Buenos Aires is a place where men can still be men. It’s the capital of a country that does macho well, as anyone who has ever had a run-in with a gaucho or a milonguero (the term for the rough-cut male dancers who populate the city tango halls) will tell you. And it still has plenty to offer the unreconstructed male.
During the four years I lived there, I enjoyed the bloody steaks, strong drinks, and old-fashioned sports that the locals thrive on. These days, I’m based in Berlin. But I travel back to BA regularly, and here’s my guide to how a fellow can make the most of the city.
Shave and Vermouth
Women shave in private. Men shave in public. In the days before King C. Gillette’s double-edged safety razors, this made the barber shop a bastion of male ritual. Gillette’s mass production killed that.
But in the Caballito neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina, a shrine to the days of straight-razor shaves remains: Barbería La Época.
Not only is this traditional turn-of-the-century barbershop is an oasis of calm, but it doubles as a bar. As I sip a local sweet vermut in a thick-bottomed glass, my barber, Ignacio, and I exchange views about the world: the rising prices in Buenos Aires, the debt crisis in Europe, the penchant of Argentina’s lady president for long, weepy speeches.
There are two types of straight razor, Ignacio tells me. One has a short, disposable blade, is light in the hand, and easy to maneuver. The other has a longer, fixed blade, is heavier in the hand, and far more unforgiving. Because of its extra weight, it draws blood easily. But thankfully I’m in the skillful hands of Ignacio. In his starched white shirt, gold-brocaded waistcoat, and neatly-trimmed mustache, he is more cruise-line waiter than Sweeney Todd.
I relax in the reclining leather chair and inhale musky smells of cologne and wood. Ignacio wraps my face and head in a steaming white towel. The Buenos Aires traffic fades into the background and the ritual begins.
Ignacio whips up shaving soap in a cup with a boar-bristle brush and daubs the creamy white foam thick over my face. Then, using long, slow, deliberate strokes, he scrapes the razor across my freshly steamed skin. (Always angle the blade as near to 30 degrees as possible. Less, and he risks cutting me; more, and the blade won’t do its job.) Another hot towel descends. And we start again.
A wet shave cost me 65 Argentine pesos ($14). But inflation is running rampant, so expect to pay more. Don’t worry about booking in advance. Turn up. Have a coffee while you’re waiting, and take in the atmosphere. If you’re a music fan, you catch weekly tango shows on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays between 4.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. and on Saturdays at 9.30 p.m.
Editor’s note: See the current issue of International Living magazine for more manly pursuits in B.A., including where to watch a polo match, who makes the best dry martini, the parrilla that serves the best steak dinner, and more. If you’re not a subscriber, you can subscribe here now—and get instant access to the full premium Argentina article.