Buenos Aires Grand Hotel
Av. General Las Heras 1745, Buenos Aires; 54-11-4129-9800; buenosairesgrand.com; 90 rooms starting at $189 (U.S.).
The capitulation of a stubborn property owner, who had long resisted overtures to sell the land underneath a bleak but popular parking lot, opened the way for a new occupant of the chi-chi Recoleta district of Buenos Aires: an unapologetically modern mid-size hotel.
Recoleta's tightly packed, jewel-box blocks of colonial, neo-Gothic and French Bourbon architecture speak to a time when Argentina was, in the minds of its toniest citizens, a card-carrying member of Europe.
This new kid on the block rises amid a sea of gilded cafés, high-end shopping and iron-gated embassies. Hey, even Evita herself still keeps a room of sorts here, just down the road from the Grand, at tourist-thronged Recoleta Cemetery.
Locally noted chic-meister Monica Spodek has made natural light a permanent guest at the Grand, with a loft-like lobby fronted by a two-storey glass wall, and enormous skylights topping both the breakfast/lunch area and a sparkling restaurant. On track to snag an enviro-friendly LEED designation (rare in Argentina) this year, the Grand even stocks organic amenities in its bathrooms.
With a tasteful, tailored nod to the minimalism that's practically de rigueur in today's hotel industry, everything is sleek to the point of starched. One softening touch, though, is near-ubiquitous indirect lighting – beneath shelves, behind mouldings, under countertops and in the closet.
An electronically operated blackout curtain that hugs the ceiling, walls and heating register that frame it, annihilating the half-inch of sunlight that defeats the purpose of most heavy-gauge curtains. Also pretty nice: a top-floor spa that houses a sauna and exquisitely Zen massage rooms.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
Guests who prefer Ian Schrager-esque elegance to the tattered splendour of the district's boutique hotels or the corporate vibe of its bigger chains book the Grand. They prefer the refined charms of Recoleta to the hip, dishevelled vibe of the city's other great downtown 'hood, Palermo. But that's not to say that everyone at the Grand is polished and coiffed: On my visit, the hotel hosted the entire Boca Juniors football squad, which is Argentina's equivalent of Manchester United. The team had the entire place basking in celebrity cool and testosterone.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
A rib-sticking breakfast is included in the price of your stay (as is bubbly on arrival, and in-room espressos). Expect bacon and eggs, smoked salmon and homemade brownies. Even better – in a city whose restaurants eschew fibre for steak, potatoes and dulce de leche crepes – are the piles of fruit and endless pitchers of fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice. At night, Jenny Restaurant has a French bent, lots of steak, plus high-end takes on two Buenos Aires standards: pizza and empanadas. Room service is poquito slow, and there's a $6 surcharge.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
Amid Recoleta's chock-a-block density, most hotels offer steep views of the street below or, worse, of a brick wall. Book here on floors three to five, facing out the back of the building, and you'll get a sweet view of a burgeoning rooftop garden packed with low-water plants, complete (some times of day) with burly gardeners doing their thing.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
No doubt safety concerns were behind the bathroom's motion-sensor light that glows through the white marble of the vanity. However easy that made it to avoid stubbing toes at 4 a.m., it was a non-optional assault on sleepy eyeballs.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.