Persa Bío Bío

Spending an afternoon among the lost and broken relics of Santiago’s past

Stacks of dusty radios, towering antique armoirs, and jumbled assortments of glass bottles, knick-knacks, and brass door handles: it’s all here in Barrio Franklin.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011  
Some of the many riches on offer at Persa Bío Bío. (Photo: Ser.!/Flickr) Some of the many riches on offer at Persa Bío Bío. (Photo: Ser.!/Flickr)

ByBarrio Franklin is the perfect destination for a winter afternoon, where you can warm your hands on a cheese empanada and browse the wares at the Persa Bío Bío, a heavenly blend of thriftstore kitsch and antique treasures that is a must-see destination on This Is Chile’s “Alternative 36 Hour” tour.

More than one persa-hopeful has gotten lost in the furniture stores and gloomy warehouses that lie between the Franklin metro station and the actual Persa Bío Bío. If you can make it past the acid-dyed jeans and endless rows of electronic appliances, you’ll arrive at the historic Franklin Matadero, and just a few steps beyond, the network of converted warehouses that make up the maze-like persa.

You could spend an hour or a day here, but before you buy that one-of-a-kind jukebox that just needs “a little work” and a little disassembling to fit in your suitcase, take a minute to cool off and check out what else the neighborhood has to offer.

Sample the wares at the Franklin Matadero

The matadero at one time was Santiago’s main slaughterhouse, manned by the local residents of the working class neighborhood. Now, the space hosts a lively market, with fresh fruit and vegetables, Peruvian imports, and lots of fresh meat - all being hawked energetically by vendors. Jostle through the crowded aisles and pick up some fresh spices for your kitchen or a bag of cabritas (popcorn) to tide you over for the afternoon.

Grab a bite to eat

Food stalls abound in and around the persa, and there is a string of low-budget jewels along the 600 block of Franklin street. One of the city’s worst-kept secrets for good Thai food, Lai Thai, can be found squished between a juice stand and a prototypical churrasquería. Splurge for some delicious chicken satay at one of Lai Thai’s coveted sidewalk tables, or sidle up to the red bar next door for an authentic churrasco italiano (fried steak sandwich with tomatoes, mayonnaise and avocado).

Stick around for a bit of cueca

Once the daytime hustle and bustle dies down, the Franklin barrio comes alive with an underground night scene and a lively cueca bar. The Club Matadero is next door to the Santa Rosa Gallery, on the corner of Santa Rosa and Placer, and opens on Friday and Saturday nights only. The musicians specialize in cueca brava, a form of cueca whose lyrics are characterized by an urban landscape and a certain cynicism, instead of the rural themes and symbols found in traditional cueca from the Chilean countryside. Be prepared to ditch the flowery apron and learn a whole new side to the national dance.

By Jackie Seitz