Books, Buenos Aires
Every book lover has his favourite bookshop. For me, the majestic and stunning El Ateneo is the most beautiful bookshop I've ever seen. It's one of the best bookshops in the city and the biggest of its kind in Latin America. I'm not surprised that the Guardian named it one of the five most beautiful bookshops in the world (in January 2008).
El Ateneo is converted from an old theatre, Theatro Gran Splendid, and built in 1919 by Max Glucksman. In 1924 he began broadcasting Radio Splendid from the forth floor of the building where his recording studios were also located. Many great tango artists made their first recordings for Glucksman's company Odeon. In late twenties the structure became a cinema and in 1929 Grand Splendid showed the first films ever presented with sound.
The building was renovated and converted into bookshop in 2000 but despite the abundance of books, it still feels very much like the glorious theatre. Its former splendour with high painted ceiling, original balconies, ornate carvings and other architectural details from heydays remain. Even the heavy burgundy curtains still hang from the ceiling where was once a stage.
There are a few comfortable chairs scattered throughout the bookshop where you can seat and have a closer look at the books. Most of the books are in Spanish though titles in English, French and Portuguese can also be found. The stage, where tango icon Carlos Gardel frequently performed, is now the elegant Cafe Impresso. It serves fancy coffees, set lunches and delicious pastries. The place is quiet, perfect for leisurely reading or meeting with friends.
The shop is open from 9am to 10pm.
more pics in the Travelogue
What to buy: the ground floor is home to the main collection of works; the basement has a collection of local and international music as well as junior's section; the second floor houses science books of all varieties, and the third floor has more music and a selection of DVDs.
What to pay: books and CDs are very cheap in Argentina compared with what you'd pay in Europe
El Ateneo is primarily a book store, but has other merchandise, too. Our son suggested that we stop here and we were glad he did. I've never seen so many books in one place before! He was hunting something to take back to the kids--he found a fantastic book about dinosaurs.
We perused the book shelves and the place in general. It was a beautiful former theater that has been renovated to house a bookstore. There are traces of its old glory-- elaborate carvings and touches of elegance that came from a bygone day. When you are in Buenos Aires, be sure to visit El Ateneo!
What to buy: Books, CD's, postcards
What to pay: Average
Intellectual Buenos Aires is a bookshop paradise. In fact, the Argentinians have one of the highest literacy rate - 96% - in the world.
If you read Spanish, you will be spoilt for choices for the MANY VERY GOOD Spanish Literature in the hundreds of bookshops (new and used) EVERYWHERE and you will probably come out very broke.
If you are looking for English books, here are my recommendations after scouring all over city for 2 months...
ABC at Avenida Cordoba 685 has VERY INTELLECTUAL AND GOOD English books but VERY EXPENSIVE. All are priced in US$ and British Pounds.
LIBRERIA RODRIGUEZ, Sarmiento 835 / another branch on Florida, has a not-bad selection of GOOD English books. But they are misguided about our choices by stocking a whole section of classics and Shakespeare (as if WE read those…).
EL ALTENEO, Florida 340 / Santa Fe 1860, has thrillers and the usual Danielle Steel, John Grisham, etc... ‘best-sellers’.
DISTAL, several on Florida, have a handful of English books. May be able to find something good if you are lucky.
What to buy: The best guide book for this town I believe is the Moon guide. It is well written. Up to date. And gives enough history and information to make you feel like you know what you're doing even if you can not get with one of the many great VTers here in town.
El Ateneo Bookstore has many branches you can go to but I would recommend that you go to one on Avenida Santa Fe. It is located in an old theatre and is quite amazing. The store has an excellent selection of books for sale also!
Opened as a theater in 1919, it soon made the switch to become one of primier movie theaters in Buenos Aires. The first motion picture with sound was shown here in 1929. After various uses, it was restored & converted into one of the largest bookstores in 2000. A great place to look around & have some coffee at the cafe located on the old stage. You can take time to read in the books during your coffee. The different sections of books are located where the audience used to sit as well as on the beautiful balconies of the old theatre. You really shouldn't miss coming here, you won't find this tip in any guide books.