Teatro Colón and Gran Café Tortoni – Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Stylish Theater and Après-Theater Scene

Buenos Aires is the capital of the nonstop night, and much of its vibrant cultural life is due to its 300 theaters. Its most stately, the Teatro Colón, was conceived as a performers’ venue of choice and completed in 1908 as a winter-season destination. It boasts impeccable acoustics, and has attracted such luminaries as Anna Pavlova, Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso, and Luciano Pavarotti, with Mikhail Barishnikov calling it “the most beautiful of the theaters I know.”

An enor­mous, majestic building that houses its own symphony and opera and ballet companies, its six-tiered interior is a tour de force of gilt and red plush, and the object of intense national pride. If your stay falls between performances, content yourself with a fascinating tour of the rehearsal halls, dance studios, and costume, wig, and set design workshops – all located in an amazing three-floor underground warren that employs more than 1,000 people. Don’t be dismayed by the box office’s “Agotado!” signs announcing sold-out performances: A grand Versailles-style antechamber called the Salón Dorado (Gold Room) hosts free chamber concerts almost every weekday afternoon.

After any show at the Teatro Colón, there’s only one place to go: the Gran Café Tortoni, the city’s grandest and oldest café. You might think you’re in Paris rather than Buenos Aires. At this historic meeting spot, Einstein exchanged views with the intelligentsia, and Josephine Baker enjoyed being seen in the city’s most sophisticated and cultural venue. Although a multitude of confiterías – each with its own flavor, history, and clientele – grace every street corner (they are the tradi­tional place for porteños to begin and end the day), none celebrates the Belle Epoque like Tortoni, with its original 19th-century decor of stylish woodwork, decorated tiles, deep-red leather chairs, and painted skylights. No excuse is needed to linger solo or in good company over a café con leche or a sidra, a slightly alcoholic cider for which Tortoni has long been known.

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