Buenos Aires Travel

NYC Insider Spends a Month in BsAs

Lucky for me, since I can work anywhere in the world, here is my Buenos Aires Travel guide for a month in December 2010. While my first love will always be New York City, I’m thrilled to share my Buenos Aires Travel and Tourism guide from my month here.

Update – not so much lucky, this is the journal of my actual experiences. Read at Your Own Risk…and if you’re considering traveling here, then you may NOT want to read further. As background, I’ve been to 20+ countries, seen the sun rise over Angkor Wat and hiked the Inca Trail, so please know I am not an inexperienced traveler.

Photos about my Buenos Aires travel coming soon…want to skip all the reading? Go straight here and watch the video.

Day 0 – Friday PM (in NYC)

Whooo Hooo! Skyline calls, car is downstairs, I’m heading out! Get in taxi, we make left turn on 4th Avenue, American calls…flight is delayed 4 hours and we’ll be taking off at 1am. “Sir, please drop me at home.” Hang out 4 more hours and try again. We take off at 2 am and arrive about 4 hours later than originally planned.

Day 1 – Saturday

Baggage claim and customs easy. The Buenos Aires apartmentos management company (DO NOT EVER RENT FROM Zen Propiedades) has told me many times over the 2 months we’ve been emailing, someone will be waiting in the apartment when I arrive. They have my flight info and will be tracking my flight. They also know I do not have a local cell phone.

The lovely taxi driver takes me to my apartment, we buzz, and no one answers. Flash forward 2 hours later, we’ve talked to the building Porter who does not have the key but sends us to the management office, we call and drive there, but they are closed. The taxi driver has called his daughter so she can translate into English for me (hardly, but an excellent effort and I applaud her for it!). This nice man will not leave me stranded and is taking me back to City Center to check into a hotel.

I’m seriously scared that this whole thing was a scam and I don’t have an apartment. Just as he’s about to drop me at the hotel, she emails and says she’s on her way. We turn around and the woman is FINALLY there – but has been waiting for 10 whole minutes and wants to know where I’ve been???? I give the taxi driver an extra $20, hardly enough for an extra 2.5 hours of his time and tell Graciela (Owner/Manager? of Zen Propiedades) it is coming out of her fee. She actually gives me a hard time..but in the end acquiesces. We’ll see if she takes it out of the deposit on the back end – I have no doubt I have lost this deposit anyway.

She walks me through the apartment, internet, air cond and lease. Leaves her card with a number to call in case there are problems. She leaves at about 4 pm, it is ridiculously hot and I think the air isn’t working, turns out it’s set to heat. I try to call her, but can’t. Maybe I don’t how to work the phone here? (Note: Turns out land lines and cell phones can’t call each other here, which she knew when she left me her card, but neglected to mention it).

Head for a lovely late lunch on Plaza Armenia, I believe something like Club Libra. Prawns with plaintains and some fried cheese salad. It’s delicious, except after I get my meal, the waiter, who had been pretty attentive until then and spoke English, disappears. I eat slowly, taking in the scene, but I’m long out of both wine and water and more than ready for the check. About 30 minutes later, I see him coming back to the restaurant with shopping bags in hand. Oh – pardon me for imposing on his Saturday shopping spree.

Head home and spend about 30 minutes trying to figure out hot water (note: there is a pilot light in the kitchen that must be turned on about 20 minutes before you want to shower, every time), but in the end, take a cool shower. I manage to turn the air off and it’s tolerable, if for no other reason, than I am utterly exhausted.

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Day 2 – Sunday

Up and ready to roll! Except just about everything is closed. Make it to the supermarket – 2 hours later, I have what I think is coffee, milk and some basics. All the pots, pans, plates, etc in the kitchen are filthy, so scrub what I can for about 30 minutes. OK, now ready for breakfast. Try to make eggs, but can’t turn on the stove (Note: gas stove requires match/lighter, which I found out much later). Coffee is worse than mud, but whatever, it’s caffeinated and I’m thrilled to have accomplished something. Yay me!

