Looking for a unique place to shop?
Located in Buenos Aires' Recoleta neighborhood, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of the most attractive bookstores in the world, and a large one, at that – with 120,000 titles in stock!
The magnificent interior of El Ateneo Grand Splendid — Photo courtesy of Herbert Brant
Originally called "The Grand Splendid," the opulent 1919 theater – with capacity for more than 1,000 spectators – staged performances for tango, ballet, opera and, later, movies. In fact, this theater was the first in the city to show films with sound.
The theater was built in a classical style and decorated with a gold interior and red velvet curtains. Nazareno Orlandi painted the dome's frescoes that depict an allegory for peace to celebrate the end of World War I, known then as "The Great War."
The building housed a recording studio and radio station, as well; in the 1920s, Carlos Gardel (Buenos Aires' legendary tango singer) recorded his songs there. Notable tango composer Roberto Firpo also dedicated his song "Grand Splendid" to the theater.
Today, El Ateneo Grand Splendid retains many of its original architectural details, such as the dome's frescoes, ornate carvings, theater boxes and red stage curtains. But bookshelves fill many of the spaces previously occupied by seats.
There are several chairs spread throughout the store, where you can curl up with a book before buying. You'll be happy to know that the multi-story bookstore carries not only a large selection of Spanish-language books, but also some English-language titles, too.
Paying homage to the theater's musical roots, El Ateneo Grand Splendid also has a music section, where you can find lots of tango albums, as well as music from other genres.
In a theater, you don't usually get to climb on stage, but that's not the case here. The stage is where you'll find El Ateneo Grand Splendid's cafe. Sit down beside the red stage curtains, opt for a hot drink and a snack and imagine what it might have been like to perform on this stage, with the thousands of books distributed about the theater as spectators would have been.
Sometimes there's even live piano music as a soft backdrop to your perusing.
When in Recoleta, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a good place to buy a new book or CD or simply to appreciate a piece of Buenos Aires' cultural history. Don't be shy about taking photos.