Once and Abasto are two sections of Balvanera, 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 more upscale areas more familiar to visitors to Buenos Aires.
Local shops spill out onto the sidewalk, offering 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 main shopping centers in central Buenos Aires. The shopping mall is a great excursion for kids as there is a children’s museum and theme park inside the mall.
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 from mall prices.
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Since the 1998 reopening of Abasto Shopping Mall the once blighted area has blossomed into a lively zone with live music bars, tango halls and restaurants. Stray too many blocks from the mall and the neighborhood’s rough edges begin to show through though.
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. In the Pastuer-AMIA station subway visitors will spot murals and monuments to honor the 85 people killed in Argentina’s deadliest terrorist attack, one of two directed toward the Jewish community.
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.
Buenos Aires’ Most Diverse Neighborhood
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 of Israel.
The working class neighborhood is still home to newly arrived immigrants with pockets of Peruvians, Dominicans, Chinese and Koreans.
Restaurants in Once & Abasto
Peruvian restaurants along Corrientes Avenue and around the train station serve up fantastic rotisserie chicken, Chinese food and Ceviche and Pisco sours. Carlitos, at Corrientes 3070 is a popular hole in the wall as well as the nearby Catedral de Pisco, at C
Closer to Plaza Misieria is La Conga (on Rioja 39/Rividavia) is always packed with locals and commuters thanks to the huge portions. For Peruvian food in a more relaxed atmosphere head to the Pasaje Carlos Gardel outdoor lane where Quechua and Larco Mar Restaurante Cevicheria are located. On the same block Gambino offers typical Brazilian food with outdoor seating. Beer lovers won’t want to miss the great selection of beers at Charlie’s Brewpup on Carlos Gardel, corner of Jean Juares. Skip the greasy pub food though, and eat at one of the eateries nearby.
While most of the city’s Korean restaurants are around the somewhat far-afield and dodgy Flores neighborhood, Once are also 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 periodically cracks down on mostly foreign street vendors selling cheap knock-offs, umbrellas and food items, but they are still abundant in the area, just more mobile.
Theater, Tango & Culture in Abasto & Once
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.
Abasto is famous for being the birthplace of tango great Carlos Gardel, and here there is a nightly performance of the city’s most popular tango dinner shows, Esquina Carlos Gardel.
For drinks and a taste of the young local live music scene, visit Emergent Bar,
The cool Konex Cultural Center, an arts center housed in an old oil refinery 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.
How to get to Once & Abasto
Take Buenos Aires’ oldest subway line, The A line to arrive at Once’s Plaza Miserere Station, where there are also many train lines linking to Buenos Aires province.
Getting to the Abasto mall via subway is easy, thanks to an adjoining Subte stop, ‘Carlos Gardel’, on the red B Line.
-Daniel McGrath & Ande Wanderer