In the Neighborhood: Feria de San Telmo
En route to San Telmo's weekly antiques fête? You're not alone. Even in the off-season, you'll be threading rivers of pedestrians and jostling for a table at La Brigada (that spoon-tender steak is worth it, at least once!). Rooting through the vintage mates and colored glass siphons along Calle Defensa is a Buenos Aires rite of passage, but it isn't the only way to experience San Telmo's transportive ambiente. Venture a few blocks beyond the hive of vendors and street performers in Plaza Dorrego, and the neighborhood begins to reveal its layers. It's a barrio made for lingering. Here are three places where it's very easy to do just that.
1. For a medialuna to remember:
Just sweeter than a croissant and slightly smaller (when in doubt, order two!), the medialuna is a BA breakfast ritual and a silver lining of many local commutes. Though ubiquitous, medialunas vary tremendously in quality, not unlike their French brethren. At Café Rivas, Sunday trawlers can experience premium pastry in a setting worth savoring: worn-wood wainscoting, Art Deco pendants, mirrored walls painted a patriotic sky blue. If barstools are scarce, take the marble staircase to one of the mezzanine's conspiratorial nooks. Or stake out a sidewalk table and breakfast beneath a tumble of bougainvillea. After all, this is one of San Telmo's most poetic cobbled corners. NB: Homemade jam and butter come at an additional charge and are worth every centavo.
Café Rivas; Estados Unidos 302
2. For a gaucho-worthy merienda:
In the spirit of the country canteen that once served as the cornerstone of pampas society, supplying frontiersmen with everything from saddlery to gossip to aguardiente, Pulpería Quilapán aims to provide 21st-century city-dwellers with a bygone blend of physical and cultural nourishment. The ambitious neo-pulpería is A) a purveyor of Argentine pantry specialties (goat's milk dulce de leche anyone?) from handpicked small producers; B) a social club hosting folk music performances, wine tastings, and workshops on topics like gaucho literature and colonial cocktails; and C) a festive backdrop for a picada alfresco. Occupying a restored 18th-century townhouse with a colorful history, the taproom and patio sport original brick walls, saloon doors, and a family-friendly rustic tavern vibe. Kids can play traditional criollo games, order from an extensive empanada menu, and sample only-in-Argentina treats like "Chocotorta", the country's least academic but most addictive dessert.
Pulpería Quilapán; Defensa 1344
3. For a textbook aperitivo:
Malbec may get all the attention in this town, but most of the Porteño populace has Italian bloodlines—and a deep ancestral fondness for amari. Case in point: El Refuerzo. What this squeeze of a bodegón lacks in space it makes up in its vermouth selection. You'll find standbys like Campari and Cinzano, locally beloved heavy-hitters (ahem, Fernet-Branca), and obscure Argentine heritage spirits to challenge even the most seasoned foreign palates. For newcomers to the world of Amargo Obrero, Hesperidina and Pineral, hanging chalkboards offer bartender-proposed elixirs and snack pairings. Hopefully, you'll find yourself bidding Sunday farewell with a house pickle plate and a Pineral con sifón (old-fashioned siphon seltzer). Porteñísimo.
El Refuerzo; Chacabuco 872