Often referred to as El Centro, San Nicolàs plays host to a great part of Buenos Aires’ financial district. With major streets such as Avenida 9 de Julio, Avenida Corrientes and Florida passing through it, San Nicolàs is a constantly animated neighborhood and offers many interesting aspects for visitors to the city.
An introduction to San Nicolàs
The roots of San Nicolàs can be traced back as far as 1733 when Domingo de Acasusso commissioned a chapel on the corner of the streets now known as Carlos Pelligrini and Corrientes, the place where the famous Obelisk stands today. In 1769, the chapel was rebuilt by Royal Decree when the city was split into six parishes, San Nicolàs being one of them. Due to its geographical location, San Nicolàs is one of the oldest barrios in Buenos Aires and its namesake chapel was the place where the Argentine flag was first raised in 1812.
During its early years, San Nicolàs was of great interest to the British who opened a consulate in 1794 that later became the city’s first modern bank (1822), and the England Merchant’s Society in 1810. With relations growing strong with the British Empire, then city governor Juan Manuel de Rosas gave land for the building of an Anglican Cathedral on 25 de Mayo street. The significance of San Nicolàs continued to develop and in the mid-1800s the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange was established along with Latin America’s first railway station.
At the turn of the 20th century, Plaza Lavalle on the west side of the barrio was utilized for military exercises and known as Plaza de Armas. Today, the city courthouse (Tribunales) stands on these grounds facing the Colon Theatre, one of many theatres to set up home in the area.
As a barrio, San Nicolàs is an exceptional blend of significant history, grand architecture, business activity and entertainment and you are guaranteed to pass through its streets on a regular basis.
Things to see, do or both
One thing is for sure, there is never a shortage of things to see and do in San Nicolàs. Cutting through its heart is Avenida 9 de Julio and El Obelsico. If you think you have seen some big streets then think again as 9 de Julio is regularly credited as being the widest street in the world. For a challenge, try crossing as a pedestrian in one change of traffic light. Slap in the middle of 9 de Julio is El Obelisk, an iconic Buenos Aires monument rising to 67m. Over the years it has been decorated in flags, condoms and various other guises.
San Nicolàs is an interesting barrio to explore with your able feet and houses many of the most recognized streets in the city. Florida Street is a long pedestrianized avenue chock full of clothes shops, street vendors and foreign exchange offices (some official, others not so). Two blocks east, take a stroll on Reconquista to mingle with workers from the financial district as they come for lunch and after-office drinks.
If you are interested in the theater then a visit to Avenida Corrientes is an absolute must as it is home to famous locations such as Teatro Gran Rex and Teatro Opera. While on the subject of theatres, the majestic Teatro Colon is famed across the planet and year round puts on performances such as Carmen, Othello and Swan Lake.
One of the best aspects of San Nicolàs is its architecture and you can spend hours wandering the streets and admiring magnificent buildings like Buenos Aires Central Post Office, the Central Bank of Argentina, the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires (Tribunales) and Buenos Aires Stock Exchange.
Nightlife and restaurants
Green Curry (Tucuman 271). Foreigners in Buenos Aires are often miffed by the lack of spicy food in the city, which is where Green Curry comes into its own. Serving up lunch options to workers from the nearby financial district, this fast food joint offers a menu of red and green curries, shrimp curry, Cajun chicken wok and a range of wraps and salads. Order at the counter to takeaway or take a seat at one of the communal tables. If you like to spice it up then tuck into the sauces at the side of the counter, and be prepared for the fire.
El Palacio de la Pizza (Corrientes 751). On the eastern side of the lively theater zone, El Palacio de la Pizza is a Buenos Aires institution. Taking the form of an old school Argentine eatery, it is a great pre/post theater option where you can chow down on deep crust pizzas and fugazzetta matched with faina (a chickpea flatbread). If you can’t find a table, just stand at the bar amidst the porteños.
Los Inmortales (Corrientes 1369). Decked out in Argentine memorabilia and photos of the nation’s heroes – most notably a painting of Carlos Gardel by Carlos Leonetti – Los Inmortales gives El Palacio de la Pizza a fair run for its money in the pizza stakes. Cooked in a wood fired oven, this family friendly eatery prides itself on its media masa style pizzas, a slightly thicker dough than the traditional Italian pizza. You could spend a week traversing Corrientes looking for the city’s best pizza.
The New Brighton (Sarmiento 645). When you first set foot in The New Brighton you might have the temptation to return to your hotel and put on your best suit. Set in a Victorian-styled building amidst the busyness of San Nicolas, this bar-restaurant oozes elegance with its dark wood bar and impeccably dressed waiters. The soothing sounds of jazz sets the mood and you could while away hours sipping a beer or glass of wine, or tucking into Argentine café classics like medialunas and tostadas.
La Cigale (25 de Mayo 722). You might expect something impressive from a bar owned by a French former dentist that picked up the décor when travelling through Africa and the Caribbean, and La Cigale is nothing but. Classy yet never pretentious, this dimly lit bar fills up with an eclectic mix of locals, expats and backpackers who come for the extensive cocktail list and live bands and DJs throughout the week. Tuesday’s Soiree Francaise is one of its busiest nights.
Cruzat Beer House (Sarmiento 1617). Fancy changing your Malbec for an Indian Pale Ale or Cream Stout? Cruzat is Buenos Aires’ closest resemblance to a German bierkeller with a huge selection of beer from local microbreweries and around the world. If you can’t decide then order the tasting rack which comes complete with a selection of brews in miniature glasses. It’s a great place to relax on a breezy terrace away from the noise of the barrio.
Bahrein (Lavalle 345). Bahrein takes care of all your late night desires in San Nicolàs by being one of few places to pull off a mixed décor of disco balls, stained-glass windows and chandeliers. The place gets busy from around 1am with punters taking their pick of the Funky Room, XSS (basement with DJs spinning electronica) and swanky Yellow Room. The party continues until the wee hours so you’ll have to time to explore it all.
Why it’s hot / Why it’s not
San Nicolàs is jam packed with things to see and do, places to eat and drink, and theaters and nightclubs that will keep you entertained until the early hours. The barrio is also home to a large concentration of hotels and hostels, thus making it a popular location for travelers and backpackers.
On the other hand, due to its non-stop nature, if you are in Buenos Aires for the long term you might prefer to live in barrios such as San Telmo and Recoleta.
In keeping with the entertainment activities of San Nicolàs, Luna Park is an 8,000+ capacity indoor arena built on a former amusement park that hosts concerts and sporting events. It was also the chosen location for the wedding party of Diego Maradona in 1989!