Meet a local real estate agent, who I didn’t get my apt through, but has been very, very helpful thus far and tell her I had a hard time with breakfast, haven’t eaten in 24 hours, hardly ate the 24 hours prior due to travel, and would she mind if I ate right away? No problem, she says, I totally understand…and a not so short 3+ hours later, I’m eating a salad and she’s watching.

Nice afternoon walking around, shopping, getting oriented. Walked around myself that eve, but as it turns out, this city is not designed for eating solo. Generally, the tables are large (seat 4-6 people) and hardly any bars that serve food – bars are bars and restaurants are restaurants. Plus, the local food BA is known for (Parilla – which is like BBQ) is all family style and meant to be shared. Basically, eating here is like eating at Carmine’s by yourself.

I’ve emailed Graciela a list of about 7 things I need help with in the apartment because I can’t call her. Spend the evening with my NYC neighbor’s cousin, who I met in NYC, and is from here. He also has no idea how to work the hot water, stove or air conditioning. We sit on the terrace and have wine.

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Day 3 – Monday

Get up, make coffee, start working..happy in PJs and warm weather. My door just opens (no phone call, no buzzer, no knock on the door) and Graciela is here with the handyman to fix everything. Apparently they did buzz, but I didn’t recognize the noise as I had not been shown how to use the buzzer on Saturday.

They take up about 4 hours of my day, only she leaves and it’s my job to stay here and watch the handyman. Of course, I’m starved, but can’t leave the apartment, given that everything (passport, cash, etc) is laying around. I keep thinking he’s almost done…but it doesn’t end til 2pm.

I am off to find a cell phone, which I’m told is necessary here. Even if I wanted to use my bberry at $5.00 per min and $.50 per text, the local phones don’t allow international use. No problem – a cheap, prepaid cell phone, how hard can that be? 5 hours later…cheapest phone is $200 plus the minutes. It is all pay per minute here and the phone and the minutes are purchased at 2 different stores.

I eat dinner at the bar across the street (first place I’ve seen to eat not at a table alone) and head to bed. So far, I’ve done…well nothing, and eaten with…well no one. I also have not worked at all in 4 days. Not exactly a win-win.

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Day 4 – Tuesday

Head out for breakfast at 9:30 am. Two possible places near each other. First one opens at 9am, only it’s not really open because the chef has not shown up. Second one is open and I order a smoothie. Oh wait, we’re out of these 2 fruits. OK, then this one. Well, we’re out of these 2 fruits. Fine, can you just put whatever you do have in a blender, por favor? Head home, there’s no way I can do this for breakfast every morning for a month. Maybe just a blender would be helpful.

I FINALLY catch a break. Google “Buenos Aires Tours” and the first listing is FREE, with an English speaking guide, meets just 5 blocks away and starts in 20 minutes! (Note – this was truly a miracle as Jonathan, the Buenos Aires local tour guide, was given a credit with Google Adwords and THIS was the day he used it to get to the top). I’m in…jump into a cold shower (wait, isn’t this why I waited around 4 hours yesterday????), email Graciela quickly about no hot water, again, and head out.

The 3 hour Buenos Aires tour with Jonathan was awesome, the highlight of my trip. I will write this up in much more detail later (and of the 12 days I’ve been here so far, these were 3 of the 6 best hours). We eat lunch at El Desnivel in San Telmo and I’m beyond excited to share parilla and wine at a popular place written up in all the guides. The fried cheese and chorizo is great (can you really screw this up?), but the meat is something Peter Luger’s wouldn’t serve to the dogs out back. I kindly ask – is this the steak people all over the world talk about? I mean, I love that you took me here, ordered and I’m sharing a meal with someone, but is this “it?” No, it’s overcooked and probably the worst he’s eaten in 2 years here. Of course it is. Don’t worry, the good meat here is actually much better.

We meet 2 guys from Florida, one of whom has been here 2 years and hates it beyond words. He is counting the minutes til he leaves…but they are fun guys and we have a good time.

Head to the organic market (on the bus, which Jonathan has shown me how to use, as well as the subway, whoo hoo), buy some healthy breakfast options (pastries are the breakfast norm here). I also finally give in and get my hair washed and blown dry because it’s been 5 days since a hot shower and it has a birds nest in it.

