Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina is a word that rolls off the tongue, a name with a satisfying rhythm to it; a “four-beat bar” that echoes the staccato tempo of perhaps its most famous export ¬the tango.
First introduced here by immigrants in the early 1800s, the popular theory is that visiting French sailors took back the exotic dance they learned from performers in the brothels, teaching it to men and women in Europe and other parts of the world.
Whatever its origins, it has become a universally known and loved dance, with fiercely devoted fans. Amateurs, professionals and the mere admirers of the spectacle make (or want to make) a visit, almost like a pilgrimage to Buenos Aires; considered the birthplace of the tango.
You have no need to wonder what to do, or where to do it when staying here, because this is a universe with Experience Managers. Each guest is assigned an Experience Manager of their own, who may well contact you before you arrive to introduce him or herself, and ask what experiences they might help arrange fOT you once you are in their orbit.
Across the hall is the library bar, more like a meeting room, a private large salon, with an almost random layout that means you can sit in anyone of several places. A drink at the bar, or at a small table with a light dinner, or relax down on a deep sofa .. Here you are an actor and also part of the audience, a player in the show looking on from both sides of the stage. You can be wearing a tie or a t-shirt, be young, old or in between; despite the lush surroundings there is a relaxed atmosphere. An eclectic mix of people seems to be at ease rubbing shoulders here. Diners in the very white Unicorn Bistro are likely to be more special-occasion dressers.
On this boulevard is the Faena boutique, an attraction in itself. It is one of the most interesting hotel shops there is, with an eclectic and whimsical mix of covetable objects, from miniature replicas of the room furniture [0 take home [0 your own doll’s-house universe, beautiful red mate glasses and silver spoons, [0 great clothes that are all or mostly white, as preferred by the fashion designer – Mr. Faena himself.
Young and attractive “greeters” politely direct those who walk through the Faena doors. The Grand Entrance – La Catedral in Faena-speak – looks not unlike a cathedral’s nave, and as though it should always be a clear space for better effect, but in fact it is constantly busy, much like a boulevard, with people crisscrossing it to go to the restaurants, the bars, the pool or the elevators. The air is perfumed in the hall, a woody and appealing aroma lingering lightly as though some elegantly perfumed creature has just passed through. This is the Faena fragrance; the hotel has its own room scent, so that the physical atmosphere of its world is controlled and agreeable.
Faena has its own Tango Cabaret, of course; a stylish and an intimate setting for a three-course gourmet dinner and a spectacular show. While tango is more often a street experience – open-air dancing at markets or in and out of cafes especially in city quarters Recoleta and La Boca, where the dance, often described as constantly evolving, may have begun – the show tango of theaters, cabarets and clubs is more dramatically costumed and choreographed. The Faena’s Tango Director, Tony Ruiz, with his musicians and team of dancers has concocted a head-spinning experience.
Tango – the dance and the music – is pervasive here, a major part of the visitor experience. It acts as a magnet for many who want to learn the dance or work on their technique Most of the hotels have tango teachers in¬house; one free lesson is often included with your stay. The annual Tango Festival is in March: the biggest milonga – tango dance party – of all.
Described as a synthesis of “machismo and sexual desire, with a blend of sensitivity and aggression,” the tango was historically associated with thugs, gangsters and the underclass. Now it has become gentrified, moving beyond the shady to Dancing with the Stars respectability.
Just as Argentine tango is about improvisation, modifying learned steps and sequences, so too perhaps is the country. A country recovering, as it has before, from difficult times: the last in 2002, being the near collapse of its economy. Now it is rebuilding both figuratively and literally, especially in the port area Puerto Madero, alongside the Rio de la Plata – River Plate. New restaurants, cafes and apartments are coming out from the shells of rehabilitated warehouses and new constructions. This spruced-up docklands is where “starchitects” like Santiago Calatrava and Norman Foster are adding their master touches, designing bridges and buildings to provide architectural eye candy.
It is in this neighborhood that Faena Hotel + Universe has recently landed, part of an urban renewal project spearheaded by its owner, Alan Faena, first a fashion designer, now a hotel- and personal universe – developer. The hotel will be at the hub of the El Porteno Art District, a cultural quarter with art galleries and workshops, design outlets and apartments. The Faena universe is also an expanding one.
Faena Hotel + Universe has breathed new life into what was once an old grain warehouse. There is a definite sense of arrival and anticipation as you walk along a red-carpeted runway to the stunning entrance doors. It is a good theatrical effect, one that has a showman’s touch. This is the very recent stamping ground of the ubiquitous Philippe Starck, uber-designer with an extensive list of hotels to his name. The Faena is one of his more playful and most comfortable styling projects. The austere exterior belies the opulence within. More is better here, with lavish touches that look back fondly to the French baroque and rococo eras. Gold swan chairs, white unicorn trophies, swags of ruby-red velvet curtains and a sequence of crystal chandeliers ornament and add flourish to what is an intriguing interior