Monday, May 17, 2010

The Cocker: An Interview with Amanda Gary

Welcome to lovelyvélo's first
Suitcase Tuesday! I'm delighted to share with you an interview with Amanda Gary, owner of The Cocker, a four suite home-away-from-home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As you can see from the photos, the design is exquisite and the house is just full of character. I'd love to hear what you'd pack in your suitcase for a stay at The Cocker... don't forget your Tango shoes!

Many thanks to Amanda for the interview (and féliz cumpleaños to her today!)

Tell us about the name!

The name is in honor of Rocco, a bolivian cocker spaniel who was gifted to the previous owners while they were running a local newspaper in La Paz. When they moved to Buenos Aires and decided to open the place, they brought him, and subsequently, it was the only name they could agree upon.

I will say it is a bit difficult at times to say without the occasional sideways glance, especially in the Spanish speaking world which is not so acquainted with the names of dog breeds, but does have a knack for inappropriate vocabulary.

How and when did you stumble upon The Cocker and what inspired you to take it on?

Back when I was a nomadic lassie escaping the rains of the emerald isle, I came down to Buenos Aires in 2006 convinced that I would learn Spanish in six weeks. Failure. I just spoke Italian thinking it was Spanish. And instead of going to the class that I was enrolled in, I started taking tango lessons. Well, that was the big mistake. I decided that I wanted to find a way to stay in Buenos Aires, so the natural next step was to start a business in a country you’ve only been in for forty days, in a language you don’t speak. So, I launched Paragón Tango Departures.

Well, I came back the next year, and the next, and in between guiding bike trips up in the north of Argentina, I was using my time in Buenos Aires to look for small hotels that I could rent out to run my tango trips. So I stayed at the Cocker for a week, and became very good friends with the owner. After my stay, I rented an apartment nearby and would go over there all the time. Come Christmas when I went back to the States, I decided that I wanted to go back to school to get an MFA, and needed a job while I did my applications. The owners of the Cocker wanted to go away for a few months and needed someone to run it for them. So I said, well sure. I went down in January with my bag packed for summer and a plane ticket home in May. But, once there I never left.

The owners wanted to sell it and move on, and I wanted to stay. Plus, I wouldn’t have to rent out any small hotels to run Paragón trips if I had one of my own…So I found some foolish folks that wanted to invest in a bed & breakfast in Buenos aires, and in April of 2008, I took it over.

I love that you refer to the hotel as "the house". What about it makes it most feel like home?

Well, above all, it is in fact a house, because I live there :) And the idea of the place is that people feel at home, literally. In a hotel, I find people often evaluate value by the amenities and “services” provided, whereas the most important thing to me in where someone stays, is that it feels as if they couldn’t have stayed anywhere else. Much of that has to do with atmosphere as opposed to amenities. Also, I think you get so much more sense of a place by interacting with people who live there, and other people who are passing through, so I have tried to foster that in designing the common spaces and the style of the service. The staff I have hired are from all over, and there’s me as well, and everybody’s allowed to say what they think when asked so that you can crawl inside the city more quickly.

Which is your favourite space in the house and why?

There's a little terrace just off the salon with antique floor tiles and columns with inlaid leaf details, that looks out onto the street – it’s no secret, but very few people seem to find their way to it. It feels to me like drinking mint juleps in the South in the summer.

The design of the entire house looks so serene, but I'm especially intrigued by the studio. Tell us a little about the yoga and tango classes.

The studio actually used to be the old owners’ quarters. When I moved in, I built a new room and turned that one into a rentable bedroom. Just after I finished and had it good n’ ready, the Singers Union of Buenos Aires renovated the building next door and put their stage right up against that wall. And away went the bedroom.

Since I am mildly obsessed by the tango, I decided to make the bedroom into a studio and began to offer classes upon request (with other teachers – I’d do no justice trying to teach the dance yet).

Also I think it can be quite intimidating, the first attempts to wrangle the tango, so I wanted to create a comfortable, private space for people to play around.

A few months later, we had to close for the winter to renovate, as it is quite an old building, and the stress of it drove me to look for a good yoga class in the city. After trying out a lot of classes, I found a great pair of American teachers, and decided that when we reopened, I wanted to offer yoga as well. I remember being on the road all the time, and often I looked for yoga classes in various places, but you had to be staying long enough to buy a package deal because they wouldn’t let you just drop in for a single class.

I want people to feel as good as possible while they stay with me, in all aspects of their trip. Some people who come to the class already practice and really like that it offers some consistency in their lives while they’re on vacation. Some people have never done it before, and find it a non-threatening way to start, and then keep going once they return home. And some people come to the class who never seem to have the time at home during their routine, but find that while on vacation, they really can do whatever they want. I’ve included it in the price of the rooms because it’s just as important to me as breakfast -- feeling good while you are on vacation is the point. Especially once you are here for a while and eat your way through the city.


What does a typical day at The Cocker look like?

Breakfast is offered from 9 – 11 am, either around the table in the “nook”, or upstairs on the terrace, as desired. My little minions come early and get everything ready. People check-in throughout the day, but the house is generally quite midday, thus the cleaning and “behind-the-scenes” administration occurs. In the early evening, we often have a "picada,” a sunset glass of wine and some hors d’oeuvres, and people can share their stories and advice, or just hang out. Twice a week in the mornings, there are yoga classes as well, and people can reserve the studio whenever they’d like outside of that for privates or tango classes. Once a month we are also hosting in-house wine tastings, working with a local sommelier who hand-picks wines from small bodegas throughout Argentina to give people a better idea of what’s out there.


  1. Aah, I am so ready to see for myself.
    Cheers! Argentina.

  2. I have an old postcard from a member of my family, dated 1936, that mentions the Cocker´s address as the return address for mail (of course, not the Cocker at that time): calle Garay, 458 - any idea how I could find out what the house was in 1936, who lived there, etc.??? Any hint would be most welcome (just out of sheer curiosity) - and of course I am planning to stay at the Cocker in the near future!!

  3. I'm very excited, finally I decided to travel to Buenos Aires next spring for one year. I was looking for a Buenos Aires real estate agency that would help me find a nice property in Palermo which is were I decided to stay after reading about the different neighborhoods.


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