By Matt Chesterton
October 20, 2014
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Best Milongas in Buenos Aires
Credit: Michael Lewis/Corbis

“Milonga” is sometimes translated as "tango dancehall," but that isn't quite right. Just as you don't need a dormitory for a pillow fight, you don't need a dancehall for a tango session; in Buenos Aires, a flat piece a ground, a sound system, and a roughly equivalent number of men and women is all that’s required. Most of the best milongas take place in nondescript community centers, in between 8 p.m.'s Intermediate Tae Kwon Do and 9 a.m.’s Moms and Babies. That's another thing about milongas: they last all night.

If the rules concerning a milonga's place and time are free and easy, all the other rules are strict and tricky. At a traditional milonga, the dress code is "tango elegant": heels and frocks, shirts and slacks. Black is always the new black. Men and women will often sit on opposite sides of the room. Experts use eye contact to ask for a dance; beginners may prefer to go verbal. The DJ doesn't take requests, and the night never ends with a conga.

La Glorieta

This is the city’s only open-air milonga, and it’s held in a splendid old summerhouse in Barrancas de Belgrano—a sloping park dotted with palms, oaks and London planes. Milongas (free, but donations appreciated) take place on weekend evenings, preceded by a two-hour class. This is an excellent place for beginners to dip their toes in the water.

Salón Canning

This spacious hall hosts traditional milongas— as well as shows and special events—every night of the week; tango classes are offered, too. Admission is cheap, the beer is even cheaper, and everyone gets a raffle ticket on the way in. Stick around for the draw at 4 a.m., and you could win a beer for the road.

Buenos Ayres Club

The biggest draw here is the young house band, Orquesta Típica El Afronte, whose string section, pianist, and quartet of bandeonistas (the bandoneón is a type of concertina) create a throbbing, soulful wall of sound. The milongas are hip and relatively informal, so beginners won’t feel intimidated. At the time of writing, milongas and classes took place Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays.

Club Gricel

Couples have been revolving counterclockwise around this venue’s 110-square-meter dancefloor since 1994, backlit by the club’s trademark neon sign. At this classic venue, beloved by serious milongueros, dances and classes are held every night of the week; raffles are held on the last Saturday of the month. Note that the dress code here is “elegant sport”—no jeans, no sandals, no tees.

Café Vínilo

This cool little concert venue in Palermo specializes in folk and jazz, with gigs most nights of the week. Monday is milonga night, with a class followed by dancing and rounded off with a special guest performance. The live orchestra is excellent, and admission is a la gorra (whatever you feel like paying).