In sexy South America, Laura Begley discovers she can do more than get by—she can spend, spend, spend
4:30 A.M. The sun will be rising any minute now, as my boyfriend and I leave La Confitería Ideal (384 Suipacha; 54-11/5265-8069), the old-world tango salon that had a cameo in the movie Evita. We're night owls, so we fit right in here: nobody eats dinner until 11, and the tango clubs stay open until dawn. Plus, it's cheap, so we let loose, ordering champagne ($1.75 a glass) at each stop and hailing cabs ($3, maximum) to take us around. It costs only $1.75 to get into La Confitería and the candlelit La Divina Milonga (572 Avda. Independencia; 54-15/5422-1667). The gritty-yet-cool dance hall Salón Canning (1331 Avda. da Scalabrini Ortiz; 54-11/4342-4794) didn't even charge us a cover.
Amount Left $223.50
12:00 P.M. A former convent, Malabia House (1555 Malabia; 54-11/4831-2102; www.malabiahouse.com.ar) is the perfect place to sleep late. Our $115 room faces a quiet courtyard, and the staff serves breakfast all day. A stylish Belgian couple we meet at the communal dining table points us in the direction of some chic boutiques in the surrounding Palermo Viejo district. At Fortunata Alegría (1739 Gurruchaga; 54-11/4831-8197), I spy a curve-hugging strapless jersey-knit dress for $92. Maybe tomorrow. I've had too many medialunas (sweet croissants) today to squeeze into anything that revealing.
Amount Left $108.50
2:15 P.M. An Argentinean friend had two words of advice for us: San Telmo. The cobblestoned colonial neighborhood is home to an amazing Sunday flea market at Plaza Dorrego, where street musicians entertain the crowds and you can find great deals on estate silver and $100 chandeliers. The antiques stores here are open the rest of the week, too.
Amount Left $108.50
5:00 P.M. Call me shallow, but my favorite thing about tango is the retro shoes. (In my defense, the secret to the complex moves is in the suede soles, which virtually glide across the floor.) I snap up a pair that look like they could have been made by Marc Jacobs, and cost far less ($56), at the fashionable shop Tangobrujo (754 Esmeralda; 54-11/4325-8264).
Amount Left $52.50
6:45 P.M. Dinner is hours away, so we stop for tapas and a glass of Malbec at Gran Bar Danzón (1161 Libertad; 54-11/4811-1108), a modern space with concrete-block walls. The generous bartender even offers samples of other local wines. Total bill: $14. Charge for the tasting: Nada.
Amount Left $38.50
9:00 P.M. For years, many young people here shunned their grandparents' music. But tango has made a massive comeback, and the hippest spot around is La Catedral (4006 Sarmiento; 54-11/4342-4794), in a wildly decorated warehouse. We join in the fun and take a lesson ($2.50 a person). I thought my fab new shoes would make me the star of the dance floor. I was wrong.
Amount Left $33.50
11:30 P.M. We have enough money left over for dinner at Cabaña Las Lilas (516 Alicia Moreau de Justo; 54-11/4313-1336), a packed waterfront steak house. The average cut of Argentinean beef is big enough for two, and the restaurant throws in a platter of appetizers with the cover ($7), so we split the ojo de bife ($13), blow the rest on a good bottle of wine ($12), and gear up for a night of club hopping.
Total Spent $248.50