When I first visited El Ateneo, I had no idea this amazing bookstore had two additional locations. But then, this shouldn’t have been a surprise: Buenos Aires has more bookstores per person than any other city in the world, according to a study by World Cities Culture Forum. And while the large former theater that is now El Ateneo Grand Splendid on Avenida Santa Fe is perhaps the most famous, a short walk from there are two more branches, both on the pedestrian avenue Florida.
We decided to visit both, in part because we wanted to see more of El Ateneo (who wouldn’t?) and also because we were looking for a book on birds of Argentina that was in both English and Spanish.
El Ateneo, originally founded as a publishing house and bookstore, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and it’s heartening to see the bookstore thriving in not just one but in all three locations.
The two smaller El Ateneo bookstores are located with a few minutes’ walk of each other — it’s hard to imagine a city in the States with so many bookstores, so close together, all doing well. (If the stores look empty in these photos, it’s because we were there in the early evening, which is quite early by Argentinian standards: In Argentina, people go out for dinner at 8 or 9 p.m., then shop afterwards. Shops are usually open until at least midnight.)
While neither of the two smaller stores have the grand decor of the El Ateneo Grand Spendid on Avenida Santa Fe, this larger branch has several stories, beautiful columns throughout the store, and a lovely marble staircase.
All branches have a large selection of books in dozens of genres, and even if the books aren’t in your native language, it’s still a joy to browse, and even to buy; I found several coloring books that were perfect for my little niece.