Buenos Aires Recommendations: Tango

This is information that might be useful for anyone travelling to Buenos Aires for tango. I spent six months there until February 2012. There’s a lot going on in the big city, so some of the information might already be outdated, but this post can definitely serve well as a general overview. It is divided into three parts:

  1. Practicalities
  2. Food
  3. Tango (this page)

What to expect

Expect to meet tango dancers from all over the world who are traveling to Buenos Aires just like you.

Expect a good level of dancers – apart from the locals there will be lots of visiting tango teachers on their yearly pilgrimage.

Unless you are an exceptional dancer or breathtakingly beautiful, don’t expect to dance a lot with locals for the first few weeks. They already have lots of dance partners and sometimes are hesitant to invest in relations with tourists who will just stay for a brief period of time.

If you are a young beautiful woman, expect a lot of attention, especially out in the streets where men will constantly approach you to praise your beauty, unless you are walking with a man by your side.

Expect more dancers in less space. The floor-craft is somewhat adapted to the situation, but still expect dancers bumping into you quite often, depending on which milongas you attend.

My impression is that there are lots of really skilled leaders in Buenos Aires, perhaps more so than followers. So leaders, expect that it might take a little time to get into the game. Both leaders and followers who are visiting might get the impression that they don’t get to dance with as skilled partners as they do at home. This may be partly true, since the good dancers don’t know you yet. But it may partly be that other qualities of a dancer is appreciated here than in your home country.

Expect traditional tango music only at most milongas, as this is what is played, unless you go to a specifically alternative place. DJ:s are not very creative, so you may hear basically the same playlist every week at a milonga, but it is generally good stuff.

Concerts

Look out for free concerts! There is a lot of those if you find a way to keep yourself informed. Get to know a musician!

Orquesta Victoria played at Café Vinilo every Monday when I was in town – really nice concert and nice atmosphere. It is a milonga, but few dancers go there (and the floor is very hard). Nice place to go for a tango introduction if you have non-tango friends visiting, since there is a tango class before the concert.

Café Vinílo
Orquesta Victoria at Café Vinílo

Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro gives a weekly heavy tango experience at their own place, Club Atlético Fernandez Fierro. Well worth a visit – book in advance.

Alberto Podestá gives performances every now and then. This legendary singer might not have a lot of voice left, but his audiences are still spell-bound.

Privates, Group Classes, Learning

If you don’t have much time in Buenos Aires but can afford privates – go for it! It is a great way to develop your tango.

Good privates can cost anything from 200-600 ARS if you are a tourist. 300-350 ARS was standard for many famous teachers when I was there. You can negotiate discounts if you take more classes or if the teacher likes you.

If you have several weeks, take perhaps a group class first with teachers to see if you like them.

Spending lots of time in classes is a much safer option than going to milongas if you want to improve your tango a lot. You may or may not dance a lot in milongas, but you are sure to be dancing in class.

Milongas and Practicas

Remember that milongas can be very different for different nights of the week even though it’s the same place. A certain crowd may only attend a certain night of the week, depending on the organizer. A milonga can actually be held at different locations on different nights, or move altogether from one place to another.

Here are short comments on some of the milongas and practicas that I attended, ordered by how important they were for me personally. The list is by no means complete.

Milonga 10 was at Club Fúlgor, Loyola 828 on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and this was perhaps the one milonga I attended the most. Young crowd, nice shows, quite wild dance floor with lots of big moves, but generally good dancers so the floor craft was decent. Easy to invite people either by cabeceo or verbally.

La Maleva has a Friday practica and after-party with a relaxed atmosphere, especially considering the high caliber dancers you meet there.

El Yeite is at the top floor of a salsa club and this is where the best young dancers go. Some dancers feel it is too elitist, but as long as you go with some people you like dancing with you’ll have a great night until sunrise. Great wooden floor, sometimes very hot due to bad air conditioning, party mood with long cortinas of rock, pop and cumbia (but the tango itself will be traditional).

