Al Pacino led me to Argentina. Ever since Scent of a Woman, I’d always wanted to tango, albeit it with someone much taller, a lot younger and with 20/20. (Mr Smith would like it known he ticks all these boxes.) Also, Mr Smith and I can consume more steak than we’d ever admit, plus, who doesn’t enjoy a good, earthy malbec?
Which is why we chose Buenos Aires (or BsAs, as shortened by locals) for our first stop in a year-long world tour/writing sabbatical. This reviewer’s 30-cough birthday fell two weeks into our six-week sojourn in the Paris of South America, and I opted for an in-town celebration. With Mr Smith’s next book project on our minds, Hotel Pulitzer was an auspiciously named choice. So, we left our apartment in trendy Palermo Soho in an always libre taxi, for the Retiro neighbourhood, where bustling Microcentro meets grand old Recoleta.
Mr Smith and I agree that city hotels need the following: a quiet, clean room with a huge bed and space to swing a cat (we wouldn’t, really – Mr Smith is allergic); temperature and light control; a decent bathroom; and a relaxing lounge bar for drinks and nibbles. In a walking city, as BsAs is, with its wide, open avenues, the ideal hotel also needs to be central and, for that, the Hotel Pulitzer, a contemporary urban tower, certainly wins the prize.
After check-in, Mr Smith left me to siesta in our surprisingly cat-swingable Superior Double room furnished with a slim writing desk (purely for decoration – this was a strictly work-free weekend) and buttery-soft leather chairs and accents. Two hours later, I reluctantly crawled from the cocoon of our very comfortable bed. And, following one of the best showers I’ve ever had – a real skin-wrinkler – in the modern, black-tiled bathroom, I went in search of Mr Smith. The 13th floor Sky Bar (said to have postcard-perfect city views) was closed for the winter, and I found him contentedly settled into the first-floor Visit Cocktail Bar.
Scanning the impressive selection of books scattered around the sunken lounge, and, after forgiving the curator for forgetting Mr Smith’s most excellent tomes, I too eased into this cosy and hip – without being precious – literary lounge. Expanding on the bedroom palette with a neutral base, black lacquered tables and mirrors – including a black and white beauty in the shape of a flower – and deep blue velvet Chesterfield sofas popping with mod burnt orange cushions, I thought, perhaps, Megan Draper had turned to interior design. At the mention of Mad Men, Mr Smith ordered a Martini and I had a tasty coconut mojito.
We were well into cocktail mode, but the locals were still just digesting afternoon tea – we hadn’t adapted to the Porteños’ (as the locals are called) 10pm dinners. We had an early 9pm (30-cough birthday, remember?) reservation at La Brigada. A bottle of malbec along with skirt steak and ojo de bife made for a decadent feast.
We slept brilliantly and, mindful of the weekend’s indulgences, especially the previous evening’s on-going quest for the best parrilla, we glanced at the basic but serviceable hotel gym. We opted for a long, invigorating walk instead – but only after breakfast, of course. The buffet was a tempting spread – breads, fresh pastries, fruits, yoghurts, cereals, cold cuts, egg – served in the below ground (yet, cleverly not basement-feeling) restaurant where classic American diner meets modern chintz.
Walking the short distance to Plaza San Martín we said hola to the enormous statue of Jóse de San Martín, who, along with Simón Bolívar, is one of the most famous of South America’s libertadores. Crossing Calatrava’s tango-inspired Puente de la Mujer, we explored Puerto Madero, where the streets are named after famous Argentine women. As we admired the redeveloped red brick warehouses and swanky new builds on either side of the dock we were reminded of London’s own Docklands.
It was Sunday, so we made our way to the not-to-be-missed San Telmo Antiques Market. We ducked into shops and indoor markets for respite from the crowded streets, then, admiring the tango singers along the way, travelled the twin track of stalls of knick-knacks down several blocks to Plaza Dorrego. Here, in this pretty square, we found the best of the antique stalls. After deliberating over a beautiful silver-handled gaucho knife (which I regret not purchasing,) we spotted Gabriel del Campo. We could have spent hours in this den of antiquities, with its marble columns, busts, disembodied statuary feet and vintage trunks.
However, it was finally time for my first tango with Al – as in Alejandro, our dance instructor. His card read: embrace life. So we did, and each other, as we stumbled around his studio. We learned to communicate with gentle touches and, under the tutelage of Alejandro, to speak to each other through our sternums. We laughed a lot and eventually, we danced (okay, shuffled) counter-clockwise, as locals and tourists do in the city’s many milongas.
Lighter on our feet, we happily returned to our hotel and slid into what was becoming a familiar pattern: cocktails at the bar, out for malbec, parrilla sampling (this time, juicy steaks at Don Julio, our favourite, if you’re asking), repeat. We toasted to a splendid birthday weekend (again and again), deeming it definitely one for the books…