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A Portrait of Cafe Tortoni: Where Tango History lives On

(Photo credit to Aram Kudurshian)

It had been on my To Do List for awhile and I had no particular desire to join the crush of commuters that were bound to be filling the subte from the city centre at that time.  To make matters worse, the heavens had opened up and was trying its hardest to wash away the colours of the cityscape. Did I need any more excuses to grant myself permission to take advantage of one of the many cafes in Argentina? Certainly not and it was with delight I skipped through the raindrops to Cafe Tortoni.

I pushed open the curtained wooden doors to step into a cavernous ballroom filled with marble tables. Not the only one with ideas of escaping the rain, these tables housed a variety of people enjoying coffee and medialunas. The first time visitors were easy to spot - they were the ones with their SLR cameras out. But you can not blame them. This is one of the most beautiful cafes in the world (according to UCityGuides) rating it amongst other cafes in Paris, Rome and Prague. But it is by no means pretentious, retaining the warmth and accepting nature that I have come to love about Buenos Aires, so feel free to get out your camera as you won´t be alone in oohhing and aahhing over the decor.

Located at 825 Avenida de Mayo, Cafe Tortoni was founded in 1858, making it one of the oldest and most famous cafes in the country.  Its founder was a French immigrant (Touan) who named the cafe after an establishment on the Boulevard des Italiens in Paris.  Within its wood panelled walls, have sat some notable artists including tango singer Carlos Gardel and literary great, Jorge Luis Borges.  Apparently, Gardel used to drop by the cafe regularly, and on one occasion brought in his guitarists and gave a performance of Piradello´s plays. Tango still remains an important part of Tortoni and there are regular tango shows here. In 1979, Hector Negro penned the tango ´Viejo Tortoni´ which was dedicated to the cafe and sung by Eladia Blázquez.  Its beautiful lyrics describe the cafe as a living entity with its history alive and breathing.

Back in my era, the only table left was squeezed in the corner, from which I could survey almost the entire cafe. Waiters swarmed around the bar that runs down the side of the cafe, collecting many plates of medialunas to distribute to the hungry customers. The cups proudly display the Cafe Tortoni logo which notes the 2008 date when celebrations for its age began.  The walls are littered with paraphernalia linking its history to the present and one need only sit back and breath to feel a sense of nostalgia. The other great thing about cafes here in Buenos Aires is that you never feel rushed so I was able to sit back and savour the taste of the coffee and warm medialunas that had been served to me.

There are a significant number of notable cafes in Buenos Aires (around sixty) which are recognised as official Cultural Heritage sites and are given the name ´Bares Notables´. Cafe Tortoni is one that you must, without a doubt, take time to visit.

Things to Know

Cafe Tortoni

825 Avenida De Mayo, Buenos Aires

Being in the centre of town, this cafe is very easy to get to. It is very close to the subte line C (Avenida De Mayo station) and several blocks from Plaza De Mayo where the Casa Rosada stands.

Tango shows are also a regular event. See http://www.cafetortoni.com.ar/html/shows.html for information.


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