Bursting with cultural attractions, creative chefs, an all-night club scene and a glorious wine country nearby, the Chilean capital has become one of South America’s hottest cities
Author Justin Goldman Photography Yadid Levy
DAY THREE | An early-morning ride on Santiago’s impeccable metro takes you to the glass towers of Las Condes, the neighborhood locals refer to as “Sanhattan.” Here, you check into the W Santiago, which rises up from behind a Mercedes dealership and an impressive wine store. The high-ceilinged, heavily marbled lobby is modish and modular, a five-star rendition of Elysium. You leave your bags, briefly getting lost among the columns on your way to the elevator.
Chileans aren’t big on breakfast, but a couple of blocks from the hotel you find the bright and breezy Cafe Melba. You order the “famous” Panqueques Melba, fluffy blueberry pancakes powdered liberally with sugar and topped with a huge dollop of whipped cream, and chase it all down with a tall glass of mango juice. You need a sweetener, you feel, before your next destination.
Another metro ride brings you to the Quinta Normal park, home to a number of museums, including the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos. The museum, a toppled tower of sea-green glass resting on two stone pillars, memorializes the 1973 coup in which General Pinochet ushered in two decades of national misery. You watch footage of the attack on the presidential palace and read accounts of the secret prisons, but the most unsettling moment comes when you look out the window, the tinted glass and cross-hatched pillars making you feel disconnected—as if you had been disappeared.
Afterward, you wander the more uplifting streets of nearby Barrio Yungay. This isn’t a touristy area, but the modest rowhouses and grocery stores are painted with vibrant graffiti murals. Soon you find yourself at one of Santiago’s beloved culinary landmarks, Boulevard Lavaud, which has been open since 1868 and is better known as Peluqueria Francesa for the French-style barbershop that fronts the restaurant. You step inside, thinking you could use a drink, and along with a Carménère you order a lunch of pato a naranja—duck à l’orange. It’s exquisite.
Restored, you press on with a tour of the city center. You pass by the Palacio de La Moneda—rebuilt since it was bombed by jets during the coup and now home to a vibrant cultural center; the Plaza de Armas, the central square of the city, which spreads out before the 200-year-old Catedral Metropolitana; the Mercado Central, teeming with fish from the nearby Pacific; and the recently reopened Museo Precolombino, where you explore an impressive collection of ancient pottery, as well as Mapuche wooden burial sculptures that remind you of the eerie moai of Easter Island.
You’re not quite ready to call it a day, so on the way back to the hotel you stop in Providencia, at the Santiago institution Bar Liguria, a German-style café where you sit at one of the sidewalk tables and relax, sipping an Austral beer as you watch pedestrians pass on the leafy street.
Back at the W, you find a plate of serrano ham and manchego cheese and a bottle of Chilean Malbec waiting in your room. You step out onto the balcony with your afternoon snack and tilt your head back to take in the shining blue 984-foot Gran Torre Santiago. There’s an even better view from the rooftop pool, where you work up an appetite for your forthcoming dinner at the hotel’s chic restaurant Osaka.
The restaurant specializes in Nikkei cuisine, the blend of Japanese and Peruvian cooking that has taken the world by storm. Chef Ciro Watanabe, a Peruvian whose grandfather was Japanese, works the line with his chefs, slinging plate after plate of transcendent food your way: Chilean sea bass with mustard leaves, citrus fruit and a mint emulsion; salmon belly with orange zest and truffle oil; dumplings stuffed with duck confit and Japanese mushroom; beef seared with a torch before your eyes; and scallops Parmesan, which appear with your plate aflame. You’re sure that you’ve been seated at the Great Sushi Bar in the Sky.
Finally the waves of food slow down, and you begin to gather yourself. Earlier, you saw some beautiful people in line for Whiskey Blue, the club next door, and you’ve decided to give it a try. As you stand to leave, Watanabe stops you to shake your hand. “Come see us on your next visit,” he says. “This is your home now.”
Hemispheres managing editor Justin Goldman would like to ask the people of Chile to speak just a little bit slower, please.