Many of Borges’ stories are steeped in the chaotic streets of Buenos Aires. Along with many other authors’ works, this city has been immortalized in words. Its rich literary heritage was recognized in 2011 when UNESCO declared it World Capital of Books. Besides being a major publishing centre and venue of a major international book fair, the city itself teems with book stores. Avenida Corrientes is crammed with stores for bibliophiles and lots of plazas host secondhand book stalls. Most visitors from abroad skip visiting such establishments because the majority of the books available are in Spanish but many have surprisingly decent English language sections and are worth visiting for sheer atmosphere and to escape the din of downtown BA. Below we list some distinguished bookish haunts where you can also enjoy a coffee.
By Amanda Barnes
The Oldest haunt: Café Tortoni
Okay it is not a bookstore but it should be. This is one of the city’s oldest cafes, and probably now the most touristy too. This 1858 establishment has seen some of the country’s greatest authors amongst its legion of coffee drinkers. Find a table, shut your eyes and imagine being surrounded by BA’s literati.
Café Tortoni, Avenida de Mayo 829 http://www.cafetortoni.com.ar/
A Theatre of Books: El Ateneo
This is a must for all bookish types who like to read in an exquisite setting. A beautiful old theatre which now hosts a full cast of books, El Ateneo is frequently voted one of the best bookshops in the World by international newspapers and magazines. This 1920s theater with guilded balconies has each floor and all the stalls and boxes filled with books of all genres including an English language section of mostly classics. Grab a couple and have a good read while drinking a coffee on the old stage where Carlos Gardel once sang.
El Ateneo, Av Santa Fe 1860
Books That are too Cool for School
A hipsters delight, Palermo neighborhood has seen some trendy café style bookshops appear in recent years. Clasica y Moderna has a bar, restaurant, music venue and cultural space thrown in too. In an old house in Palermo you can enjoy books with poetry readings and cocktails! Dain Ursina, Nicaragua 4899. Check out Clasica y Moderna which serves up fusion cuisine and nightly jazz. Avenida Callao 892, www.clasicaymoderna.com. Eterna Cadenca is a quirky, artful establishment piled with books and a cut courtyard café. Honduras 5574. Crackup has a more communal, bohemian feel with friendly staff and dinky, book piled spaces. Libros de Pasage is a more old fashioned establishment with tall shelves and ladders to climb. Thames 1772.
Hunting for a first edition
There are a couple bookstores that stock some great first editions so if you want to pour your liquid assets into literature then check out Alberto Casares, Suipacha 521 http://www.acasares.servisur.com/; and La Cuidad bookstore opposite Borges’ old apartment at Maipú 994.
Casa Antucura: A labyrinth of books and good taste
If you want to get lost in a maze of books (and wine), Antucura is your place. In a stunning Spanish style villa in the heart of Vista Flores in the Uco Valley, the front door opens into a living room with large, comfy sofas and above an open plan second floor with a stunning ceiling mural by Mendoza´s most famous contemporary artist Roggerone, and balconies lined with bookshelves and art work.
French publisher and wine lover Anne-Caroline Biancheri has been steadily collecting books her entire life and has received a flood of printed works from her friends, taking her total to over 7000 meticulously categorized books in Casa Antucura and a countless number at home. Now the library is an ode to all the authors, publishers and lovers of books, and a haven for anyone wanting a good read in the unspoiled peace of Uco Valley.
Next door to the hotel is their boutique winery where they make French style blends with stunning Merlot and attractive single variety wines including a Pinot Noir, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Visit the boutique hotel or restaurant in Vista Flores. www.casaantucura.com
A hidden delight, this Argentine Asian fusion restaurant is tucked away at the western end of Mendoza´s bar strip Aristides Vilanueva. Its unassuming location belies a beautiful space with a large, ornamented garden out back and an intriguing library of 5,500 books. The collection was put together by a local lawyer and historian Hilaro Velasco Quiroga and includes valuable manuscripts from the 17th Century. The restaurant menu is itself a weighty tome with everything you can imagine cooked from a wok, and includes seafood, tapas and ubiquitous beef. The restaurant also operates as a café from 9am to 9pm with delicious cheesecake to devour with that page turner airport novel you picked up on the way.
Aristides Villanueva 650. Tel. 4299 837
Estancia Los Alamos
Probably one of Mendoza´s most unique boutique hotels, Los Alamos is an old historical estate that dates back to 1830 and is reputedly the oldest building in the province. Originally built as a frontier fort in the south of the province, it became a grand country house under the tutelage of Governor Domingo Bombal who ruled Mendoza for almost 30 years – an impressive eleven terms. What makes Los Alamos stand out from other great Argentine estancias is its rich artistic heritage. It became an artist’s and writers retreat in the 1930s under the patronage of writer Susana Bombal. She breathed new life into the old property and attracted a venerable line of Buenos Aires sophisticates and bohemians to its beautiful grounds. Many left their mark in an eclectic collection of art and murals. Bombal was a close friend of Borges and in 2003 a vast maze was built in his honour called El Labirinto de Borges. Made of 12,000 boxwood shrubs, the maze covers 6,000 square metres and is in the shape of an open book with a mirror image of Borges’ name hidden in the leafy design. Located in San Rafael, Los Alamos is worth the 230km drive for all bookworms and art fanatics.
Amicana: Secondhand book corner
This language institute has a little gem tucked inside – a library of English books. If you are feeling homesick or want to brush up on your English this is the place to get a membership with its racks of old and new teaching books, novels and even magazine back issues available for a membership fee of around $160 pesos annually. There’s also a secondhand book shelf where you can buy books for just $3 pesos. A bargain in today’s inflationary climate where not even a bag of crisps costs so little.
Amicana, Chile 987
Biblioteca San Martin: An Empire of Books
Mendoza’s only public library is an empire of books and documents. Tucked away on its top floor is a meticulous librarian who catalogues everything punctiliously and will be your font of information if you need to find something in particular. The pleasure of browsing is limited though as you have to decide which book you want and order it from the front desk. Not ideal for book fingerers but perfect for book lingerers. Mon – Fri 9am till 7pm, Sat 9am till 1pm.
Biblioteca San Martin, Remedios Escalada de San Martin 1843
La Alameda: Stall at a Book Stall
Every day there are a couple of bookstalls out on the broad walk on La Alameda, 10 minutes north of the city. Have a browse at some of this collection of Secondhand books and magazines and stop by the flower market too. You can also catch live music and tango here some weekends.