The Best Bookshop in the World
El Ateneo is a chain of bookshops in Argentina, but the El Ateneo Grand Splendid on Av Santa Fe is like no other bookshop I've ever seen. It's housed in an antique cinema and theater, where the great god of tango, Carlos Gardel once performed, and it looks like this:
Pretty sweet, eh? Behind the curtains in the stage area is a café, so I rested my weary feet, tucked into an empanada and sipped my first glass of Malbec. Mmm.
Back at the hostel, I had a little rest, but the evening was about to get very interesting. In an unexpected but fortuitous turn of events, I gained a steak/tango buddy for the night. Her name is Lewis and she is the younger sister of an ex colleague's girlfriend. Bit random, but basically I found out that she was currently out in Buenos Aires learning Spanish and volunteering, and was keen to meet up.
So, I hopped onto the Subte and took the green Linea D out to Palermo to meet her. This was at about half 9, and I was already pretty hungry by this point. All I'd had to eat all day was a small bowl of cereal, a bread roll, an empanada and a mini tub of Pringles. I was ready for that steak.
Love Me Tenderloin
Lewis wanted to take me to a restaurant called La Cabrera, which is a parilla, a grill place/steakhouse. She said she'd been there once before, and although on first impressions she wasn't sure, as it smacked of being a tourist trap, it turned out to the best steak she's had in all her time here. Well, I was sold.
We got there at about 10 o'clock, but there was a throng of people milling around outside and the restaurant itself was packed. Outside the front enrance stood a pretty, petite woman with a laptop on a mini round table. This was the holy grail of reservation information. Lewis asked if there were any tables available but we were told to give our names and come back in 40 minutes.
Off we went to a neighbouring bar for some cerveza and nibbles. I procured a bowl of fries to help stave off the starvation, and we chatted.
40 minutes passed. It was time. We returned to La Cabrera, but there was still a throng of people, though different ones this time. I could hear English, American English, French and Spanish voices. The sense of anticipation was intense. Those were some eager, hungry people, us included. I've never seen anything like it. It was mad! The restaurant lady would call out names at irregular intervals and as she did so she soberly bestowed a magic piece of paper to the chosen ones, bearing their name. Off they went, to enter the temple of beef, leaving the rest of us behind, consumed with envy. There were two old French women who kept trying to sneak round the table to peek at the laptop, seeing if they could discern when their turn would come. It was quite confusing. Eventually though, Lewis' name was called, and I let out a triumphant YESS and punched the air. 'It's like winning the lottery!' someone said. Oh yes. The best kind of lottery. STEAK LOTTERY!!!
Lewis ordered a chorizo steak (chorizo here is both sausage and a cut of beef), and I ordered a 'medio lomo', a medium tenderloin, which is apparently the best cut.
Was it as big as my head? Nearly. Lewis' steak was HUGE, and mine came in three sizeable juicy portions; it looked like three fillet steaks. The steaks arrived on big wooden platters that took up the length of our table, complete with little pots of side garnishes. The smell that emanated from them was maddeningly divine.
|bife de chorizo|
My knife sliced through the tenderloin like it was butter. I'd asked for it medium rare, and inside it was pink and oozing juice. I put the first slice in my mouth, and it practically melted. This steak was FIT. Quite possibly, the best steak I've ever had. It was pure meat, cooked simply and to perfection. No sauce, no seasoning, it simply didn't need anything else.
The chorizo steak was completely different in taste and texture. Delicious too, but I felt my tenderloin had the edge.
We accompanied the steak with a bottle of really smooth, tasty Malbec. I could barely finish mine in the end. Including tip, the bill came to about 20 pounds each. Gaucho Grill, eat your heart out. This is where it's at.
Next on the agenda, and another of Lewis's recommendations, was a milonga (tango social dance) at a place called La Catedral, which is one of the more underground milongas. The venue itself is incredibly cool. It's up one floor in a converted garage, with moody lighting, and a high, vaulted ceiling. On one wall, a blown up, pixellated, black and white photo of Carlos Gardel's face watches over the dancefloor.
However, by the time we arrived it was 1am and unfortunately most people had already gone home. Nevertheless there were one or two couples dancing, so Lewis and I sat down with a glass of wine to watch.
At one point, the dancefloor now empty, an elderly gentleman from one of the other tables came up to us and asked me to dance. I was already a bit pissed, and tried to protest that I didn't know how, but he insisted. So, embarassingly, I took to the floor, and felt like I was single-handedly committing heinous tango murder. Bless him for trying, but the last time I had danced any kind of tango was about 3 years ago in Manchester. Throw in wine-related co-ordination deficiency to the mix and you have a poor attempt at what is otherwise a very fluid, sensual dance.
Sensing the party was well and truly over, we decided to head out to Puerto Madero, to a club called Asia de Cuba.
'So this is where the bright young things of Buenos Aires come out to play?' thought I, as we entered into the fray, having haggled down the entry fee from a tenner down to a fiver. Actually no, I wasn't really thinking that, in reality it was much simpler and baser, closer to 'WANT DANCE NOW OMG!"·/%!$·'. My first mistake was to drink a vodka + red bull, followed by flaming sambucca (it seemed a good idea at the time, especially as Lewis had confessed to me that she's never had sambucca before). I'd already been drinking beer, and then red wine. Why, Alaka, why?
But, dancing is what we'd come to do, and dancing is what we did. I've noticed this in other cities too, but the local crowd seemed so tentative and, well, lame. Lewis and I looked around in despair. Where was the oomph? So to help compensate, we wholeheartedly threw ourselves into it. Gave it some welly, as my old P.E. teacher Mrs Ross might say.
Then began what I have now termed as manonslaughter. Man #1 was called Juan, I think, and was from Argentina. It didn't take me long before I whipped out what Tom told me would be my most important phrase whilst out here: tengo novio! (I have a boyfriend). Juan's initial response was: 'I am jealous! Very jealous!' We had a bit of a dance, non-sexual like, and he was trying to sidle up and make a move. 'NO PUEDO!' I shouted over the music (I can't), 'E NO POSIBLE! Tengo novio in Ingleterra!' His response? 'It doesn't matter! He is very far away!' Charming! I quickly set him straight.
Man #2 came out of nowhere like a sexually charged bulldozer. I don't know what his name was but I shall call him Juan Kerr. He was quite forceful and basically launched himself at my face and was a little bit gropetastic. Not great. I found that good old-fashioned shoving worked wonders there.
Man #3 was called Carlos, and was from Brazil. He had a nice smile and was much less offensive. I used my 'tengo novio' line on him and I can't quite remember now what he said but I think it was some variation on Man #1's disappointment, which is nice.
Man troubles aside, Lewis and I had a bloody good boogie to the electronic pop blasting from the speakers, and at about 4.30am decided to call it a night.
By the time I got back to my hostel it was coming upto 5am. I staggered into the loo and sat there, head in my hands, desperately willing the room to stop spinning. I remember thinking, I must stay here and breathe until the urge to vom goes away. Next thing I know, I'm looking at my watch and it's 7am. How the hell did that happen? Did I really pass out on the loo? Not my finest moment.
I fell into bed and spent the rest of the next day (today) with a stinking hangover, feeling sub-human and wanting to die. But it was worth it.
And that was a full on 24 hours in Buenos Aires.