Bars and cafes, chain stores and independent boutiques, expats and foreign students, there is literally no avoiding the sprawling barrio of Palermo. It’s a mini-city in itself and, whether for accommodation or nightlife, you are guaranteed to spend a fair amount of your Buenos Aires stay here.
So what about Palermo Viejo? This is the oldest part of the barrio and occupies its southeastern corner. If you haven’t worked it out already, ‘Viejo’ means ‘Old’ in Spanish. The barrio actually incorporates both Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho. However, here we will concentrate on the eastern area bounded by Avenida Santa Fe to the north, Coronel Diaz to the east, Cordoba to the south, and Scalabrini Ortiz to the west.
An introduction to Palermo Viejo
In its early days Palermo Viejo attracted immigrant communities, including Armenians, Lebanese, Polish and Ukrainians, as well as Spanish and Italian families looking to move away from the city’s southern areas. Today, this multicultural influence is visible in the barrio’s restaurants, churches and cultural centers.
Palermo Viejo as an entirety started life as a residential and proletarian barrio. Its modern day popularity took off in the 1980s when locals began to capitalize on the tree-lined streets and plazas that gave its bohemian atmosphere.
Whilst Palermo Hollywood and Soho have since turned into nightlife and shopping districts, this section of Palermo Viejo maintains a more low key profile. The development of large apartment blocks is inevitable but walking around the inner streets you will notice a strong prevalence of Spanish-style homes.
Things to see, do or both
This area of Palermo Viejo is not the place to come in search of significant monuments and history museums but rather a place to wander aimlessly along the streets. A prime example is Charcas street. Running from Recoleta into Palermo Soho, the section in Palermo Viejo is lined with cafés that fill up when the sun is shining. The street side tables provide fantastic people-watching opportunities, most notably at La Pharmacie.
Where Charcas meets with Salguero is Plaza Guemes. This picturesque square is loomed over by the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (aka Basilica del Espiritu Santo). It is one of the most attractive churches in the city and a good place to watch weddings, if that’s your thing. The area immediately around Plaza Guemes is sometimes referred to as Villa Freud, a reference to the high concentration of psychoanalyst clinics in the area.
Should you be an art enthusiast then put away the map and keep an eye out for the murals and graffiti adorning the walls of street corners. You could also take a designated graffiti tour with Biking Buenos Aires or Graffiti Mundo.
Finally, if you don’t find what you are looking for in the boutiques of Palermo Soho, then Avenida Cordoba is packed with outlet stores that have seemingly never-ending sales.
Nightlife and restaurants
Café Vinilo (Gorriti 3780). Looking for a healthy option? Throughout the day this secluded café is devoid of tourists and serves up tasty lunches that offer a welcome break from an empanada or choripan. By night it turns into a live music venue where you can listen to tango, jazz, folkloric and orchestral concerts.
De Olivas Lustres (Gorriti 3972). Quite possibly the best tapas in town. Each plate is a work of art – the presentation extends to sauces being served in tubes or mismatched bottles – and they fit perfectly with the retro décor of the restaurant. Tempt your palate with the likes of entrecote milanesa with mushrooms and melted cheese and four-hour braised bondiola with chimichurri.
Punto y Banca (Honduras 4002). As pizzerias go, you won’t find a more classic Buenos Aires establishment than this. It is a popular hangout of taxi drivers who come to fill up on the tasty and hearty portions of fugazzeta whilst watching the football.
Phuket (Honduras 4169). If you are craving Thai food then this intimate restaurant will help you along your way. Sit on a cushion at one of the lowered tables and tuck into Thai classics, including Tom Yam Kung soup, Pad Thai and Phanaeng. Reservations are recommended or, if it’s fully booked, order to take away.
Shanghai Dragon (Aaroz 1199). As soon as you set foot inside the door the red carpet and dark wood furnishings give off the warmth of a British-styled pub. The beer is excellent too. Enjoy pints of IPA, golden ale and stout. If you are hungry then, alike the bars name, the menu adopts Chinese flavors and offers affordable plates of spring rolls, dumplings, and rice and noodle dishes. The bar is from the same owners as Gibraltar in San Telmo and Bangalore in Palermo Hollywood.
Virasoro Bar (Guatemala 4328). Jazz lovers will appreciate this understated bar set in a 1920s Art Deco house – the wood and marble floors, orange-yellow walls and rotating art displays create a laidback ambience. From Wednesday through Sunday the best in local jazz musicians perform to an admiring crowd.
Salon Canning (Scalabrini Ortiz 1331). Try your hand at tango dancing on the slick wooden dance floor of this club. It’s extremely tourist friendly; locals are known to come for the chance to dance with a foreigner. The acoustics are superb so, if dancing isn’t your thing, come for a glass of wine and listen to the live bands.
Amerika (Gascon 1040). Just the other side of Avenida Cordoba from Palermo Viejo (its technically in Almagro/Villa Crespo), Amerika is a gay nightclub promoting a hedonistic philosophy. Of course, all and sundry are welcome so if you fancy letting your hair down to house and techno until the wee hours then give it a shot.
Why it’s hot / Why it’s not
Palermo Viejo as a whole has literally everything you’ll ever need in Buenos Aires. Consequently, if you choose to stay here you’ll find it easy to fit into the lifestyle. As mentioned here, the east side of the barrio is more laidback and a good place to escape the crowds.
On the other hand, many who stay here often find that they never leave. A downside of having everything you need within a few blocks is the temptation to ignore the city’s other barrios.
If you want to be close to Palermo but avoid the foreigners, consider moving south of Avenida Cordoba to Villa Crespo or Almagro, which maintain much of Palermo Viejo’s best characteristics with less commercialization.