It all started with the closed-door restaurants, or puertas cerradas, a trend that took root after Argentina’s economic crisis in 2001 when entrepreneurial chefs invited paying guests to dine in their homes so they could avoid skyrocketing property taxes. A few years later came the speakeasy bars, which popped up behind sushi restaurants, flower shops and unmarked doorfronts in the trendy Palermo neighbourhood and required secret codes to enter. Now, the retail industry has hopped onboard with a crop of secret boutiques where shoppers can purchase designer wares straight from the studio or showroom – so long as they email or text message first to obtain the address.
These in-the-know attractions operate just beneath the surface of things in Buenos Aires and, like the ubiquitous tango shows, dish up flamboyance and mystery in equal measure. While they may be hidden from view, they’re not particularly hard to find for anyone willing to put in the effort. Here’s a look at five ways to scratch beneath the surface on your next visit to “the Paris of South America.”
Drink at a secret speakeasy
Do you like your speakeasies hidden behind flower shops? Try Florería Atlántico in the Retiro neighbourhood. Or maybe you prefer them sequestered on the far side of a fake telephone booth (whose keypad serves as a buzzer)? If so, make a beeline for Frank’s in Palermo. No matter which kind of trapdoor you slip through, what you can expect to find inside each of Buenos Aires’ dozen-odd speakeasies is mouth-watering cocktails crafted with acrobatic flare. Check the website, Facebook page or Twitter account of whatever speakeasy you plan to visit for the password, code or nightly instructions for entry.
Book a private wine tasting
Prefer your drinks swirled rather than shaken. Try an after hours wine tasting in one of Palermo’s most esteemed wine shops, Le Bon Vin. Groups can book a private English-language tasting with sommelier Diego Kostic through local travel outfit Say Hueque and try some of Argentina’s stellar wines like its signature Malbec or lesser-known Bonarda and Torrontes.
Dine at a puerta cerrada
Websites like EatWith and VizEat may have made dining in the home of a top chef a current trend, but the concept has its roots in the puertas cerradas (or closed-door restaurants) of Buenos Aires. There are nearly four-dozen of these clandestine gastronomic adventures around the city. Among the best are Casa SaltShaker in Recoleta, Casa Felix in Chacarita and Paladar in Villa Crespo. Most offer prix fixe menus with wine parings and some – like Casa Felix – serve dinner in a communal setting. Make a reservation online to get directions and expect to pay less than $50 for a multi-course meal that would cost double that back home.
Shop at a hidden showroom
From handcrafted leather bags to glass jewellery and alpaca sweaters, some of the city’s finest goods can’t be purchased at a traditional store. Instead, you’ll need to book an appointment to visit these artisans and fashion designers in their side street showrooms. If you need help finding these off-the-grid boutiques enlist the expertise of a personal shopper like Vanessa Bell, of Crème de la Crème, who knows her way around all of Buenos Aires’ hidden corners.
Purchase art from a studio
Chances are that when you purchase art in a gallery the majority of the money you pay won’t go to the artist; it’ll go the gallerist. So why not cut out the middleman and go straight to the source? Buenos Aires if full of emerging artists who happily invite visitors into their studios in hopes of securing a purchase.