Art Factory Hostel Blog

Thanksgiving in BsAS


I’ve been away from the U.S., my home country, for almost 6 years. Today was the first Thanksgiving since then that I’ve eaten a traditional turkey dinner. Nope, no dressing or cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie in 6 years. The last week I’d looked around on a couple expats forums and at one point seemed to remember La Casa, which is a hostel in Palermo, offering Thanksgiving dinner.

But I’m rather sick of hostels at this point, as you might imagine. I wanted a proper meal out. Kansas, at 4625 Avenida del Libertador, had been mentioned several times on forums, and on other blogs. On TripAdvisor, it’s listed as the #13 most popular restaurant in Buenos Aires.

I couldn’t get anyone else in Art Factory interested other than my British pal Bryan, who is usually up for just about anything. The estimable manager, Cecilia, would have been up for it but the astounding heat in the AF’s reception put her under for the rest of the day.

My Rosario buddy Martin called, found out the price of the meal — a pricey for BA, 50 pesos, but a reasonable enough for Chicago, $15 USD — and found out if we needed reservations. The silly hostess on the other end said we didn’t. But she was correct only because we arrived relatively early, at around 8. As we were leaving, we noticed about 30 people, mostly English-speaking folks, waiting for tables. And it’s a big place.

Our tax driver apparently couldn’t see very well, because he dropped us off in the 4400 block, saying Aca, aca! Well, it wasn’t aca, it was two blocks farther, behind a big iron fence, and it looked rather swank. After a month of dusty parillas, and looking like I did — in shorts, cheap rubber sandals and a punkish H&M t-shirt — I felt a tad out of place.

But only for all of about 2 minutes. True to form, most of the Americans we saw and heard were dressed down. The wait staff looked great, but then I have a mild fetish for crisp white shirts on broad-shouldered men, particularly ones with darker skin, and in snug black dress pants. Unless my gaydar is way off, I’d say a good 30% of them were gay. They were all bustling around in a way that I simply wasn’t used to in BA, and we got seated and served in record time.

I don’t care much for how a place looks — all I really care much about are comfortable chairs — but Kansas’ decor, although mildly posh, isn’t off-putting. But it was a little bit dark for my eyes. Plus it really could have been in any large city in the world. Nice for a change, though.

The Thanksgiving meal was surprisingly good, particularly the chunky, skins-on, mashed potatos and gravy, the dressing, and the unusual mashed squash mixed with pecans. I had no idea what the latter was at first, and it didn’t look appealing. It looked like it was on its way into being something else. When I tasted it, though, I ate it all. Rather sweet and chunky but still luscious. The turkey was on the dry side, but that’s because it was white meat, though thinly sliced. I really missed gnawing on the drum sticks! Pumpkin pie? Mom’s was, oh, about a billion times better. Still, not bad, and I felt like I got my money’s worth. So did Brian.

We didn’t stay long. Normally, we do the Latin thing and hang out for a long while, but usually only if we are in a big group. Most of our close buddies have moved on to other parts of South America or Argentina. Feels like it’s just Brian and me now, at least when it comes to going out to eat or drinking into the wee hours.

So what am I thankful for?

Mostly I’m crazy-grateful for being the frak out of the Czech Republic, and therefore out of the cold, (Mostly, I mean the people.) and to the folks who helped me get here. I hope next year I have a lot more to say about how thankful I am I moved to Argentina.

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Cool Blog: Argentine Spanish Slang Dictionary

I was searching for, well, a semi-dirty word to use for my next blog project, and Googled across this great Wordpress blog.

Rather than chronologically, posts are organized alphabetically. So, just click the letter you want in this rude Castellano lexicon.

Pretty cool, and as far as I know, unique.

Hint: I clicked the “L.”

Argentine Spanish Slang Dictionary

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REM in Buenos Aires

“Wow. Argentina has some beautiful people,” Michael Stipe purred into the microphone after touring the front lines of the packed-in-tight crowd — if you’d raised your hands in salute to the band, there was little chance you’d be able to put them down again. The mostly young fans couldn’t keep their hands off him, rubbing his head, patting his shoulder, calling his name.
This show at Personal Fest 2008 in Buenos Aires marks the 10th time I’ve seen REM over the years. Since Bill Berry exited, though, I’ve basically ignored their new music. Still, I couldn’t resist seeing them in my new home for less than I would’ve paid just about anywhere. I’ve seen the band play better — I’ve certainly see them play faster — but I’ve never seen the crowd love them more, or seen the band give so much love back. If there were a downside to riding such gigantic waves of adulation, it was not being able to hear the band over the accolades and the sing-a-longs.

