San Telmo is a nocturnal borough ripe with nightlife, as the sun goes down the energy goes up. The artistic, boho spirit is expressed in many forms, both traditional and avant-garde. Here the time honored tradition is tango, but more diverse forms of entertainment have made there way to the scene as well.
Of the long established venues that typify the barrio, there are the milongas and also several tango shows. Let’s talk terminology, a milonga is a tango hall where locals go to dance, this is the more immersive way to experience tango as many offer lessons and everyone is invited to dance. Many milongas fuel the revelry with live tango orchestras. The other option for viewing Buenos Aires’ most traditional musical style is the tango show, offering a more passive experience as a spectator privy to stunning performances by professional dancers and a live band.
Here are a few of the better options that San Telmo has on offer for entertainment:
La Maldita Milonga
The twice weekly Maldita Milonga (Milonga of the damned) is one of the best in the city, and features all of the theatrics of a tango show at a fraction of the cost. Show up early if you want beginners lessons from some of the best trained professors in the tango scene. Not only do the tangueros give instruction in the basic step, but they also teach the all important etiquette involved within milonga circles. Later swarms of sensually entangled couples take to the dance floor, gliding carefully, maneuvering and revolving with precision, harrowingly coming centimeters from crashing into one another, but gracefully sliding away at the ultimate instant. It is as if dozens of couples are moving in perfect clockwork motion set to the rhythm of a Rube Goldberg machine. Later the stage becomes inundated by the 11 piece house orchestra El Afronte, who never cease to amaze with melodramatic croning from the baritone singer backed by the talented band. Finally after midnight professional dancers are spotlighted before the locals come out and dance until the early morning hours. It is recommended to reserve a table, but bar space and standing room is available for those without reservations.
Every Wednesday and Sunday. Entrance price 160 pesos at time of publication. Dance lessons at 8:30pm. Orchestra 11pm. Phone: (54) 11 2189-7747. Website.
Centro Cultural Torcuato Tasso
This is a locals spot where talented, energetic acts ranging from latin jazz, Argentine folk, and first rate tango ensembles perform regularly. Tasso is the scenario for regular shows from local jazz guitar legend Luis Salinas, tango orchestra and Latin Grammy winner Sexteto Mayor, and on occasion Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla, the grandson of tango revolutionary Astor Piazzolla has also graced the stage. The diminutive concert hall has excellent acoustics providing an intimate setting that elegantly highlights the music. Sundays after midnight they also host a milonga opening up to local dancers. There is a drawback to the shows at Torcuato Tasso, the food is mediocre at best and those who have bought tickets ahead of time are told it is necessary to arrive early, a ploy to try and encourage them to eat inside. It is recommended to eat elsewhere before the show and wait to get tickets at the door, then you can have a drink while you enjoy the music.
Defensa 1575. Phone: (54) 11 4307-6506. Website.
Hip Hop Culture Club
San Telmo is not all tango, this Thursday night hip hop party is just what your inner B-boy or B-girl is searching for. Different DJ’s lay down lots of hip hop, R&B, rap, and reggaetón from the late 90’s and early 2000’s as teems of talented break dancers pop and lock throughout the night. One tip on clubbing in BA, things start quite late, don’t plan on going out until at least 2 am as the party doesn’t really start picking up until about 3! Cover is free until 2:30 am by saying “somos invitados de hip hop culture club” at the door.
Balcarce 563. 2am - close. Dress code: casual. Website.
El Viejo Almacén
Formerly a grocery and storehouse that provided goods to soldiers in colonial times, this emblematic building was constructed in 1769. Two hundred years later it was converted into a tanguería and in the time since, it’s stage has hosted many giants of tango while the plush balconies have seen the comings and goings of foreign dignitaries and many VIP patrons. Viejo Almacén has achieved status as a national historic monument, but still offers tango shows every night of the week. The venue features two shows; the traditional show is set inside the historic tanguería concert hall featuring performances by a tango quintet, professional dancers, and tango singers; while the dinner show features the same band, singers and dancers, but the setting is in the modern dining room. Be warned that food at tango shows is notoriously overpriced and average, as no great tango dancer is ever a chef and no great chef is ever a tango dancer. It is recommend to skip the dinner and eat before the show at one of the numerous restaurants nearby in San Telmo.
Balcarce 799 (corner of Independencia). Reservations required. Phone:(54) 11 4307-7388. Website.
La Trastienda Club
Since 1993 La Trastienda Club has been San Telmo’s home to national rock, pop, reggae, tango, jazz, and folklore acts. Argentine rock bands are the norm, groups such as Divididos and Las Pelotas play regularly, but the Trastienda has also hosted international bands the likes of Los Van Van, Os Paralamas do Sucesso, Medesky-Martin & Wood, and The Wailers. The venue, is divided into two sections, downstairs is general admission (standing room only), while upstairs has several high top tables and an open bar. This is one of the few locations in Buenos Aires where you can drink (legally) at shows, as most arenas and festivals have banned alcohol.
Balcarce 460. Box office Mon - Fri 10am - 8pm. Website.
La Milonga del Indio
For more than 20 years this free post-street fair milonga has been warming up San Telmo nights. El Indio, your master of ceremony is a decorated folklore and tango dancer who organizes the weekly tango jam in San Telmo. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the familiar nature as San Telmo neighbors join in every week creating a very jovial ambiance. On several occasions the milonga is paused to invite professional dancers to strut their stuff, even Indio himself gets in on the action with his colorful tango and folklore performances.
Plaza Dorrego (Humberto Primo and Defensa) Sundays 8pm - 12am. FREE! Website.