wall.

Anonymous said...

People told me San Telmo is bautifull. I was looking for Buenos Aires apartments, do you know if near San Telmo there are?