Never hear from Graciela all day about the hot water, and of course, was not here during business hours to call and harass her until it’s fixed. I email Graciela and the management company through their website about 5 times (since I can’t call) and at 11pm the company IT guy comes over to fix it. He’s very nice, lives a few blocks away, speaks fluent English, has a blackberry (my only way of communicating) and fixes the water from 11 pm to 1:30 am.

I’m too tired to shower at this point and just crash.

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Day 5 – Wednesday

Early bird, cold shower (are you KIDDING ME??? It worked 6 hours ago!!). Work a bit, try and find a blender. Good news arrives again. Jonathan, my Buenos Aires tour guide, has a blender to lend me for a bit and will meet me for lunch at a place across the street after his daily tour, which is one of the most famous places in BA, El Preferido. Lunch is excellent, of course it’s potatoes, ham, cheese and peas all mixed up. But good none the less. I am thrilled to have the blender.

Later that night, I head to La Troupe (www.restaurantlatroupe.com.ar), recommend by my Argentinian friend I met in NYC, located on Jorge Newbery 1651 in Las Canitas. I arrive at 9pm, am the only person in the restaurant, sit at a table for 4 and the waiter stacks the other 3 plates and wine glasses and leaves them on the table. He is nice, and I order the only thing on the menu that isn’t meant for 4 or more people, Skirt Steak. It’s nice, not different than what my Dad used to make on the grill growing up, but it’s just fine, no complaints. I spend 2 hours as the only customer in the restaurant and as I’m leaving the 2 Florida guys from yesterday email me to meet them for dinner in Recoleta at Portezuelo, so I head over to join them for a drink, and watch them eat…yes, pizza. It’s a nice time, no complaints. Easy to get a taxi, and get home safely.

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Day 6 – Thursday

Worked a bit…get an email saying the housekeeper will be here tomorrow. She doesn’t do dishes or personal laundry. Oh – well, she is going to wash the dishes because they were all disgusting when I got here. Graciela’s assistant says no problem, we’ll take care of it.

Went to an ex pat happy hour. We arrive one hour after start time, but it turns out down here, happy hour means about 11pm, or basically, whenever you feel like going. It was nice and met 2 people who said they were from NY.

(Note: Since when do you grow up somewhere else, go to four years college in NYC and then get to tell people you’re from NYC? Is that weird? I think so, and it may also very well be the reason we get a bad rap worldwide, because non-New Yorkers lie about it all time. I’ve seen it everywhere in the world. People live here 5 minutes and then say they’re from NY.)

Head over to dinner, choose something off the menu, happy to have company. But, sigh, they are out of my choice. Order Veal Milanese, an Argentinian specialty, which is pretty much Schnitzel, and of course, on most US menus. OK dinner, head to a bar, have a good time and stay out til 4am. Fun, but nothing I couldn’t do at home…and certainly not why I traveled here.

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Day 7 – Friday

Whoops – set alarm on Eastern Time, 2 hours behind BsAs, so have 5 minutes, to YES, take a HOT shower and head out to the meet the girls. Take one hour train to Tigre, a lovely outdoor spot with rivers, lush landscaping, flowers – it’s a spa destination for the wealthy. Terrential downpour the second we leave the train station (on foot), so we turn around and get right back on the next train to BA. Well, at least the whole R/T only cost $.50 ($1.10 pesos each way) or so. Wait in the rain 15 minutes for a taxi and head home… for the two lovely women I’m with (from NYC and LA), who’ve been here 6 and 8 weeks respectively, this is by far their worst luck to date. Ha, this is nothing!!!

I’m soaking wet and chilled to the bone. Get home and the housekeeper is still here. I don’t understand what she is saying, but she shows me how she has scrubbed the black layers of grease off the pots and pans and I thank her. She is also trying to tell me something I don’t understand but it’s about the sheets and towels. I just say yes, thank you. She leaves two hours later and I cannot wait for a hot shower! Of course, should have known, no hot water. I try to shower anyway, get out and whoops, there isn’t a towel in the house, so I use paper towels to dry off. Hmmm…that must have been what she was trying to tell me.