El Motivo, Mondays at Villa Malcolm, was very successful and the first choice for shows with the big stars. Great for talking to people and meet friend of friends, but the dancing is often fraught with peril at a crowded floor with all kinds of dancers. Apparently the stand-in organizers who made it really popular left and created a new milonga on Sundays in the same room, called Viva La Pépa. I suppose the crowd will go there instead, possibly giving the Mondays at Canning a renaissance?

El Beso was closed down after I left Buenos Aires, but I heard it’s coming back. Here you will find one of the few good wooden floors in the city, and I very much enjoyed the traditional atmosphere on Wednesdays and Sundays here. There’s separate seating for men and women, invitation is by cabeceo, and this is a good place for dressing up. It is also a good idea to call and book a table if you want a nice seating for inviting people to dance.

Tangocool, Thursdays at Villa Malcolm, pretty nice for dancing early on, before El Yeite later on Thursdays.

La Viruta is the place where you are likely to end up in the late hours quite often. Open most days of the week, La Viruta offers classes in tango and classic rock at many levels if you want to come early (great place to recommend for complete beginners if you get visits), but the best tango dancers arrive once the entrance is free, at 3.30am Fridays, Saturdays, and special occasions, 1.30am other days. When the medialunas arrive at 4.30 you’ll need to act fast to get breakfast while they are still fresh.

En Orsay on Thursdays has live music and attracts perhaps more musicians than dancers, so bring some dancer friends. Very casual and with a bit of an underground feeling.

La María is a nice afternoon practice for changing roles, where you also can have a cup of mate.

El Gardel de Medellín has live music and great performances. The location is a bit off, but it’s worth a visit.

Fruto Dulce, a bit more formal with nice dancers, where it also may be harder to invite partners.

Paracultural has a Tuesday milonga at Salón Canning, which is one of the few venues that is really made for dancing with a great wooden floor and lots of room for seating around it. I mostly went to see some live orchestras or late at night when it’s free (I think after 3am). Also, i sometimes lingered there after Julio Balmaceda’s classes if there was someone I especially wanted to dance with.

La Milonga De Las Flores was apparently the place where “everyone” went before El Motivo became so successful. A bit further out from the usual places though, and you might want to go there with a group of friends since it appeared to have very uneven attendance from week to week.

La Milonga Del Bonzo is a post-concert milonga at Café Vinílo. Very nice room, but stone hard floor. Only go for (seated) concerts, but bring your shoes if you happen to feel like staying for some dancing.

Cachirulo, which recently moved to Villa Malcolm for their Saturday milonga, is one of the really traditional milongas, where they ask arriving couples whether they would like to be seated together or split up for the seating where men are lined up at one side of the floor, women at the opposite side. I also heard that traditional etiquette is forcefully upheld, e.g. that someone who invited a woman to dance but did not finish the full tanda was asked to leave by the organizer. At one occasion when my partner and I stayed on the floor too long into the cortina, people started to throw things at us to clear the floor so we wouldn’t obstruct the view for cabeceos.

La Glorieta
La Glorieta is a nice outdoor milonga. Very crowded at times, but it’s refreshing to dance outside. And the entrance is free.

Folklore dances

You will see folklore dances at La Viruta around breakfast time, but for a great authentic experience, go out to Peña de la Ribera for a Saturday evening with live bands and easy-to-join dancing under the stars. 

Chacarera is good to know since it is played as a dancing interruption at milongas all over the world. Take a class if you have the opportunity.

Note that classes in folklore may be very different from tango classes. You may not meet academics only here – it is a different crowd, the tempo will be different, the questions people ask will be different. Enjoy the difference!

Escondidogato, etc. are other dances where the same elements as in chacarera are used, just in a different order. Look at the person next to you and try to hang on.

Argentine zamba is a beautiful dance where you circle around your partner in an intricate pattern at the same time as you are waving a handkerchief. The songs are folklore ballads.

