Name a large city in North America and Carlos Alberto Zavalia would find his brethren. Zavalia roasts in his home coffee beans he imports from Honduras and uses his grind to serve up precisely crafted cups of excellent java from a hole-in-the-wall shop he opened in 2016.
Zavalia worked with beans from 30 different countries before deciding on the variety from Honduras for his enterprise.
“When I tried it my mind was blown. I knew then everyone in Buenos Aires had to have this coffee,” says Zavalia, who quit his job as an accountant to pursue entrepreneurship as a coffee craftsman. “Coffee is like wine. It is similar in how you must approach it to make it right.”
Zavalia delivers his brew to customers “with pleasure” from Cafe Z in San Telmo, the oldest barrio in the capital of Argentina and a perennial hot spot for tourists.
His passion is one example of the current generation living in and in some ways reinventing Buenos Aires. Portenos — the nickname for the city’s residents — should no longer be viewed as the elitists in South America, a stigma that dates back about a century when British, Italian, Spanish, and Eastern European immigrants drastically changed the face and culture of the city.
Buenos Aires became a global center for art, music, theater, architecture, and finance. The city and its nation have had difficult years, though, struggling through dictatorship and financial collapse at the turn of the 21st century. There is humility in the streets as well as an enterprising spirit reminiscent of most major metropolises in the world.
A new wave of artisans such as Zavalia are maintaining the city’s stature, elevating the cultural scene to keep it on par or ahead of other leading destinations. Floreria Atlantico is one of the best cocktail bars I’ve visited anywhere. Located in the basement of a flower shop in tony Recoleta, Floreria Atlantico serves inventive drinks with no attitude or pretensions. A rum cocktail named after the Panama Canal was delivered to me frothing over in a massive dish shaped like a snail.
In Palermo Soho, Victoria Brown is a speakeasy whose space is hidden behind a wall and a red velvet curtain. Nearby, Harrison’s has earned a reputation as one of the most difficult bars to get into in the Western Hemisphere.
Palermo Hollywood, where much of the city’s young people congregate, is — unlike what its name suggests — far from glam. Down-to-earth people mingle in droves outside of music halls that lean strongly toward rock ‘n roll — and not the ’60’s or ’70’s style either.
If you missed out on the Seattle scene in the 1990s, Palermo Hollywood will offer a comparable experience. At Makena Cantina Club, the stage is elevated above the bar, putting the performing musicians eye to eye with the balcony dwellers while those on the floor wave their hands reverentially from below. No Tan Distintos played on the night I visited and a crowd of about 150 sang along with the local favorites while also turning the floor into a mosh pit.
A one-night glimpse of Palermo Hollywood will give you an insight into the city, whose art reflects the dichotomy of Buenos Aires: A gritty city determined to lift beyond the grandeur of its past and the stagnation caused by politics of its present. The determination is provocative and inspiring, and also proof great cities never fade, they only re-emerge, sometimes more culturally relevant than ever.
MORE ABOUT VISITING BUENOS AIRES
Getting Around: The subway system is reliable and operates frequently. Uber operates in the city but drivers tacked on extra fees for heavy traffic use during the entirety of my stay. Buenos Aires is easy to walk because it’s flat and its distinct barrios meld into each other. There are areas considered high crime and dangerous for tourists, however. If traveling from San Telmo westward to La Boca, hire a car or take public transit.
Where to Stay: Buenos Aires is home to some of South America’s most magnificent hotels. Luxury options include Four Seasons, Buenos Aires, Palacio Duhau, and Alvear Palace. All are in or adjacent to the Recoleta neighborhood, the most upscale part of the city.