Mention Flores to a tourist or expat living in Buenos Aires, and chances are if they’ve heard of it they think it’s too far from their Palermo Soho apartment and not worth visiting. Ask a porteño about it and you are likely to hear that it’s, at best “nothing special”, and probably dangerous. I had this experience several times before jumping on the subte to check out Flores myself. What I found when I arrived was a low-key (for Buenos Aires) neighbourhood with beautiful, tree-lined streets, plenty of shops and cafés, and historic architecture rivalling that of many other neighbourhoods in the capital.
Though geographically in the centre of the city, Flores may seem out of the way in comparison to Buenos Aires’ more affluent neighbourhoods closer to the river. However, the expansive, middle-class district is quite accessible by public transportation, thanks in part to the opening of two new subte stations in Flores on the A line this September.
Originally a country retreat for wealthy city residents, the town of San José de Flores was incorporated into the City of Buenos Aires in 1888. Though now enveloped by the city’s urban sprawl, remnants of these country houses, like those of provincial governor Juan Manuel de Rosas and architect Marcó del Pont, offer visitors a glimpse of the lavish lifestyles of Flores’ first residents.
While Flores has since grown into a very traditional porteño neighbourhood, its sizeable immigrant communities, notably Korean, Armenian, and Bolivian, give it something special other parts of the city lack. The convergence of diversity and tradition in Flores, reflected here in our top five spots, makes Buenos Aires’ fourth largest neighbourhood – both in population and area – worth your attention. It’s probably better not to wait until everyone else discovers it.
San José de Flores Basilica and Plaza Flores
A leafy plaza, known interchangeably as Plaza Flores and Plaza Pueyrredón, greets visitors and residents emerging from the newly opened San José de Flores subte station. You may be a bit surprised to see a plaza so crowded on a Saturday afternoon at the far reaches of the A line. While you won’t see any confused tourists wandering about, people-watching here is still a great way to pass a Saturday afternoon in this underrated and unpretentious neighbourhood.
The focal point of the plaza is the Basilica San José de Flores. The current romanticist-style church was completed in 1883, but the site’s history dates back to 1831. Before he was known to the world as Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio lived in the neighbourhood and celebrated mass at the basilica. It was in this picturesque church that he discovered his religious calling.
A ten-minute walk from Plaza Flores takes you to Membrillar 531, the house where the Pope grew up in the 1930s and ’40s. While the house itself has been replaced with a more modern update, a plaque commemorates the site. More than anything, a trip to the house satisfies any bit of lingering curiosity one might have regarding Pope Francis’ connection to the city, and the walk from the plaza gives you a chance to see more of this nicer section of Flores.
Basilica San José de Flores, Av. Rivadavia 6950. Free guided tours of the church and other important places in Pope Francis’ life are offered every Thursday at 3pm, leaving from the basilica.
Little Korea (Barrio Coreano)
While parts of Flores epitomize classical porteño culture, the neighbourhood is also home to Buenos Aires’ established Korean community. Little Korea, in Bajo Flores, can be reached by taking the E line subte to the Medalla Milagrosa stop or by taking the A line to the Carabobo stop and taking a short taxi ride down Carabobo avenue, which is recommended if visiting at night. The heart of this lesser-known community is at the intersection of Av. Carabobo and Av. Castañares, where you can spend an evening dining at an authentic Korean restaurant before kicking back at one of Little Korea’s unique karaoke bars – certainly a welcomed escape from pizzerias and boliches.
Una Canción Coreana is a quality choice to try Korean cuisine on Av. Carabobo. This restaurant, opened in the spring of 2012, is family-run restaurant and features traditional dishes cooked by a Korean grandmother.
Another of The Indy’s favourite restaurants in the neighbourhood is Bo Sung. Formerly known as Mido and marked only by a sign that says 보 줄도, Bo Sung made The Indy’s Top Five Korean Restaurants back in 2011 thanks to its Korean barbecue, which lets customers roast their own meat on a charcoal grill right on their table. Bo Sung does not have a menu, so there is no need to worry about choosing the right or wrong dish. A set menu includes a broad selection of meats, sauces, and side dishes, including the traditional Korean dish kimchi.
