Secret Side Of Santiago

Before or after an Antarctic expedition, spend some time in Santiago, where Barrio Brasil, with its small markets, cool cafes and artistic vibe, is a quieter, more bohemian corner of the city.

MIGUEL BURDILES

5 min read

Barrio Brasil is the part of Santiago where the Chilean spirit meets a bohemian atmosphere. It may have fallen into decline in the 1950s, but seduced by cheap rent and neighbours who didn’t mind noise or creative endeavour, the 1990s saw musicians and artists move in. In the years since, everyone else has followed.

Although its proximity to central Santiago means it’s easy to get to, the fact that it has been almost cut off from the city’s historical centre by the construction of the Norte-Sur Highway means the barrio has retained a certain individuality. It’s the sort of low-key neighbourhood where everyone walks to where they’re going, enjoying the sunshine and the still-standing rococo and gothic-style mansions built by some of Chile’s wealthiest families back in the 1920s. Many of them have now been converted into hotels and apartments.

Cool street art in Barrio Brasil.

Classic Cross-section

The main boulevard, Avenida Brasil, runs from north to south, and is where mechanics’ garages and classic architecture create a visual puzzle. Just off it is a small street – and neighbourhood – called Concha y Toro, with cobbled streets and historic buildings. There’s a strong French influence here, but the focal point is a beautiful plaza, with a fountain at its heart. Sit in the window at Tales, order a coffee and watch the passing parade of people.

Concha y Toro plaza.

Chorillana.

Chorillana.

The neighbourhood comes alive at night.

The neighbourhood comes alive at night.

If you really want to eat something traditional, though, head to Santo Barrio and order chorillana, a plate of French fries topped with sliced beef, egg and fried onion. It goes perfectly with a litre of Torobayo pale ale from the Kunstmann Brewery in Valdivia, in southern Chile.

For something more substantial, Restaurant Juan y Medio sets the benchmark when it comes to Chilean cuisine. You can order any number of specialties, which range from roasted chicken and spicy pork ribs to brined rabbit, but be aware: this restaurant is known for its huge portions. Nearly everyone who eats here goes home with leftovers.

Meet at the Plaza

All of these places – and many more – are located along Avenida Brasil, where the epicentre of the neighbourhood is the Plaza Brasil, the local square at the corner of Calle Huérfanos. Tiny, welcoming cafes surround it and, on hot summer days, you’ll find people sitting around, chatting and drinking beers. There are also a number of colourful sculptures by Federica Matta, where children play and hide from one another.

Playing music at Plaza Brasil.

Here is home to Galpón Víctor Jara, a cultural centre covered in vibrant murals honouring Jara’s memory. He was a theatre director, singer-songwriter, poet, political activist and member of the Communist Party of Chile, who was tortured and killed soon after the Chilean coup of 1973. Although most of his recordings were burned by Pinochet’s military dictatorship, his wife Joan managed to smuggle some out of the country and they were later copied and distributed. Joan opened this centre to keep Víctor’s music and artistic legacy alive, both by ensuring his archive is kept safe and continuing his work.

The square is where many nights out begin. Those looking for something sophisticated and modern should head to Baires Sushi Club (its sister establishment Cosmopolitan is almost directly across the road). Grab a seat outside to browse the long cocktail list and take a peek at the attractive locals. But if raw fish is your end game, try Estrella Marina Sushi Fusión, overlooking Plaza Brasil. Combining the flavours of Japan and Peru, it offers some of the best sushi in Santiago.

Quirky murals adorn many of the buildings.

Fruit seller at the market.

Fruit seller at the market.

A fishmonger at the Sunday market.

A fishmonger at the Sunday market.

Further north in the neighbourhood, visit Galpón Persa Balmaceda, a huge warehouse space filled with antiques dealers. Wandering from stall to stall is a bit like time travelling through different eras of Santiago. If you walk here on Sunday (when it’s open until 6pm) you’ll see Barrio Brasil at play. This is our day off, and it’s when families enjoy one another’s company, often touring the barrio on bikes.

Calle Agustinas is a true representation of the neighbourhood. A market pops up here on Sunday where people, mostly immigrants from Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, sell tables of items, from used hardware to handmade clothing. This is where I go for a Sunday breakfast of juices made from mango, passionfruit and pineapple and, at Avenida Libertad, pick up produce for the rest of the week – seafood, purple corn, cassava and potatoes are all on offer. It’s here you witness the true essence – the life and soul – of Barrio Brasil.