Called the company and IT guy again, who comes right away with his own personal towel, and after an hour, hot water was fixed and regular towels delivered. Too tired to even shower, just passed out, on a bed, with only a small sheet that doesn’t cover it, so basically slept directly on the mattress.

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Day 8 – Saturday

Smoothie, check! Coffee, check! I’m going to do Yoga on the roof. This place has not killed me yet! My Yoga DVD, which has worked faithfully for 10 years is now scratched. Spend about an hour on it. Finally give up and decide to go for a run. Get all my stuff, including little belt I run with and iPod. Get off the elevator and forgot I need keys to get out of the building. Get them out of the little belt, and bam..iPod crashes to the floor. Luckily (yes, there is some luck!) iPod is fine, just broke the hard case so I have to hold it while running.

Found my way over to the equivalent of Central Park here. It’s very nice. Interesting, in my 8 days here, the ONLY people who ever talk to me (in restaurants, on the street, anywhere) are trying to sell me something. They are VERY guarded other than that, which is so unlike NYC, where everyone is friendly, and even if they aren’t, strange men will always throw me a compliment on the street. This isn’t because I’m a tourist – it’s the norm here, as I’ve observed it everywhere.

Run the loop in the park a bunch of times. The rose garden is beautiful. Feel GREAT and head home because I’m having people over that night for Parilla on the terrace, organized by and friends supplied by Jonathan, the awesome tour guide. Terrential downpour again for 2 hours. It stops about 20 minutes before they come and I blow dry all the cushions until they arrive. Go food shopping with them, help prepare the meal, the food is really good. The gentleman running the Parilla, our personal chef for the night, is serving course after course after course. Probably 3 hours and 9 courses – wow! These guys are champs, because the bowls have holes in them and there aren’t enough forks to go around, so they share. Meat is very well done, but good, the crowd is great, we party til after 3am. Note: you need 3 keys to get in and out of the building (apartment, elevator and front door), so you must go down and greet every guest as well as walk them out of the building. But a great night overall.

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Day 9 – Sunday

My friend looks up “Best Brunch in BA” and we are off. Got a bit lost, usually a fun experience in a foreign land, but we walked over an hour through a pretty seedy neighborhood only to discover the place we sought was shut down, and from the looks of the graffiti on the building, for a while.

No problem – head to a café across the street. Pick 2 things off the menu to share, and not surprisingly at this point, they were out of one of them. As the meal progresses, I am getting really sick. Head home in taxi and spend the next 2 days between the couch and bathroom.

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Day 10 – Monday

Couch/bathroom. There is no food or bottled water in my apt and I can’t even move to get any. The dishes from the party are still all stacked up (no dishwasher). Fine, lots of American show reruns on TV.

Day 11 – Tuesday

Enough energy to go the Farmacia across the street. The woman is quite nice, and I try to explain what is wrong. She gives me some medicine and also some “rehydration powder,” so I’m pretty sure understands what’s wrong and has given me something equivalent to Immodium. I work a bit, and while my stomach still hurts like hell, I don’t need to be in the bathroom every 5 minutes, which is a nice break. I work and sleep all day. I’m feeling better, but not well. Win of the day – I am able to get the hot water to work all by myself on the 3rd try (in under an hour) and take a hot shower. Usually shake this kind of stuff quickly (once had food poisoning in Vietnam, pretty much the only other time I’ve gotten sick while traveling).

I then receive an email from a guest at the Parilla Sat night, “I read that you’re sick since…it may have been carbon monoxide in the asado. I found it too smoky, so we removed some coals that were not well lit and I thought it was alright but I was probably wrong. 🙁 I was not feeling too well on Sunday but it was not a big deal for me, just a little diarrhea. You’re still adjusting to food and water here, so your body was probably more susceptible.”

Oh good, I feel better, it wasn’t bad meat, but carbon monoxide poisoning…and I thought my immune system was the problem. Good for me!