After dinner, head on over to Chess Karaoke Club, located at Carabobo 1548 -across the street from both Bo Sung and Una Canción Coreana. Private booths with karaoke equipment, perfect for letting loose without the embarrassment of a crowd, can be rented out by groups of friends. Songs are in English, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish, and a cash-only menu offers various Korean appetizers and beverages to enjoy. If you make the journey to Little Korea, you can’t miss out on this unique experience.
Bo Sung, Av. Carabobo 1575, Flores.
Una Canción Coreana, Av. Carabobo 1549, Flores. Open Monday to Saturday, 5-11pm. Meals run between $60 and $150. For more information call 011 4631-8852, or visit their website here.
Chess Karaoke Club, Carabobo 1548, Flores. Open Monday to Sunday, from 8pm. Booths can be rented for $40 per hour and can be reserved for weekend visits. For more information call 4632-4242.
A functional pharmacy from 1940 to 1997, La Farmacia has been converted into a popular bar and café, though the walls lined with medicinal memorabilia may have you thinking you’ve travelled back in time. A plaque outside La Farmacia designates it as the first ‘bar notable‘ in the city. A visit to this relaxed neighbourhood gem should definitely follow a day spent in Flores.
La Farmacia’s café serves a wide selection of coffee drinks and options for lunch and brunch. I tried the ‘café La Farmacia‘, a tri-layered cappuccino topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and cinnamon, though I was also tempted to go with the ‘café vademécum‘, a double espresso mixed with Baileys and topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. If you come hungry, don’t miss La Farmacia’s signature waffle menu. Both savoury and sweet waffles are available, including dulce de leche waffles. You may also be pleasantly surprised to see cheese fondue on the menu.
The bar comes to life at night, when you should sip on a pisco sour or a Quilmes while sharing a picada with friends. More so than its menu, La Farmacia’s onda and charm are what make it really stand out.
Bar La Farmacia, Av. Directorio 2398, Flores. Open Monday to Thursday, 8am-Midnight, Wednesday to Thursday 8am-1am, and Friday to Saturday 8am-2am. For more information call 4631-3481.
Centro Cultural Marcó del Pont
Located half a block from Plaza Flores, just next to the Flores train station, is the Centro Cultural Marcó del Pont. This elaborate 19th century house was once the home of the wealthy arquitect Marcó del Pont and his family. Now restored as a cultural centre and public art gallery, the beautiful home is a vestige of Flores’ history as the destination of affluent families coming from Buenos Aires.
Unless an event is taking place, you are likely to have the place to yourself. Meander through the various sculptures currently on display or take a look at the gallery of paintings. Better yet, go when the cultural centre is hosting a tango show or music performance. Regardless of when you go, checking it out is free, easy, and worth a few minutes of your time. Free, guided tours are offered on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Centro Cultural Marco del Pont, Artigas 202, Flores. Open Monday to Thursday, 10am-Midnight, Wednesday to Thursday 8am-1am, and Friday to Saturday 8am-2am. For more information call 011 4611-2650 or visit its website.
Salón El Pial
This old-fashioned tango hall and Flores landmark feels quintessentially porteño. Chances are good that if you go, you will bring the average age down a bit, as dozens of adorable old couples come to El Pial to dance tango. Many have been frequenting the place for decades. However, that shouldn’t keep you away from this milonga that traces its history to the golden era of tango.
This authentic milonga has one of the largest tango dance floors in Buenos Aires, and three in total. There is also a buffet if all that dancing – or observing – makes you hungry. Classes are offered but be sure to call before you go to make sure they are happening the night you are there.
Ramón Falcon 2750, Flores. Open Thursdays 6pm-11pm, Fridays 10:30pm-4am, Sundays 6pm-Midnight For more information, call 4611-7211.