If you’re an expat or vacationer spending time in Buenos Aires there’s really no way of avoiding Buenos Aires’ largest barrio (by area), Palermo. Even if you live somewhere else in the city you can guarantee that the vast majority of your expat friends, and probably a good part of your Argentine friends, will live there, and even if they don’t you’ll still want to go there to dine, party and shop. You might as well just accept it!
So that’s Palermo, but what about Palermo Soho? It’s a chunk of Palermo: specifically, the chunk of Palermo Viejo (which itself is a sub-barrio, specifically the area bordered by Santa Fe, Córdoba, Dorrego and Coronel Díaz) that’s south-west of Juan B. Justo and that contains Plaza Serrano. Littered with cafés, restaurants and boutiques in low-rise buildings, Palermo Soho is trendy, creative, chic, young, cool.
Palermo Soho History
Palermo Soho does not, of course, have much of a history, because it’s a recently made-up name based on the area’s similarity to the entertainment district SoHo in New York. What about Palermo Viejo? No, sorry, that’s a made up name as well, just one that was made up longer ago! What is now Palermo Viejo used to be called Villa Alvear. All you can say is that Porteños seem to have something of a problem with official names for things.
Anyway, the area that is now referred to as Palermo Viejo started to become fashionable in the 1980s, when it’s combination of relative closeness to the city, wide streets, trees and bohemian vibe was recognized. This was when the area started to transform from a purely residential area into something more cosmopolitan.
Going back further in time, the area that includes Palermo and Palermo Viejo became popular as a place to live way back in the late 1800s. The area was given a huge boost in the 1870s when then-president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento ordered the construction of Buenos Aires Zoo, Parque Tres de Febrero, Plaza Italia and the Palermo Race Track.
Things to see and do
If you rule out shopping, eat and drinking (all covered below) Palermo Soho is a little light on things to do. However, it’s a pleasant place just to stroll, people-watch and window shop. For best results, go on a weekend, when street markets in the area are at their best. The best area for strolling is around and between Plaza Serrano and Plaza Armenia, which is a park bordered by Malabia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Armenia. Stop off at Malas Artes (Honduras 4999) on Plaza Serrano (they do a great brunch) or Bartok (Costa Rica 4600) on Plaza Armenia when you need to refuel.
If you get tired of all the strolling and the shopping and the eating and drinking, really your only other option is to check out an art gallery, of which Palermo Soho has no shortage. Make it something a little different though and go to Hollywood in Cambodia (Thames 1885). Hollywood in Cambodia is a street art gallery (that is, it features graffiti and stenciling) with a graffiti-decorated bar called Post Bar downstairs. Sounds cool? It is.
Palermo Soho Shopping
Ir de compras is what Palermo Soho is all about, so it’s no surprise that many of the city’s best boutique clothing stores, along with all the usual international-chain suspects, are located here. There are far too many to mention, but Gurruchaga and Borges, between Plaza Italia and Plaza Serrano, contain most of them, so try those first if you’re in the mood to shop. For a list of some of Palermo Soho’s more interesting boutiques, try here.
One specific store that it’s impossible not to recommend is 28 Sport (Gurruchaga 1481), which is the home of the shoes of the same name. All 28 Sport shoes are recreations of classic leather sports shoes of the 1940s and 1950s. They are incredibly faithful reproductions, down to the brass eyelets, and they make only one pair of each size in each style. They’re amazing shoes – colorful, very well made and a little different – and nice souvenirs as well.
Palermo Soho Cafés
You certainly won’t go un-caffeinated in Palermo Soho. If your buzz starts to wear off, head immediately to Mark’s Deli & Coffee House (El Salvador 4701). While it’s expensive even by Palermo standards the lunches are great, and studies show that the patrons are 23% hotter than even the average Palermo café. On weekdays, for example, it’s yummy mummy central. It’s also a popular place to meet your Spanish tutor or take advantage of the Wi-Fi, though some will find it too noisy for these pursuits.
Another good spot is Boutique del Libro (Thames 1762). As the name suggests it’s a bookstore with a café inside. It has Wi-Fi, an indoor patio, good coffee and books for browsing aplenty (some in English). Take note however, that while the café at Boutique del Libro used to do a great bacon and egg breakfast (rare as hen’s teeth in Buenos Aires), recent research appears to indicate that they don’t anymore. One can only hope it’s back on the menu soon.
Palermo Soho Restaurants
Well, there can’t be too many expats in Buenos Aires who haven’t heard of La Cabrera (Cabrera 5127). Still, it’s good enough to bear repeating. So what is it, some sort of molecular gastronomic marvel? No…it’s just a parrilla, but a very good one. Serves of meat are huge, perfectly cooked and come with an array of little condiments in dishes. Sides are also excellent. It’s touristy, and long lines to get in are commonplace, so book a few days ahead if you want to go at a popular time (that is, 9pm or later), or else go at 8pm to try to beat the rush. If you are forced to line up, one very nice touch is that you’ll be served free champagne.
This one doesn’t show up on to many tourists guides, but it should. La Fabrica Del Taco is hands down the best Mexican restaurant in Buenos Aires. Forget what anybody else says! Although the service is sup-par and at 10 pesos a taco it isn’t exactly cheap, but the amazing flavor the the tacos this place delivers makes up for it all. If you are from the States and miss your local hole in the wall taco stand, then this is the place for you. But a “hole in the wall taco stand” it is not. La Fabrica Del Taco has bright neon lights and its inside is decorated with Mexican wrestler memorabilia. It focuses strictly on tacos, with a few other Mexican delights. You can load your tacos with a great selections of hot salsas, which is a welcoming in not so spicy friendly Buenos Aires.
Palermo Soho Nightlife
The nightlife in Palermo Soho is centered around the oval-shaped Plaza Serrano, which has bars and resto-bars all the way around its perimeter. If you’re not overly fussy about where you drink then head straight there, you’ll find plenty of decent (if unspectacular) options.
Face it: you’re sick of Quilmes. Never fear, because brew bar Antares (Armenia 1447) has the cure for what ails you! Eight tap beers served in pint-sized glasses are on offer, including Porter, Cream Stout, Honey Beer and Barley Wine. A seven-beer sampler is also an option, and food is served.
What are you looking for in a bar? Good music maybe, a good buzz or a nice crowd of people? What about cheap drinks? Or why not just head to the expat-run Sugar bar (Costa Rica 4619) and have all of the above. Drinks are just 5 pesos until midnight and they do food. Sugar bucks the Palermo Soho trend and is basic rather than chic, but let’s face it, after you have a couple of their very cheap drinks and get chatting to a cute stranger you really won’t give a damn.
So that’s Palermo Soho. Learn it, love it, and if necessary learn to love it, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time and pesos there!