Barracas is the oft-overlooked barrio in the south of Buenos Aires, with its more recognisable neighbours La Boca and San Telmo siphoning most of the tourist flow. Yet Barracas is equally as colourful and charming a place to visit if you want to veer off the well-beaten path and catch a glimpse of a potential that is only just being tapped into.
In the 19th century Barracas was one of the most glamorous neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires, home to the wealthiest of families, with streets strewn with luxury stores. But since the yellow fever epidemic in 1871 sent many to other parts of the city, the area has suffered some neglect. More recently, however, redevelopment and art projects have been springing up across the barrio, re-energising the south of the city.
Although on the surface it still remains largely residential, it is a visually vibrant barrio with many hidden gems. There is a cool, unpretentious vibe to the place which comes from its anonymity to the hustle and bustle of other tourist traps. Its faded architecture still echoing the richness of its past.
The quaint Famarcia Iriarte is a wonderful example of how history has been beautifully preserved, as the pharmacy has retained all the original cupboards and glass planes from its first opening in 1897. The small shop, on Av. Iriarte 2200, is open 8am-8pm weekdays and 8am-1pm on Saturdays is worth a peek inside if you are passing by. Also meriting a glimpse is the ornate Israelite Temple on Brandsen 1444, an active synagogue and thus not open to public tours, but nonetheless worth a mention for its striking gold domes.
Here is our top five selection for places to see and things to do in Barracas.
Calle Lanín is a must see if you are thinking of visiting Barracas. A small residential street – much like El Caminito in La Boca – it is home to an assortment of psychedelic, ceramic house fronts, where abstract designs lend a magical allusion to an otherwise quiet urban area.
Vibrant colours, detailed glass and glazed mosaic tiling, each contorted at jaunty angles and into swirling shapes, Calle Lanín offers a cheerful break from big city humdrum. Almost like an open-art museum, the walls are testament to the rejuvenation of the area, injecting a bit of artistic flair into the grey cityscape.
The project began when painter Marino Santa María covered the outside of his workshop in Lanín 33 with brightly coloured designs in the early 90s. At the request of the local residents, in awe of his innovation, and with the approval and financial backing of city government, The National Museum of Bellas Artes and UNESCO, Santa María hand painted over 40 houses along the street, each with a unique design that is akin to the function of the building.
Beer and Scrabble at El Progreso Bar
Opened in 1911, El Progeso still retains its original art deco vibe, with frosted glass, beautiful wood panelling and a feathered swan-shaped counter, all recalling the noble family house of its origins. Its quaint charm gives off an old school, cinematic vibe, harking back to its fame as the film set for Argentina director Lilana Mazure’s 1973 film, ‘Un grito del corazón’ (A cry from the Heart). Famous actors and writers who have frequented this bar litter the wall, with family photos discreetly settled in between.
Every Thursday at 3pm, El Progreso bar hosts an informal scrabble afternoon where you can enjoy a light game of wordplay with the resident locals whilst sipping on a refreshing beer or hot coffee from their well-stocked bar. The café is one of the 54 ‘bares notable’ certified by the city government as a place of cultural importance in representing the porteño way of life.
Surprisingly then, El Progreso is not swarmed with tourists, but instead retains its cosy charm hosting to the soft chatter of a small group or pair of locals, or the quiet reader browsing the paper over a café and pastry. Based on the main street, Av Montes de Oca 1702, El Progreso is a focal point of the barrio.
Open from 7am until 8pm on Mondays to Fridays, and 7am until 2pm on Saturdays, it is a refuge for the weary traveller. With the low hum of the radio during the day, in the evenings, it plays host to mellow, relaxed live music events showcasing local artists and talent.
For more information, visit the website.
Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD)
The gem of the barrio, sitting on the former fish market at Algarrobo 1041A, the CMD is a visually impressive building. But step inside and see for yourself why it is one of the largest design centres in Latin America. Housing an extensive array of designer workshops, it charters the design process, laboratory, and incubation of a host of exciting national and international projects.
A dynamic space, it regularly presents permanent and temporary exhibitions and shows from up-and-coming designers. With its own on-site museum and specialised library, the CMD also gives a vital insight into the history of design, recalling the glories of the past. Take a guided tour every Friday at 11am to explore inside the creative heart of this industry. National and International fare also occasionally take place here too, so keep update through their website so as not to miss out.
Yoga and Aerobics in Plaza Colombia
Within this fresh open space, every Tuesday and Thursday 4.30-6pm, and on Sunday, 10am-12pm, a small group of people gather around the hum of a stereo. Open to the public, these free yoga and aerobic sessions are led by professional yoga instructor Maxy Torena, as part of a city government wellbeing initiative. It is a fun, relaxed way to exercise, immersed in the scenic view of Plaza Colombia and the adjacent Iglesia Santa Felicitas. This green space is an oasis in a large, metropolitan barrio, with an ornate water fountain and central monument at the heart of the Plaza.
At the other end, there is a collection of small tables, ideal for bringing a light picnic, nearby to a small children’s play-area with slides and sandpits to keep young children occupied. Plaza Colombia is a cheerful, community space with a very friendly feel; a perfect resting point to recoup after a long day of site-seeing.
Round off your stay in Barracas with this inviting German restaurant, its warming wooden and stone pebbled interior capturing the essence of a Bavarian beer-house. In the entrance stands a portly German man, a platter of meat in one hand, a stein of beer in the other, jollily beckoning you in.
The restaurant caters for an international palate, but its specialty is its German cuisine. Tuck into a hearty goulash or the ‘table fiambres’ filled with a selection of German meats from Bratwurst to Liverwurst, and the Kassler pork with sauerkraut; a traditional Oktoberfest recipe. All this to be finished off with a traditional home-made apple strudel, and a black or pale ale to help wash it all down.
Tucked in behind the residential quarter, in Olavarria 1601, it is a spot that could well go unnoticed. But if you take the trouble to venture there, you will be quietly surprised by the authentic dining experience it has to offer, and the friendly staff to hand.