Although Buenos Aires has long been known as the “Paris of South America,” after living here for two months I’ve found it to be much more comparable to the Big Apple. Yes, the wide, tree-lined avenues, café culture and cheek-kissing greetings are akin to the City of Light. However, the many Bs As barrios (neighborhoods) with their individual demographics, style and attractions draw ample parallels to the City That Never Sleeps (along with the crazy nightlife of course). Here’s a guide to the barrios of Buenos Aires as seen through an NYC perspective:
Recoleta- Upper East Side
Like the Upper East Side, Recoleta is a beautiful, affluent residential neighborhood. Filled with parks and cafés as well as the famous Recoleta Cemetery, it is the barrio in Bs As with the highest real estate prices and cost of living. The Parisian-style mansions and designer stores bordering Plaza Francia capture the schmaltzy Park Avenue vibe perfectly.
Self-explanatory. Although nowhere nearly as big as the one in NYC, the small subsection of Belgrano is home to Chinese restaurants, specialty markets containing rare and exotic foods like peanut butter, peppers and curry pastes, and the Chinese New Year parade.
La Boca- The Bronx
Despite El Caminito, the ultimate Bs As tourist destination where tango dancers perform on the street lined with brightly painted houses, La Boca is one barrio with an unfortunate darker edge. Like The Bronx, outsiders are unwelcome and unsafe after dark, and residents come from a wide variety of racial/ethnic heritages. The densely populated neighborhood located along El Riachuela is also home to the Boca Juniors stadium, creating a fiercely loyal fan hood that are just as crazy (if not more) about their team as Bronx dwellers are about the Yanks.
Villa Crespo- Crown Heights
Although nowhere near as intense and culturally isolated as Crown Heights, Villa Crespo is the main Jewish neighborhood of Bs As. Home to several synagogues and Hebrew schools, it’s the closest thing the sprawling Argentine Jewish community has to a city center.
San Telmo- The Village of old/ The Brooklyn of new
San Telmo’s bohemian, tango-inspired brand of graceful urban shabbiness is the Argentine answer to The Village of mid-century and Brooklyn’s recent hipster comeback. The Sunday Antiques Fair on Calle Defensa brings shoppers throughout the city to relish in San Telmo’s arty quirkiness. Although still reputed to being a crime-infested area, the modern gentrification has cleaned up San Telmo’s streets at night- exactly like the two NYC neighborhoods. This leaves the hip bars and restaurants safe for young travelers staying in ST’s many hostels as well as the artists and musicians who populate the area.
Palermo Soho- Soho
This one is a no-brainer, as the section of Palermo surrounding Plaza Serrano was actually renamed Palermo Soho within the last decade to reflect the explosion of young and trendy bars, restaurants, fashion boutiques and street culture that makes it so similar to its NYC counterpart.
Corrientes Theater District- Broadway
Like Broadway and London’s West End, the Corrientes Theater District is where aspiring young actors from every province of Argentina and beyond come searching for fame and fortune. Billboards, bright lights and massive, ornate theatres (the most famous being the Teatro Colón) make theater-going in Buenos Aires just as dazzling a spectacle as on 42nd Street.
Las Cañitas- Long Island/The Hamptons
Bordering the polo field is just the first of many qualifications that makes Las Cañitas in the north of Palermo seem like Long Island and The Hamptons. Now home to the rich, young, and trendiest of young Porteños, Las Cañitas was once the preferred district of powerful military families and institutions during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. The relics of this era include the military hospital, training grounds, and large, secure buildings (like the Landing Pad office!) that create as Frommer’s puts it, “an island-like sense of safety.” These days, rail-thin women in white walk down the tree-lined streets with toy dogs while couples canoodle in the elegant and expensive restaurant/bars on Calle Baez. If P. Diddy ever came to Bs As, he’d be right at home in Las Cañitas.
Microcentro- Midtown/Times Square
Just judging by its name, it’s easy to see that this barrio comparison is sound. During the day, Microcentro is a chaotic, constant whirlwind of activity, often with a very touristy feel. Whether taking pictures at La Casa Rosada or Obelisco or doing some shopping on Calle Florida, this is the first place new visitors come to explore Bs As’s bustling cosmopolitan downtown. Like Times Square, this area is rife with street performers, vendors trying to rip off tourists and overpriced novelty stores, hotels, bars and restaurants. All that’s missing are the building-sized advertisements, neon lights and the Naked Cowboy.
These are just a few of the most glaring similarities between the barrios of Bs As and NYC that I could think of. I could probably go on forever- Belgrano as the Upper West Side, Mataderos as Queens, etc., but I think you’re beginning to get the point. If you, dear reader, have any more comparisons you’d like to see go up on this page, write a comment or send an email! I’d love to hear more ideas about how my two favorite cities compare.