Buenos Aires Recommendations: Food

This is information that might be useful for anyone travelling to Buenos Aires for tango. I spent six months there until February 2012. There’s a lot going on in the big city, so some of the information might already be outdated, but this post can definitely serve well as a general overview. It is divided into three parts:

  1. Practicalities
  2. Food (this page)
  3. Tango

Food and drink

You cannot always find open restaurants at any time of the day. They are open for lunch around 11am-3pm, then siesta until dinner, which could be at 7pm-12am but sometimes they open later. Restaurants may also be closed e.g. on Mondays.

Organic food

There is a nice organic cooperative market in Palermo Hollywood at Bonpland between Gorriti and Cabrera. Open a couple of days a week, I think Tuesday and Friday.

La Esquina De Las Flores is an organic restaurant that also sells grains, nuts, bread and take away food. Their empanadas are very different from what you usually get and well worth a try.

Natural Deli is a pricy chain that offers good quality organic groceries, food and fresh fruit juices.

Vegetarian restaurants

Artemisia is pure bliss, whether you go for lunch in Palermo Hollywood (don’t miss the lemonade) or for dinner in Palermo Viejo. Excellent vegetarian fine dining to very reasonable prices.

Al Hambra has great falafels, hummus and tabouli.

Krishna by Plaza Palermo Viejo has yummy thalis and other vegetarian dishes with a touch of India. The ginger lemonade is good – ask for half a caraffe if you are on your own.

Baraka in Palermo Soho is not all vegetarian but has some real gems on the menu, e.g. a beetroot salad or quinoa with caramelised carrots. Also very nice lemonades.

Buena Onda is one of several veggie lunch restaurants. Quality may vary, but having the buffet is usually good value for the money.

Around the corner from El Beso, there is a place for vegetarian buffet, both for lunch and dinner. Good value for the money.

Casa Félix is one of the hyped closed-door restaurants, where you are invited into a home-like environment to have a fixed menu, perhaps sharing a table with other fine dining enthusiasts. Casa Félix has a vegetarian option. The food is delicious, including herbs from the garden. Prices are higher than average, but for a special occasion I would not hesitate to go back.

Casa Félix
Casa Félix is a bit like having dinner in someone’s home, but with first-class food.

Tucumanisima makes very nice empanadas, given that it is a fast-food chain. The vegetarian empanadas are all good. The track record for misunderstood orders is so bad, though, that I always check what I actually got before I pay. Ask again if they are all vegetarian, or you might end up with a bunch of carne suave instead of what you ordered, just because the one taking your order has sloppy handwriting.

Bellagamba Bodegón is a somewhat perculiar concept, but well situated in Palermo Soho. You serve yourself and heat your pie or empanadas in the micro oven. They have very cheap deals for today’s special, and on an average it is cheap for e.g. pumpkin pies. Fresh salads are for some reason much more expensive.

Medialunas, coffee, submarinos

Medialunas are perfect for getting a Buenos Aires feel to your stay, but your digestive system might not appreciate too much of these crescent-shaped bakeries. They are truly at their best freshly baked in the early morning hours.

Submarino is hot milk with a chocolate bar that you submerge into its melting destiny.
Un désajuno at La Viruta is three medialunas wich café con leche or a submarino. Perfect to take during the folclore session if you hesitate to get lost in the sometimes confusing structure of chacareras or zamba.

“La Puerta De La Felicidad” is one on the nicknames I heard for the bakery at Gorriti, next to a church between La Viruta and the avenue Scalabrini Ortiz. You can knock on the door on your way home after La Viruta has closed, and with some luck get to by medialunas straight out of the oven.

Ice Cream

Home made ice cream is quite expensive at the heladerías you see everywhere, but an essential part of your Buenos Aires experience!

If you want to buy a lot, there’s often special offers certain days of the week for 1 or 2 kilos.

Faricci is a chain that gives you good value for your money, especially if you go for the tiramisu.

Freddo and Persicco are great but expensive.

