San Telmo Neighborhood Guide
San Telmo is the Grandpa (or grandma) of Buenos Aires barrios, and occupies a special place in the history and identity of the city. Like Grandpas, San Telmo tells a good yarn, and is a little bit crusty. Beautiful colonial style architecture (some of the oldest in the city), a bustling Sunday market, museums, Tango, and top quality restaurants; there is a lot of BA packed into these cobblestone streets. Yes, those pesky tourists (me) found out about San Telmo, yes there is a Starbucks, yes the brownies at Starbucks are amazing, but a very deliberate effort has been made by the locals to hold onto what makes the neighbourhood special. San Telmo gives you a little piece of what Buenos Aires was, and (where it matters) still is.
In its earliest incarnation the area now known as San Telmo (after the Saint Pedro Gonzales Telmo of the seafarers) was home to dock workers and brick makers (that sounds like an easy job). In the mid 1800s the port barrio got a makeover and the middle and upper class moved in. Yellow fever struck in 1871 and those who could afford to, fled. Immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries breathed life back into San Telmo, and the grand old conventillos were restored and occupied once again.
San Telmo faced a new threat in the 21st century with a boom in construction across the city, and a sharp rise in the number of old buildings being demolished. Protests were held, pots were banged (presumably), and in 2012 a law came into effect protecting any building in Buenos Aires built before 1941. This law recognizes the importance of these historic buildings and encourages their preservation. Today they are an undeniable feature of the city’s charm and stand as a testament to the locals that fought for them to not become Nike stores.
What’s on: Lots
Feria de San Telmo:
Buenos Aires’ most well known market, the Feria de San Telmo is held every Sunday and runs along Calle Defensa from Plaza Dorrego all the way to Plaza de Mayo. It’s not all about Sundays in San Telmo but things certainly kick up a notch when the market is on, with hundreds of stalls, street performers, and a few thousand visitors. At the heart of the feria, in Plaza Dorrego, you’ll find the plaza de las antiguedades (antiques market) where vendors sell everything from original carteles de Quilmes (Quilmes signs) from the 30s and 40s, to silverware and old watches, and everything in-between. San Telmo has held onto its reputation as the haunt of local artists, who still have stalls dotted throughout the feria selling paintings, ceramics, hand painted mates, and more. Who knows, maybe you’ll score a painting from the next Rómulo Maccío.
Looking for some hand made gold trim leather boots? Who isn’t? On the corner of Defensa and Chile you’ll find Hugo the friendly cobbler. Hugo can make you a pair of hand made leather boots for a verrry reasonable price. When questioned about the quality of his product, his reply was “Have you heard of Gucci? Yes I have Hugo, sold.”
Mercado de San Telmo- Monday to Sunday
Built in 1897, the Mercado de San Telmo was for many years the fresh produce market that served the neighbourhood. You’ll still find good quality produce here, as well as antiques and second hand clothing. Rummage through some old pics of BA, or maybe pick up a Tango record for the collection at Pugliese-Pugliese-Pugliese record store. It’s also a cool spot for an afternoon coffee or beer as the afternoon sun sneaks in through the dusty windows and pillars of the old iron roof.
San Telmo is full of good restaurants and cafes. For an expert guide to some of the best, check out San Telmo’s best restaurants, cafe and bars. If you are going on a Sunday, look out for the open air Parrillas (bbq joints) on Calle Defensa. This is essentially an asador (bbq operator) in an empty parking lot, grilling meat. Grab a choripan (chori=sausage, pan=bread), and don’t forget the chimichurri (herby, oily, delicious).
If you’re hungry on a Thursday head to Pulpería Quilapán restaurant and bar. This beautifully restored brick casonahas all you can eat gnocchi on Thursdays. You can catch some good live music there too. http://pulperiaquilapan.com/
A coupla brews:
There are some great bars in San Telmo. For a crafty brew, Antares bar offers a range of signature beers and a fun crowd on weekdays and weekends. Breoghan Brew Bar on Bolivar is another spot well known for its cervezas artesanales. Grab a homemade Brown Ale and post up on a comfy brown sofa. For a cocktail, head to Doppelgänger Bar. Their slogan at Doppel is ‘This is not for everyone’, what kind of reverse psychology marketing wizardry is that? Chances are it is in fact ‘for’ you. Bonus, all three of the above mentioned bars feature on this handy list of happiest happy hours in BA.
San Telmo has a bit of a rep around town when the sun goes down. It can be a little sketchy, sure, but a bit of common sense goes a long way. With good bars, some cool milongas, and lots of live music, there is a good night out to be had in San Telmo. So, plan your night well and be smart. Some neighbourhoods are good to ‘crawl’ your way around, and some aren’t. Taxis are cheap in BA too so make use of them to get around. (Link- stay safe in BA)
Tango shows and Milongas:
San Telmo is the most popular spot to take in a tango show and there are a multitude of options to choose from. One of the most classic tango shows in town is Viejo Almacen located in a refurbished warehouse. For something a little less (dare I say it…) ‘tourist tango’, check out El Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso, an excellent Tango Club that puts on a range of performances by top Tango dancers and musicians.
Milongas, the famous Tango dance ‘events’ that take place all over Buenos Aires, start late and stride into the early hours of the morning. Check out the Hoy Milonga website for a comprehensive list of Milongas taking place in San Telmo and across BA. Two footprints next to an event listing means classes are available before the Milonga kicks off.
The Orchestra Tipica El Afronte is made up of passionate musicians dedicated to keeping the tradition of Tango music alive in San Telmo. This Tango troupe performs at the Maldita Milonga, a great option if you are looking to get along to a late night Milonga.
Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art
There are some good museums worth checking out in San Telmo. One definitely worth a look is the BA Museum of Modern Art. MAMBA houses works by some of Argentina’s best known artists, including Antonio Berni, the expressionist painter Raquel Forner, and avant-garde painter Rómulo Maccío. Thanks Wikipedia.
Casa Mínima (San Lorenzo, 380)
At just 2.5 meters wide, Casa Mínima claims the title of ‘narrowest house in Buenos Aires’! Legend has it a slave owner gifted the super slim casa to a slave after giving him his freedom*. Legend has it the slave said… wow, thaaaaaanks :/ . Guided tours are also available (single file please).
*Legend proven to be untrue.