Results 1-2of 2 Reviews
September 10, 2007
From journal Buenos Aires Revisited
February 23, 2006
El Ateneo is reputedly one of the best bookstores in the city, and claims to be the largest of its kind in Latin America. That’s all well and good, but at El Ateneo, the building is what draws customers nearly as much as the merchandise: this is easily one of the most dramatic and beautiful retail spaces in the world. Even more surprising, the store has managed to fly under the radar of most Buenos Aires guidebooks, and barely gets mentioned at all in others.
Not to be confused with its sister location on the pedestrian-only shopping street of Avenida Florida in El Centro, the Avenida Santa Fe location in Barrio Norte occupies an old theatre dating from 1919. Called the Gran Splendid, the theatre was constructed by Argentine entrepreneur and recording industry pioneer Max Glücksmann (1875-1946), and had a seating capacity of 1050.
In 1924, a radio station called LR4 Radio Splendid began broadcasting from the upper floor of the building, where Glücksmann’s recording studios were also located. Many great tango artists of the day made their first recordings here, and Glücksmann held annual tango contests in the theatre, which were recorded and released on the Nacional Odeón label which he also owned.
The structure was converted into a movie house a few years later, and, in 1929, the Gran Splendid showed the first motion picture with sound.
In 2000 the building was renovated and converted into its current incarnation, although the theatre’s muraled ceilings, ornate carvings, and other architectural details from its heyday thankfully remain. Only the armchairs are gone, the space they once occupied now lined with row upon row of books. The stage, where tango icon Carlos Gardel frequently performed, is now the coffee shop.
Most of the books, of course, are in Spanish, although titles in English, French, and Portuguese can also be found. They also have a decent selection of CDs at the front of the store.
Cynics might call this El Ateneo location nothing more than a glorified Barnes & Noble, but no one can deny the store’s beautiful architectural elements and the sense of grandeur and history one gets from being here. Avenida Santa Fe 1860, between Rio Bamba and Callao, Barrio Norte. Tel: +54 (0) 11 4813-6052.
From journal Paris of the Pampas: Buenos Aires, Part I