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Vibrant Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is brimming with pride, and is South America's must-go city.

Alma Mater
PHOTO: Courtesy of Alma Mater
By Melissa Biggs Bradley

When I asked a stylish porteña (Buenos Aires resident) to explain the city's recent vibrancy, she said, "Before the peso's devaluation in December 2001, we always looked outside the country, but the crisis forced us to look inside." The results: a wave of national pride and inventiveness, and for U.S. visitors to B.A., not just very good value for their dollars but a chance to witness a city in revival.

The most obvious proof of this renaissance is the suddenly fashionable district of Palermo Viejo, also known as Hollywood. Like New York's SoHo, it first attracted artists with its low rents; hip housewares boutiques, emerging fashion designers and chic restaurants followed. Today in this ten-block area you can find close to ninety shops, selling everything from exuberant children's clothing, at Plaza Color ( 1438 Serrano ) and Alma Mater ( 1460 Gurruchaga ); to sleek housewares, at Spoon ( 4876 Honduras ) and Simple ( 2181 Gurruchaga ); to whimsical shoes, at Mule ( 1738 Armenia ). Tienda Tres ( 1655 Armenia ) features the creations of three women who love sexy everyday clothes, such as silk-trimmed tunics for day or night and T-shirts in vintage-inspired prints.

Signs of porteños' entrepreneurial fever can even be found in a few spots in the high-rent Recoleta district. Cat Ballou ( 1702 Av. Alvear ) sells one-of-a-kind fashions and housewares by Argentine artists. Gabriella Capucci ( 1477 Av. Alvear ) offers va-va-voom versions of Lilly Pulitzeresque designs.

Palermo Viejo also has many of the best new restaurants, such as Bar 6 ( 1676 Ar-menia ), whose New York–trained Argentine chef serves dishes like shrimp with guacamole, and goat cheesecake. Nearby, Central ( 5644 Costa Rica ) mixes minimalist decor with Mediterranean-infiuenced cuisine, such as sautéed, olive-marinated calamari. In a cubelike space with a central wine cellar, Sucre ( 676 Sucre ) serves the extraordinary fusion food of Fernando Trocca, one of the country's most talented chefs. Puerto Madero, the beautifully restored waterfront area, has dozens of restaurants, too. Among the best, if not the best, is Cabaña Las Lilas ( 516 Av. Alicia Moreau de Justo ), where the steaks draw a power-lunch crowd.

In the luxury-hotel market, the legendary Alvear Palace no longer rules. The Four Seasons Buenos Aires ( 1086 Posadas; 800-819-5053; fourseasons.com ), in the Recoleta district, has incredible service and an outdoor pool that makes you feel as if you're at a resort. Set behind the modern tower wing, the pool faces the Mansion annex, where Madonna stayed while filming Evita . In the Retiro district, on the other side of Avenida 9 de Julio, is the Sofitel Buenos Aires ( 841/849 Arroyo; 011-54-11-4131-0123; sofitel.com ), a boutique hotel fashioned from two historic buildings that looks like the work of a more restrained Phi-lippe Starck—witness the Art Deco lobby lined with twenty-foot-high potted pines.

A nexus of the city's art craze since it opened two years ago is MALBA , the Mu-seo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires ( 3415 Av. Figueroa Alcorta; www.malba.org.ar ). Local tycoon Eduardo Costantini, who funded the $25 million building and donated the permanent collection it houses, can often be spotted in the airy, modern café on the first fioor. Tours of visiting exhibitions draw dozens of porteños daily. With a week's notice ( 011-54-11-4808-6556 ), English-speaking guides will give hour-long tours of the collection, which includes works by Frida Kahlo, Fernando Botero and Antonio Berni.

And if all this isn't enough, at press time the dollar is worth nearly three times what it was before the peso's devaluation—it's as if the whole city were on sale. Double rooms at the Four Seasons, for example, start at $300, and at the Sofitel, $240. At Cabaña Las Lilas, a three-course dinner with probably the best steak you'll ever eat costs $60.

Published on 9/1/2003
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