Once and Abasto

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Once/Abasto is a bustling neighborhood just a short subway-ride west of Microcentro. The predominantly working class area is a refreshing — if somewhat chaotic — change from the cosmopolitan air of other sections of the city.

Local shops line the sidewalks with everything from clothes, linens and books to home appliances and even custom-made manikins, just in case you’re in the market for one.

The neighborhood’s crown jewel, at least in terms of architecture and commerce, is the Mercado de Abasto, or Abasto Shopping one of the nicest shopping centers in Buenos Aires.

If you’re looking for a deal, just on the outskirts of the mercado are small gallerias offering electronics, pirated DVD’s, and cheeky lingerie at a considerable markdown.

Since the 1998 reopening of Abasto Shopping Mall the once blighted area has blossomed into a lively zone with bars, tango halls and restaurants. Stray too many blocks from the mall and the neighborhood’s rough edges begin to show through.

The area around Plaza Miserere, commonly referred to as Plaza Once, retains a seedy reputation, especially at night.  Buenos Aires’ central plaza sits in one of the city’s highest density areas and is next to one of the city’s main transportation hubs, with the Once de Septiembre train station next door.

Many official and unofficial bus lines come through here and the A, E, and H lines of the subway are located beneath Plaza Once.  The plaza itself has a monument to the nation’s first president, Bernadino Rivadavia but it is one of the city’s more depressing plazas, with a queasy mix of the down and out, peddlers, flocks of pigeons and people who just want to get home.

North of the train station sits a large memorial on the former site of the República Cromañón nightclub. The 2004 fire there was one of the largest non-natural catastrophes in Argentina, killing 194, and injuring hundreds of others, including many children.

The area south of Once train station, between the streets of Rivadavia and Corrientes is a lively shopping area with electronics, clothes and toys which spill on to the sidewalks. At night this area is desolate and has a seedy street scene. Since the 1990’s area is also home to a few Cumbia Villera clubs, the Argentine-style cumbia that grew out of the city slums.

The area also has a more grown-up salsa scene, with many small clubs and Azucar, Buenos Aires largest merengue and salsa club across from Abasto shopping mall.

If you want culture, Once is alive with ethnic diversity, including the largest Jewish population in the city. The neighborhood has the highest congregation of important temples in the country, including El Gran Templo de Paso, Congregación Israelita (commonly called ‘Libertad’) and the Sephardic temple, Yesod Hadath. In Abasto shopping mall is the only Kosher McDonalds outside Israel.

Peruvian restaurants along Corrientes Avenue and around the train station serve up fantastic rotisserie chicken and a couple of low-key Korean restaurants offer Kim Chi. The area also has Arabic roots and along Rivadavia one can find Argentine-style Shawarma. The city has cracked down on mostly foreign street vendors selling cheap knock-offs, umbrellas and food items, but they are still abundant in this area, just more mobile.

If you enjoy theater and understand Spanish, Abasto is the area that offers what would be the equivalent to off-off Broadway shows – there are some excellent small productions. Check local papers or walk around the area and pick up some of the shows’ flyers.  For a taste of the young local music, visit the cool Konex Cultural Center, an arts center housed in an old oil refinery, that offers a variety of live music and theater productions.

Konex’s most popular night is Monday when La Bomba del Tiempo performs. La Bomba is a 15-piece percussion group that gets the crowd shaking to rhythmic jazz and reggeaton beats.  If you’ve just come from Brazil the music may not blow your mind, but there is an amusing free-spirited social scene — be sure to arrive early because the lines wrap around the block.

-Daniel McGrath with Ande Wanderer