All the World’s a Page – 16 snaps from the El Ateneo Bookstore

Visiting El Ateneo, a majestic former theater converted into a gorgeous bookstore in downtown Buenos Aires, really was on my List of Things to See Before I Die. Does that mean I’m now really one step closer?

No matter.

More specifically, this marvel of redesign is the El Ateneo Grand Splendid, named for the theater which opened its doors in 1919. First a performance venue that hosted the country’s leading tango voices, it was converted into a cinema in the late 1920s and in 1929 screened the first sound films in Argentina before taking on its latest form as a bookstore in 2000 when it became the El Ateneo group’s flagship store.

Book-wise, it reminds me of a Spanish-language Barnes and Noble, but the feel is overwhelmingly theatrical, elegant and nostalgic. The seating was removed to make room for shelves, but the ornate trappings, the painted ceiling, stage curtains and other elements remain. The stage is now a café, and the theatre boxes small reading rooms where customers are free to read while they browse.

I did browse but didn’t buy a thing. I can’t remember the last time I did that in a bookstore.

These were all taken with a GoPro Hero2, so the angles are obviously exaggerated. Dimly lit indoor settings are unfriendly to GoPros, but I think you’ll get the general gist.

El Ateneo
Avenida Santa Fe 1860
Near the blurred junction where the city’s exclusive Bario Norte and Recoleta neighborhoods meet



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  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs says

    I love this! I suppose you ponder the weight of anything before making a purchase! i’ve often eyed several books in my hand before buying or putting the back.

    it looks like a wonderful place to sit and absorb 360-degrees of visual interest!

    1. BobR says

      Bookstores have always been a weakness, but I was strong here. 🙂 Nope, I can’t buy anything. My load is already too heavy as it is.

  2. jcalberta says

    i like bookstores … i can spend quite a while looking at the books … but i rarely buy .. or read. i’m not an illiterate slob (did i spell illiterte correctly – joke) … i’m just picky. it does amaze what gets printed though. i feel the same way about movies and tv.
    … i have this vision of all these guys in suits sitting silently in a big board room. suddenly one guy jumps up and yells: “HEY ! lets make a show about a bunch of hillbillies wearing tiaras swearing at each in a kitchen !” everybody else jumps up yelling YEAH YEAH !!!
    and a reality show is born.

    1. BobR says

      Reality Shows have been, and will continue to be, a key component of the downfall of civilization. 🙂

  3. restlessjo says

    Fabulous! I’ve been in a few converted cinema/ theatres but this one’s a beauty.

  4. Angeline M says

    Oh, I will have sweet dreams about this place! The book store of all book stores. I can only imagine sitting in one of the theatre boxes reading, and looking up to imagine a tango onstage.

    1. BobR says

      It did evoke many images. Really a wonderful place.

  5. Madhu says

    Loved El Ateneo. Didn’t buy a thing either. And my images didn’t turn out half as good 🙂


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