Palermo Viejo is Buenos Aires’ most fashionable place to live, shop or have an evening out. The part of the city most closely linked to Borges, where he lived and began writing poetry in the 1920s, its architecture has changed little since then. Bounded by avenidas Santa Fe, Córdoba, Juan B. Justo and Raúl Scalabrini Ortíz, it’s a compact oblong of narrow streets, most of them still cobbled and lined with brightly painted one- or two-storey Neocolonial villas and townhouses, many of them recently restored, some of them hidden behind luxuriant gardens full of bougainvillea and jasmine. Part run-down, part gentrified, it’s a leafy district with a laidback bohemian ambience, and many of its stylish houses have been converted into bars, cafés and boutiques. Large communities from Poland, Ukraine, Lebanon and Armenia live here, alongside an Italian contingent and some old Spanish families, and they all have their shops, churches and clubs, adding to the district’s colour. The area also boasts a dazzling blend of outstanding restaurants, serving cuisines as varied as Armenian and Vietnamese, and has succeeded in luring the city’s residents and visitors alike away from more superficial districts such as Puerto Madero and Las Cañitas.
Palermo Viejo’s official epicentre is Plaza Palermo Viejo, a wide, park-like square dominated by a children’s playground and some huge lime trees, but the barrio’s cultural and social focal point is nearby Plaza Serrano. The plaza’s official name (used on maps but unknown by most taxi drivers) is Plaza Cortázar, after Argentine novelist Julio Cortázar, who frequented this part of the city in the 1960s and set his Surrealist novel Hopscotch here. The plaza centre becomes the site of a crafts fair at weekends (Sat & Sun 10am–8pm), while more permanently it is surrounded by trattorias, cafés and bars, some doubling as arts centres and galleries. Among them, a rash of independent designer shops sell upmarket bohemian clothes, jewellery and furnishings – hence the Soho nickname.