Just before I left California on July 2, I received a phone call from a national magazine asking me to write a piece on “Authentic Buenos Aires.” While here, I’ve done some of the groundwork and am flying back home Monday, but will return in mid-September to research the article, which involves seeing “Baires” in the company of local experts on its sights, hotels, restaurants, nightlife and shopping.
What constitutes “authenticity,” of course, is a debatable subject, and one truly “authentic” institution that the article is unlikely to cover are the city’s albergues transitorios, the “love hotels” that rent rooms by the hour (or a bit longer). Colloquially known as telos (an inversion of the word “hotel”), these can range from truly squalid to surprisingly sophisticated, but are not just for clandestine affairs (South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and his Argentine girlfriend would probably not have used one). Young couples in search of privacy may be their main market, but sometimes even married couples, who may want to get away from the kids in their small apartment, will use them.
Telos are usually inconspicuous and discreet (though the Barrio Norte telo shown in the photograph here at least wants to suggest something forbidden). Often they have no sign, or simply a plaque that says “hotel” (with no specific name) or “albergue transitorio” (which can confuse foreigners, as the word albergue can also mean a hostel). If you show up alone, with luggage, you’re likely to get bewildered stares from the check-in desk.
Other Southern Cone countries use different euphemisms. In Chile the most common terms are hotel parejero (couples’ hotel) and motel (especially outside the cities, but a motel can also be what North Americans would normally expect; usually the décor suggests which sort it is). My favorite euphemism is Uruguay’s hotel de alta rotatividad (“high turnover hotel”).
Telos are coming up in the world, though. A recent Buenos Aires phenomenon is the telo that offers gourmet food to enhance the couple’s experience. Those who just want to sample salacious food, without paying for a room, can try Palermo Soho’s self-described “aphrodisiac restaurant” Te Mataré Ramírez, which also offers sophisticated erotic (but not pornographic) entertainment.