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Day 12 – Wednesday

OK – feeling better, like yesterday, not well, but enough to make today’s excursion to the market for water and some food, since I haven’t eaten since Sunday. Buy enough (including 10 liters of bottled water) to fill my rolling suitcase, wait on the market line for an hour. I’m #4 on line and each person takes about 15-20 minutes to check out. They chit chat, move painfully slow, get their groceries delivered, which requires a manual carbon-copy form filled out in triplicate, etc. I’m ready to faint – this was too much to take on, but I’m in the home stretch with my food and groceries.

Get to my lobby and the elevator is stuck, on the 3rd floor. I wait about 10 minutes, no movement. I can’t carry all this stuff to the 8th floor and I’m close to tears. So, I press all the buttons on the intercom..and tenant after tenant is saying “Hola,” “Hola.” Of course, I have no idea what to say, I just want someone to come downstairs. I email my horrible management company (in case you missed it the first time, DO NOT EVER RENT FROM Zen Propiedades), BBM the IT guy/handyman, wait another 10 minutes and just break down in tears in the lobby. Finally the Porter comes in the elevator and tries to explain in Spanish what the problem is…no comprende, no habla espanol. Now I’m scared to leave the apartment, but at least I have food and water for another few days.

Highlight of the day – I joke with a new, local BA acquaintance I must have been Hitler in a prior life and he responds, part jokingly, part serious, with, “You obviously were a tyrant in a previous life, but the good news is that you will probably leave BA karmic-debt free!”

Lord, I HOPE SO!

Second highlight of the day – my dear friend, Jill, from NYC reads this whole journal and sends me this link. If you’ve read nothing so far, just know, this scene from the movie, Baby Boom, with Diane Keaton, summarizes my entire Buenos Aires travel. Take out the snow, change water to “hot water” and pretty much…this is it:

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Day 12 – Thursday

OK, so what else can I do down here? There’s Patagonia, Mendoza and some other fun stuff – but with the luck I’m having, I’m not sure I want to do these things by myself. Plus, wine country alone? And I didn’t bring the shoes or clothing required to go to Patagonia, so it requires shopping, flights, hotels, tours…lots of work. I’m exhausted from trying to plan all this, with a somewhat spotty internet. What else to do?

Maybe get healthy – like a tennis camp for a week or something. OK, cool. Try Boot Camp Buenos Aires – awesome! $37 for two weeks and in my neighborhood! Oh, but they’re closed 12/19 til January (It’s 12/17 today). Right, of course.

Try Tennis Buenos Aires. Now, I know things are done differently here, but the first line of the website reads, “What Are Barbie games and Dress up Games?” Yeah, I didn’t even play Barbie dress up as a little girl.

Tango Tennis Camp – great, except they’re not really a tennis camp. They just organize tennis and tours, so basically, I can get a lesson for $90 per 90 minutes. Umm..I’m pretty sure I can do that in NYC for that price.

Have a nice dinner at Mott, a chic spot in Palermo SoHo. Shrimp and beef carpaccio. As with most of the restaurants here, the decor is beautifull. One thing I’ll say about BA, they take their interior design very seriously. I’m surrounded by tables of 6, 8 and 16 people (some all men), none of whom who even acknowledge me.

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Day 13 – Friday

Still trying to find a way out here, but continue the adventure. I look online for the best manicure in Palermo SoHo. Interesting, while researching, I come across this article, Buenos Aires: What You Should Know Before You Go. Now this would have been nice to read before I booked my trip,

“Although it is virtually the capital of the South American continent with a population larger than that of New York City, the city has yet to catch up with the worldwide interest that has brought droves of tourists in recent years. Frankly, it’s not ready for the tourist inundation, and visitors are frequently disappointed with the city. The disappointment frequently stems from boredom because it is possible to see all of the most popular tourist sites in only one day.”

Head to get a manicure, but instead run into 2 lovely Australian women here for a few days. We shop and walk around a bit, but by the 3rd store, the security alarms are going off every time we enter and leave the stores. We haven’t stolen anything, yet, we’re being frisked entering and exiting. By the fourth store, you can tell they can’t wait to get rid of me..it’s my luck, not theirs. Can you really blame them?