Situated as I was over on the heaving, sweating and frenetic left side of the stage, when the band began playing their biggest hit, Losing My Religion, I couldn’t hear Stipe at all over the crowd behind me who were shouting the lyrics at the top of their lungs. At first it pissed me off; then I decided to just let it go and enjoy the ride.


On the other hand, during the slower, quiet songs, the crowd gave the band the needed space. During an exquisitely performed “Everybody Hurts,” you could have heard someone crying in that huge, almost completely silent crowd.

Similarly, the riskily arranged acoustic version of “Let Me In,” Stipe’s anguished plea for access to Kurt Cobain, captivated most. Stipe sang the song with his back to the crowd, near the rest of the band, all huddled in a circle, strumming along. He painfully slid up to his notes, as if wrenching personal grief up and out of himself by the hair on his head.

After the show, as the cooler wind dried the sweat of our bodies, the crowds spilled out onto Avenida del Libertador, and filled them with laughing, smiling people. It was one of the most intense live shows I’ve ever experienced, despite the fact that it was one of the more poorly mixed festival shows I’ve ever heard. But it was my favorite band, and BA made it special.

Just before the encore, Stipe wrote these words on a post-it, visible via video projection:

Aguante Argentina! Quieren eschuchar más?

The crowd erupted with its biggest cheer yet after the first sentence, which basically combines the meanings of support/cheer on/laud in one word. (Thanks, José, for the translation insight.) They cheered only a little less loudly after the second. A great moment in a show jam-full of them.

For even more cell-phone videos from the BA REM show, go here. Also check out photos on flickr tagged with rembuenos. The band encouraged sharing of photos and videos, bless ‘em.

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Night Out: La Cigale

La Cigale

What is it?
A mixed bar/dance club, sort of, with deejays. Expats, locals and tourists. Mostly straight, with a few gay groups.

Where is it?
25 de Mayo 722, at Cordoba, in El Centro.

How is it?
Fun, loud, very social, and your best bet for clubbing on a Tuesday night in BA. Expensive-ish drinks but no cover charge, or entrada libre.

We had a French guy with us last night, a sweet and sexy, brown-skinned 30-year old from Cannes, and he told us that the name of this somewhat touristy but lively bar was taken from a district in Paris. I couldn’t find any corroboration for that, but I did find  this.

We arrived at La Cigale late, missing the 2-for-1 happy hour from 18-22, having sung hymns and odes for hours in honor of our departing hostel friend, Sassy Sally. She was looking to end her last day and night in BA on an up note, as in up-and-out-on-the dance-floor. She might have also been looking to kiss a boy or two, I couldn’t be sure, and would never judge.

The sidewalk outside the bar was full of expats and porteños smoking. Taxi drivers loafed against their cars and answered the questions of clueless tourists. Inside, it was so packed it was difficult to walk and it took a long time to get our rather pricey drinks: Flat, watery Heineken drafts for 15 pesos. They also serve Corona and Guiness in tiny bottles. Irish gal Martina told me that her Mai Thai was the worst she’d ever tasted.

The oddest thing about this bar, aside from the fact that the sexual orientation of the crowd kept getting more gay as the night progressed, was that the really interesting and energetic dance music mixed by live deejays — last night was supposed to be Noche Francesa; but in my ears, it could have been Greek — who worked the crowd really well, except that there really was no room to dance. What should have been the dance floor was filled with formica tables strewn with sopping wet sprigs of mint from the ubiquitous mojitos. Too bad, really, since, even my dangerously loose, inappropriate sandals, I would have liked to dance.

Two weird asides, my French friend was frisked in the toilet by three someones claiming to be undercover cops looking for cocaine. I worried that it was some sort of scam to rid him of his loose cash, but he apparently lost nothing. Also, I saw at least two very good-looking taxi boys wandering the bar together, one with strong indigenous features and wearing a tank top. Later they were hanging around outside looking for clients, I guess. I wouldn’t let that bother you. It’s the kind of thing that only I would notice, and the bar is mostly straight.

The big question, Would I go back?

Yes, but only with a group of people and some patience. After all, we got home as the sun was coming up. But that’s not all that unusual for either hostel life, or BA night life, in general.

Friday night is ElectroShock night, which sounds like fun.

