Updated: Aug 3
Ever since I read about the Battle of the River Plate, I've associated South America with Montevideo. So when I had the opportunity to visit, I took it.
Almost all cities are accessed from their respective airports via an expressway filled with traffic, billboards, overpasses, concrete retaining walls, and graffiti. Not Montevideo, which was accessed via Uber via a series of coastal roads allowing a visitor to enjoy fine ocean views, beautiful homes, and residents at play. A very nice way for a city to say "¡Bienvenido!"
Plaza Independencia is the most important city square in Montevideo. At its center is a statue of General José Gervasio Artigas (the George Washington of Uruguay). The imposing statue framed by a 1960s office building, screams "You are now in Latin America" like something out of an old episode of I Spy.
In 1973, the remains of the eponymous general were placed in a mausoleum under his statue, by the civil-military dictatorship. It being open to the public may help explain the lack of any famous quotes from Artigas as they all are related to freedom.
I passed through the square numerous times, with the last being the most memorable. A street person came up to me soon after dusk and asked for something. I replied in my best Spanish, "¡No!" He then replied quite clearly "Suck, my dick . . . I say that right?" To which I replied, "That's right . . . very good." Building bridges, that's what I do.
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the Andes on Oct 13, 1972. The subsequent 72-day ordeal of the 16 survivors became an international news event, best-selling book, and Hollywood movie. The entire episode is chronicled in detail by the Andes Museo. It is a well-put-together series of exhibits that explore what man can endure in order to stay alive. When I visited, the museum's founder discussed with me some of the finer details of survival at 11,700 ft.¹
The Rambla of Montevideo skirts the Atlantic Ocean over its 22 km length making it the longest sidewalk in the world. So I took a walk on it, and I guess that now makes me a world record holder? So I celebrated the way I celebrate every time I set a world record, by having a cold one. In this case at the Ciudadela Bar de Cervezas.
My last day in the capital of Uruagay and after a very late caffé americano y galleta rellena de Nutella at Ritual Café, I realized that it was the perfect time for a cold beer and a nice panoramic view. Montevideo isn't too strong on the panoramic view and it being Domingo didn't help. So I went to the restaurant Acadia on the 26th floor of the Radisson Montevideo Victoria Plaza . . . but it was closed. In a moment of genius, I decided to partake in Cerveza O'clock deconstructo and took a photo out the restaurant window, which I then subsequently combined with a Patricia lager at La Otra while waiting for the ferry to Buenos Aires.
Everyone says you need to eat some parrilla when you visit Montevideo and you need to eat it at the Mercado del Puerto. The original plan was to enjoy some out in town away from the turistas², but after the Andes Museo I had an explicable hankering for some meat, and as the Mercado del Puerto was just down the way . . .
Tony Bourdain had his parrilla (pronounced "pa-ree-ja", grilled meat over wood coals) at the Estancia del Puerto which didn't get such great reviews online, so we sniffed around the Mercado until we found a location that offered two bar seats directly opposite the grill. It didn't hurt (me at least) that the owner plied us with some Uruguayan Asti Spumante as an enticement.
The Menu Del Dia at La Chacra del Puerto prominently mentions "Baby Beef Feed Lot con Guaricoin." Now when visiting Latin America some things get lost in translation, and I was hopeful that this was one of them. An adjacent diner vouched for the bona fides of this entree and we just went with it. A starter of blood sausage was also lost in translation, though thankfully they came through with the liter of cerveza (some things in life you need to see through to the end). It was a fine piece of steak and grilled red pepper with a carrot & beet salad. Enough for two and all for $54.29.
La cuanta (por favor) included a $7.50 USD pp cover charge. I paid it . . . grudgingly, as there was no mention of it upfront. Also in the past whenever I have paid a cover charge, I was at least able to hear live music or see a naked woman.
When Bourdain visited in 2018 he stopped by Jacinto, to visit with its chef-owner, Lucia Soria. She was one of the first females to work for renowned Argentinian chef Francis Mallman. We stopped by for some delicious sweet potato gnocchi and then assisted with the restaurant's future marketing efforts.
After having a lomito in Santiago, I knew I needed to sample the history of Uruagay in just one bite. So a chivito sandwich was ordered at La Pasiva El Entrevero overlooking Plaza Fabrini and a monument to the unknown soldier. A TripAdvisor reviewer commented this chivito was "better than hamburgers," to which I agree, though I'd rather have had a lomito.
A chivito is a sandwich of sliced beefsteak, mozzarella, ham, tomatoes, mayonnaise, fried egg, and olives. It is the National dish of Uruguay. The keen reader will notice that chivito, which means "little goat" in Spanish only contains steak. Why?
You may also ask "Who exactly determines the National dish of any country?" I think we can agree it must be a global organization, able to access knowledge from all strata of society, but yet not be elitist or anti-intellectual. Well, there is only one organization that meets these requirements, yes, that's right . . . Wikipedia.
Café Brasilero is 140-year-old years old and though well maintained, it looks every bit of it. Maybe a little stodgy, though if you are only going to have a cappuccino and caffè americano in only one place in Montevideo, then this is the place.
Candombe is a style of music and dance that originated in Uruguay among the descendants of liberated African slaves. It is performed in the street by a large group of drummers, using a drumstick in one hand with the other open-handed to drum various pitched drums. It is usually accompanied by dancers giving it all a Carnivale/Mardi Gras feel.
I enjoyed a taste at the Mercado del Puerto, though a fellow spectator thought it sounded like a "bunch of guys pounding on an upside-down Home Depot bucket." I have a strong feeling that this person may have been immune to the dancer's feminine charms.
Buenos Aires was an obvious next destination, as it was located directly across the previously mentioned river.
Much like a funicular if I have the option to take a ferry, whether it's to Port Jefferson, Liverpool, Staten Island, or the Isle of Skye, I'm down. I used to be in the biz and still find the sea quite romantic. So after Buenos Aires was selected as the next destination, the ferry was a no-brainer.
The whole ferry operation gets some terrible reviews on TripAdvisor but my experience was quite the opposite: seamless and uneventful.
Booking.com gave the Smart Hotel Montevideo an 8.6, but for $60/night I had my doubts. There is a lobby restaurant called Bar Americano that is both a blessing and a curse. While it's nice to have a very accessible meal after a very late night arrival, it was rather mediocre and who wants to travel all the way to Uruguay to eat at a place called Bar Americano?
Our room (#102) was a very large corner unit and was therefore susceptible to street noise from two streets. Our first night's sleep was irreparably harmed by a block party outside a nearby nightclub called Chains Disco Pub. You know the music halfway down the street is loud, when your wife can Shazam it while lying next to you. I was never a fan of Gloria Gaynor and listening to I Will Survive in bed at three in the morning doesn't make it any more enjoyable.
All in all, it deserved a rating of exactly 7.7, due to a good Centro location, spacious room, and helpful front desk. I would have given it a better rating, but I don't give anything above an 8.0 to a hotel whose lobby smells of sewage.
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ If you ever crash land in the Andes do not eat snow. Expending energy to melt snow into drinkable form only further dehydrates you if you're doing it in large quantities. Instead, melt the snow by using a solar collector (like the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571).
² Much like Evelyn Waugh, I'm not a tourist, I'm a traveler.