July 15, 2011 – GQ India
No one quite seems to get Santiago – Santiaguinos included. Divided into comunas with entirely different personalities, the capital of one of Latin America’s most stable economies can be a lot of things to a lot of people. For the posh crowd in the city’s squeaky clean eastern districts, Santiago is a growing hotspot for art, design, fine dining and finance. In the university district of Barrio Brasil, it’s a run-down gem with a thirst for revolution. And in the middle class neighborhoods from which most Santiaguinos hale, it’s still a city of traditions and small-town attitudes. Many residents live their lives swaddled in their cultural comfort blankets – don’t let that stop you from sampling the elegant, the gritty and the everyday side by side. It’s in the mix that Santiago rises above the ordinary.
Vitacura has recently eclipsed more central Las Condes as the center for fine dining and contemporary art in Santiago, and at the nexus of its two most stylish thoroughfares you will find the brand new Noi Vitacura. With its 87 spacious rooms, two restaurants and bars, and rooftop pool with views of the Andes to the east, the Noi easily matches its neighborhood in dignity, calm and style. To be closer to the fray, head toward the colorful, street-art filled lanes of Bellavista, where The Aubrey nuzzles against the foot of the soaring Cerro San Cristobal Park, beneath the outspread arms of the Virgin Mary. This luxurious boutique hotel fills a restored 1927 mansion, just far enough from the action to stay quiet day and night, but still mere moments from some of Santiago’s best nightlife.
You probably don’t know much about Chilean food, but the country’s bizarre geography and mind-boggling climatic diversity provides a wealth of produce that in the last decade has fueled a full-on gourmet boom. Don’t miss the daily-changing tasting menu at Boragó, the avant garde showroom for the creations of the young Chilean chef Rodolfo Guzmán, who uses exclusively endemic ingredients to evoke the sensory experience of Chile’s varied landscapes. Reflecting the skyrocketing popularity of Peruvian cuisine, the Santiago outpost of La Mar Cebichería is one of the hottest tables in town. For classic Chilean fare, try lunch at local favorite Galindo in Bellavista, or dinner at the classic Manuel Montt location of Bar Liguria.
We like to start our nights in the picturesque Lastarria district, where the gruff, bow-tied waiters at Don Rodrigo drift out of the past through curtains of cigarette smoke accompanied by live piano music and a fine specimen of a pisco sour. Just down the street, the first floor of Bar Berri simultaneously evokes a country gentleman’s smoking room and the captain’s quarters on a 1930s navy cruiser, while the palatial second floor (open only on weekends) packs in as many antiques as it does artsy types who call the neighborhood home. Later on (no earlier than midnight) meet Santiago’s beautiful people in a Vitacura shopping center, of all places, at the Centro Cultural Amanda, the best place to party with the DJs and musicians currently enervating Santiago’s indie scene. In the opposite direction (literally and figuratively) you’ll find Café Brasil, where Chileans of all ages dance salsa, cumbia, cueca and tango into the wee hours of the morning surrounded by smoke-stained communist posters from the last 50 years. Anything you’ve heard about Chileans being cold or unfriendly will be systematically disproved here.
Santiago may be on the move, but it’s also a city with history – not all of it pretty. Housed in a stunning modern building in the Quinta Normal district, the newly inaugurated Museum of Memory is a must stop for an appreciation of the amazing strides Chile has taken since the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship. Food enthusiasts can’t miss the Mercado Central to see the full array of Chile’s Pacific bounty, or the chaotic mess of La Vega Central, where thousands of Santiaguinos have purchased their produce each day for the last hundred years. These are two of the best places in town to eat traditional Chilean grub at its humblest. In Providencia, The decades-old antique shops of Barrio Italia have recently been joined by some of Santiago’s most forward-thinking young designers and stylish cafes. But Santiago’s star attraction is the Andes: in warmer months spend a day sipping Cabernet and Carmenere among stunning mountain scenery at the intimate vineyards of the Ruta Maipo Alto, or in winter hit the slopes at South America’s best ski resorts, under tour hours from downtown.