Concierge.com's insider take:
In the mid-1850s, Buenos Aires was a modest settlement of 90,000 residents. A trickle of European newcomers drawn by open immigration and unlimited land soon became a flood. By 1914, the population had rocketed to 1.5 million. Squatting ten to a room in the tenements and shanties of poorer barrios such as La Boca, Pompeya, and Barracas, the immigrants poured their nostalgia and pent-up frustration verging on violence into the tango form. In its early days, the tango was practiced by same-sex couples in bordellos—by female prostitutes to kill time between tricks, by men to net the choicest girl. A century on, the dance is now respectably mainstream, but a glimmer of its darker roots can still be felt at one of the city's milongas, or open-floor tango dances, where experienced milongueros strut their stuff alongside beginners and aficionados. Unlike tourist-oriented tango shows, milongas tend to take place in brightly lit social clubs in far-away barrios. Music is played in tandas, or sets, divided by minute-long breaks reserved for the ritual choosing of partners for the next tanda. Invitations to dance, always made by men, are dispensed with when a man simply catches a woman's eye and gives a quick nod; to turn a man down, a woman should simply ignore the nod. Despite appearances, most people are there just to dance. Matinee dances are more suited to beginners.
El Niño Bien
1462 Humberto Primo
Tel: 54 911 4147 8687
A haunt for genuine experts, El Niño Bien is held in a glorious Belle Époque ballroom in the deeply unfashionable Constitución district.
1180 La Rioja
Tel: 54 11 4957 7157
Visitors can dance, learn, or just watch the exuberant color and passion when the experts get it right at this authentic milonga in run-down San Cristóbal.
Tel: 54 11 4541 9776
Despite its uninspiring location on a basketball court in a neighborhood social center, the Sunderland Club boasts a 90-year history and immense credibility with genuine tangueros.
Tel: 54 11 4774 6357
The venue, an Armenian social club, resembles a Ping-Pong hall, but La Viruta's location in Palermo Viejo and its eclectic mix of tango, swing, rock, and Argentine folk music has been pulling in the crowds for a decade. Dinner is available until 3 am; medialunas (croissants) are served at dawn.
Tel: 54 11 5265 8069
Confitería Ideal has been featured in most movies shot in Argentina, from Evita to The Tango Lesson. Matinee and evening milongas are held amid the building's decaying grandeur of marble stairways, mahogany paneling, and peeling plaster.
Tel: 54 11 5325 1630
Located amid disused warehouses, La Catedral, held in a former granary, is delightfully shabby. Eccentric oil paintings and macabre sculptures adorn the walls, while young, louche dancers contend with chipped floorboards, all-pervading darkness, and dust clinging to every surface. Milongas are sometimes interspersed with poetry recitals or concerts.