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First impressions: Angel's disco

Angel’s

What is it?
A gay disco, with a handful of straight couples.
Where is it?
Viamonte 2168
Nearest subway station is Facultad de Medicina
How is it?
A little bit trashy, fun, cruisy, and inexpensive.
When is it?
Fridays and Saturdays only, from 1 am.
How much is it?
20 pesos entry fee, which includes 3 drinks. Small beers and well drinks are 5 pesos each, or around $1.50 USD.

I was taken to this 3-floor gay disco by a gay porteño and another nice gay guy from Chile, completely unsure of what to expect. They told me they loved the place, with big, genuine smiles and dreamy eyerolls, and that I would love it, too. I quickly understood why they love it, although, in some ways, it was like just about any other gay bar in the world: Cruisy, dark, loud.

In other ways, it was uniquely Argentinian. Meaning that talking with someone was easy, particularly while sitting around in the main bar, where the music was muted and the drunks congregate for a rest, or when gesturing across the bar, as I did, comparing tattoos with a lanky butch guy with black stars inked on his arms, or as putting my arms around the smiling suedehead in front of me on the dance floor — all of them seemed like the most natural things in the world to do. In that way, it reminded me of the easy sexuality of Bistro or Carol’s Speakeasy, in Chicago back in the day. They really don’t run gay bars like that anymore. Which is to say, I felt much less alienated that I would have in a similar gay bar in another part of the world.

Don’t mistake me, though. There were plenty of snooty, non-smiling youngsters, who clearly think their semen isn’t sticky. (Personally I preferred the company of the rent boys who chatted with me, the only foreigner in the bar, that I could see anyway.) But, in general, the vibe was good, expansive and welcoming, if not ostentatiously so. Angel’s also had the distinction of making me dance joyfully all night long without recognizing a single house-inflected, disco-influenced, electronic-filtered tune. The lower dance floor seemed a bit too retro for me: Playing the 80s and 90s Ameri-Euro nostalgia that infects every bar in BA at the moment.

The final question is: Will I go back? The answer is yes. As soon as my knees recover.

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First impressions: Crobar disco

Crobar

What is it?
Popular dance bar and live performance club

Where is it?
Frak if I know. I got in a cab somewhere in Palermo and 15 minutes later piled out of it and into the bar through the VIP entrance. That’s the advantages of knowing someone who knows the PR guy. Thanks, Cecelia! Good luck trying to find the address on the Web site. Any BA cab driver is liable to know where it is.

How is it?
Loud, expensive (45 pesos for a mixed drink!) and more than a little snooty. For no good reason that I could see. If you don’t know someone, know someone who knows someone, you’ll be judged at the door whether or not you’re cool enough to get in. Consequently, there are a lot of nice-looking girls let in by the beefy, heterosexual bouncers.

The Argy live band playing the night we went were godawful, but then I hate competently played jangly guitar pop. The DJ set afterward was much better, playing 80s hits with gusto but not inventively. The dance floor was packed and I would have been in a foul mood if we hadn’t been in the VIP balcony, where my friends and I posed and sang at the top of our lungs to the B52s. As it was, with two tiny bottles of Heineken in two hands, I had a great time.

Until they started playing the Spin Doctors. “If you want to talk for hours…” That’s when they lost me.

When is it?
It’s common for BA bars to only be open certain nights of the week. It’s not clear from the Web site but it looks like Crobar is only open Fridays and Saturdays. But I’m not sure.

How much is it?
According to José, who minds reception at Art Factory, loves old-school punk and is a real cool kid with an old soul, entry to Crobar is 20 pesos. Which includes nothing. So there ya go. Most hostels sell or give away tickets so this is the best way to go, if you must go at all.

Like Crobar in Chicago, which had a well-attended gay Sunday night during which they played music I affectionately called music-to-slaughter-cattle-by, this venue and bar is very popular. It will probably be packed out any night it’s open.

Errata: The VIP balcony also has the best toilets and, at least when we were there, expensive female prostitutes. Just sayin.’

Have fun! I’m never going back.

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Recommended resource: Interactive Map of BA

You might have been perplexed that Google has not mapped Buenos Aires, the tenth largest city in the world.

The government of Argentina has thankfully taken up the slack.



The most recent satellite photos available are from 2004, which is too bad in a city that changes almost every day, but you can specify whether you want to get to a particular place on foot — recorrido a pie — or by car — recorrido en auto. That’s not something you get with Google Maps. I guess it’s because Americans don’t walk?

An invaluable resource.

Mapa de Buenos Aires 1.6

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