I’m off to a salon a few blocks away, rated as “best in Palermo SoHo.” 42 pesos ($10 US) gets me 1 nearly perfect french mani-with only 1 bloody finger!! Not to worry, she immediately seals the cut with nail polish and continues polishing the rest of my nails. It actually looks nice, but after 10 minutes all the polish bubbles because it’s too thick. It looks a bit diseased, but that’s the least of my problems.

Meet a friend at an Irish Pub in the late afternoon for, well, I’m not sure. He’s not eating or drinking because he’s heading out, but it’s OK if I do. This is now the second person I’ve met who wants to watch me eat or drink, while not partaking themselves, and TELL me how great BA is. Maybe it’s just me – but I don’t need to tell anyone how great NYC is (yes, I get the irony, my whole website does that) – I just show them. What am I missing here? If I just wanted to hear about how great this place is, I could have stayed home and read about it. I traveled here to actually experience it…I wish I could say it was a Spanish/English thing. It’s not. I’m being forced to agree this place is great, over conversation, despite my actual experience of it and no offer to show me a different side. I firmly believe anyone who likes it here, does so out of Stockholm Syndrome. Break you down before you are built back up. Well, that’s one way to get people to like you…

It pours rain that night, which is fine because I have no plans or invitations to do anything anway…but hey, I can stay home and read about how great BA is.

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Day 13 – Saturday

By far, my best day yet! Head to a lovely brunch with a great girl from LA, to Oui Oui, a nice French cafe in Palermo Hollywood. They actually offer brunch – with eggs, french toast and even a bagel with salmon and Philadelphia cream cheese. Awesome – scrambled eggs with salmon and toast! Life is good.

Then to the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club to watch the Copa Peugeot Argentina de Tenis, where James Blake proceeds to get his you-know-what kicked by “Pico,” the local favorite. No fear, I’ve met two adorable 25 year old locals who can’t believe I don’t like BsAs and they are on a mission to make sure I have a good time. Now, they did accomplish this, however, a 25 yo’s definition of a great time and mine are not the same. As a reference point, their favorite place in NYC, which they cannot stop talking about, is Pacha.

They get me into the VIP tent, with free champagne, and a lovely crowd. I make conversation with some VERY nice, English speaking, well dressed, age appropriate locals…but alas, I am whisked away by my two new friends to head a club about 30 minutes outside of BA. Am I really so desperate to have fun I’m willing to get in the car with two strange, somewhat intoxicated, young men to go who-knows-where with no way home? Apparently, yes…I am.

No one is ever allowed to complain about a NYC taxi again – not until you’ve driven in a car with Guido. There are absolutely no words to describe this 30 minute drive…none.

For those of you who grew up on LI, let’s just say I spent the next six hours at Club Neon. I’m also pretty sure I was in the equivalent of what LI is to NYC – a suburb (something Hills?) with a bunch of wealthy kids still living at home. We go straight to the front of a very long line, packed with gorgeous, scantily clad, very young (18+), latina girls. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why these guys are making such a big deal out of me…but whatever. This club is a guy’s dream come true…there are 1,000s of young, gorgeous, drunk girls dancing and having a ball. The club is gorgeous and huge…well designed with about 20 leather sofas, pool tables with cool fabric, used as tables, a skylight and no less than a hundred disco balls of all shapes.

We are escorted to the VIP area and immediately served 3 buckets of champagne (for 3 of us???). I spend the next 7 hours chatting, drinking and dancing with no less than 30 Argentinian men…one after the other and not a single other female is in the VIP area. I really don’t get it – so don’t ask me to explain. My bag is put in the safe behind the bar so I can dance – my judgement just keeps getting better – sure I’ll go with strange men to wherever and while you’re at it, go ahead, take my bag with all my money and passport.

All turned out well…several hours after the sun shines through the skylight, I am driven home by yet another random stranger who lives a few minutes from me. He takes me on a quick tour of the neighborhood, points out his childhood home (where his parents are upstairs sleeping) and his primary school. It’s after 7:30 am and there are still huge lines out the door of every club we pass. A great night, but definitely not my scene on any kind of regular basis.

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