Cafe Tortoni, at 825 Avenida de Mayo, is one of Buenos Aires oldest and most famous milongas, or tango clubs.
It was opened in 1858 by a Monsieur Tuon, a French immigrant, who named and modelled his Cafe Tortoni after a famous Fin de siecle coffeehouse on Boulevard des Italiens in Paris. He hoped that, just like the Parisian Café Tortoni, the new Buenos Aires establishment would attract the intelligentia, the literati and the elite of the artistic set. It did, particularly after the famous basement room La Pena, opened in 1926. Among the artists and writers who aired their ideas there were the poet Jorge Luis Borges and the artist Benito Quinquela Martin.
And of course the tango served as a backdrop and most probably an inspiration to their creativity.
The society of La Pena slowly disintegrated during the 1940s, but Café Tortoni had earned a reputation as a Buenos Aires landmark. Over the years famous figures from all over the world have visited, including Albert Einstein and Hillary Clinton.
Nowadays the basement of Cafe Tortoni is a theatre restaurant with up to four shows a day. And what a show! We sat spellbound as a quartet of dancers, to the music of a small orchestra, danced out the story of the tango, from its birth in the bordellos of La Boca to the brilliant work of art it is today.
Upstairs at street level, Cafe Tortoni is just as entertaining. It’s a great place to enjoy a drink, people watch and bask in an ambiance of old Beuenos Aires.