The bookstore to end all bookstores, at least in South America, is the majestic and stunning El Ateneo on Avenida Santa Fe in Buenos Aires. Where else can you sit in a theater box and leisurely read a volume of Neruda, or sip a cortado where Carlos Gardel once performed? In a city with a rich literary history and excellent bookstores, this theater cum bookstore is a historical and beautiful building to visit, and a great place to stock up on books and music. [To discover more great bookstores, download ATG’s free Pocket Guide to Buenos Aires’ Brilliant Bookstores.]
In 1919 a young man named Max Glucksman decided to construct a theater house that would be both grand and splendid. Newly immigrated to Buenos Aires, Glucksman was a visionary who saw his dream realized and opened his new theater, appropriately named The Grand Splendid. For years the theater presented Argentines with performances of all kinds and local greats such as Gardel and Corsini graced the stage. In 1924 Glucksman began broadcasting Radio Splendid from the fourth floor of the building, and his recording company Odeon recorded some of the early Tango greats. In the late twenties the theater was converted into a movie house and in 1929 showed the first movies ever presented with sound.
In its final metamorphosis the Ateneo was converted into the bookstore that it is today, but despite the abundance of books, the building still feels very much like the glorious theater it once was. The ground floor is home to the main collection of works, everything from Borges and the classics to Asian cookbooks and Lonely Planet travel guides; the stock is vaguely reminiscent of a massive Barnes and Nobles, only in Spanish. There is a small selection of English books, but it is mostly standard airport fare with a few volumes of Shakespeare thrown in for good measure. If you are searching for decent English language books, there are better spots.
The basement has a collection of local and international music as well as a juniors’ section with books and toys for the youngest generation. The second floor houses science books of all varieties as well as textbooks and more secluded reading corners. The third floor has more music and a selection of DVDs. There are a few comfy chairs scattered throughout the four floors as well as in the theatre boxes on either side of the ‘stage’, and you are welcome to sit and peruse through your potential purchases in style.
An elegant café serves up fancy coffees, set lunches, and rich pastries in the back of the store where the stage once was. The heavy burgundy curtains still hang from the ceiling, and elevated booth tables are arranged ‘off stage left.’ It is a well-lit and quiet location, perfect for reading your new Che Guevara biography or meeting with friends to discuss current Argentine literature.
El Ateneo serves up coffee and Cortazar in sleek antique surroundings. Whether you drop in for a quick peak or for a day long literary study session, prepare to be amazed by this grand and splendid bookstore.
1860 Ave. Santa Fe
Monday – Friday from 10 to 7
Saturday 10 to 5
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