Buenos Aires Recommendations: Practicalities

This is information that might be useful for anyone travelling to Buenos Aires for tango. I spent six months there until February 2012. There’s a lot going on in the big city, so some of the information might already be outdated, but this post can definitely serve well as a general overview. It is divided into three parts:

  1. Practicalities (this page)
  2. Food
  3. Tango

When to go

Best part of the year to go will depend on how much time you have and how much you like heat.

High summer, January and February, is the big tourist season, where the milongas are crowded and it is super hot.

November and December is less crowded, still pretty hot and still lots of tourists.

If you go for a short time you might want to experience the frenzy of the Summer season, and at the same time escape European or US winter.

If you go for a longer time, you might want to include spring or autumn, where there’s more room to dance and easier to get to know some local dancers.

I personally did not experience winter in Buenos Aires, but from what I have heard it is a very cold experience since the houses are not very warm.

Tava & mural dogs
Walking the mural dogs in Palermo Soho, January 2012

Information, phones

Milongas, practicas and group classes are often announced on Facebook, so join all groups, add all teachers as friends, etc. Even if some places and teachers have websites, they are often not updated for months.

Addresses for milongas, shoe stores, etc. can be found in tango magazines, such as El Tangauta, that you will find at stores and tango schools.

If you don’t want to bring your valuable smartphone everywhere, it is rather cheap to buy a phone. Movistar and Personal are big operators. A good option is to ask around and see if another tango tourist is about to leave and could sell you theirs.

For phone calls, try to get access to a landline and don’t use a cellphone too much, since your credit gets eaten up fast.

Money

Consider to bring USD in cash, especially for paying your rent. Sometimes only USD is accepted, and by a recent law it is forbidden to exchange ARS (Argentine pesos) into USD within Argentina. In the worst case, you’ll need to go to Uruguay for that.

Clarify with your bank how much they will charge when you get money from an ATM. There may be a fee for each transaction both from your bank and from the ATM provider, and your bank may also use a less favorable exchange rate.

Remember that there is both a limit for how much you can take out from an ATM (I could get 1000 ARS from most machines, 2500 from Citibank) as well as a limit from your bank on how much you can spend (and/or get in cash) within a certain number of days.

Not all restaurants take credit cards.

Tipping

In restaurants, the tip is only included at very touristy places or if you are a big group of people. 10% or more is customary, and if you pay by card you are expected to leave the tip in cash.

If you order food or ice cream to be delivered to your home, the delivery guy should have a few pesos.

Don’t tip taxi drivers, just round up to the closest peso.

People who helps loading your bag into a taxi or bus will expect a couple of pesos for it (this is sometimes their only pay).

Planning for delays

You can never know for sure that the place you go to will be open. Sometimes you just find a note on the door saying “Sorry, we’re closed today” or “Closed for vacation until February 28th”, even if you talked to someone the day before. So make sure you don’t wait until the last day to go buy those tango shoes.

Waiting is a part of the culture. You will sometimes be waiting 30 min for the bus, although it’s usually just 5 min, but you can never know until it arrives. You’ll be waiting for 15 min for the waiter to get your bill, for someone to perhaps come and fix something in your apartment at 2pm and they show up at 5pm. Or not at all. Bring a book.

Palermo
Streets in Palermo are often lined by trees, and it’s a nice area to stay in.

Safety

In Buenos Aires there is social tension, illustrated by a mere 500 meter’s distance between the Hilton and one of the villas, or slum areas. So in general you need to take care as a tourist where you go and how you behave.

The Argentines themselves will warn you about just about every part of the city, so it may be hard to get info from them on where not to go. Guidebooks are good for this. So are expats and perhaps other tourists.

There are robberies on the streets (about once a month just among the people I knew), at any time of the day. Some are at gunpoint, although most seem to be unexperienced delinquents trying to wrestle your bag or your camera from you. Nothing ever happened to me, though, although I often walked home or waited at a bus stop late at night. Don’t show too much fancy clothes or bags, avoid bringing out your cell-phone in the street, and just bring the amount of cash that you will spend when you go to a milonga.