Conversation, Tango, and Literature: the Cafés of Buenos Aires

Cultural heritage in the Argentinian capital

Café (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Popular cultural heritage

Popular culture evokes them through tangos and films, while the great writers and artists created their works while sitting in them. The tradition of going to a café is so deep-rooted that the city of Buenos Aires presented it to UNESCO for consideration as intangible heritage of humanity.

Café (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

The backdrop to tango

Composers of tango expressed their view of the world through cafés. “Cómo olvidarte en esta queja/Cafetín de Buenos Aires/Si sos lo único en la vida/Que se pareció a mi vieja … rememora”
[How could I forget you in this lament/Little café in Buenos Aires/When you're the only thing in this life/That reminds me of my good old mother?] Enrique Santos Discépolo, Little café in Buenos Aires (Cafetín de Buenos Aires).

Café (2021-01-20/2021-01-20) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Cátulo Castillo evokes the shock of the end of a love affair in The Last Coffee (El último café). Lo nuestro terminó/Dijiste en un adiós/De azúcar y de hiel. [What we had is over/ You said it in a goodbye/ That was bittersweet.] Café de Los Angelitos is by the same writer, and reminisces about years gone by: Frente a un grato recuerdo que fumo/Y a esta negra porción de café. [Before a pleasant memory that I smoke/And this black portion of coffee.]

Cafeteria (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Gato Negro

With 93 years of history behind it, the Gato Negro (black cat) café is one of the 90 Notable Bars listed as Heritage of the City of Buenos Aires. A venerable institution on the legendary Avenida Corrientes, the Gato Negro prides itself on the numerous artists who have graced it with their presence over the years.

Café (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Literary cafés

For much of the 20th century, literary gatherings of poets and writers were a permanent fixture in bars, attracted by their artistic connections. Jorge Luis Borges, Victoria Ocampo, and other writers who were members of the literary circle known as the Florida Group used to gather in the tea room known as Confitería Richmond.

The legendary Tortoni

Café Tortoni, an iconic café on the famous Avenida de Mayo, was known for its artists’ club whose members included the poet Alfonsina Storni, and the painter Benito Quinquela Martín. Just a few streets away, on the corner of Calle de Peru and Avenida de Mayo, in the London City café, Julio Cortáza wrote his novel, The Winners (Los Premios).

Tazas (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

The bohemian years

The 1960s, in line with the extraordinary artistic boom that the city experienced, were the golden age of bohemian café culture in cafés such as Florida Garden and El Barbaro. The latter was founded by the painter Luis Felipe Noé, who was also the founder of the artistic group known as the New Figuration (Nueva Figuración).

Writers and journalists

In the same period, on Avenida Corrientes, Café La Paz was the venue of choice for Buenos Aires’ literary scene, playing host to journalists, students, and philosophers engaged in heated ideological debates. They included the writers Rodolfo Walsh, Ricardo Piglia, and David Viñas.

Cafeteria (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

The art of conversation

It was sitting around café tables, while being in no particular rush, that the inhabitants of Buenos Aires cultivated the art of conversation: one of the traits for which the people of this city are known.

Fachada (2021-01-20/2021-01-20) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Although bars existed during the colonial era, it was in the late 19th and 20th centuries that they began to expand from the center into local neighborhoods and the city’s outskirts.

Café (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Today, statistics suggest that there are at least 11,000 venues operating as café-bars in the capital alone.

Cartel (2021-01-20/2021-01-20) by Edgardo ReinaGustar

Whether ultra-modern or olde-worlde in their decor, cafés are immune to the passing of time, holding onto their role as a quintessential meeting place in which Argentinians and visitors alike can while away the hours for no particular reason, as they read the paper, strike a deal, or simply watch life go by. 

Credits: Story

Editor: Diego Marinelli/Text: Aníbal Mendoza

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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