Buenos Aires and its Cafès

As soon as you set foot in the center of Buenos Aires it is obvious that you are in a city with a cosmopolitan flare that is, at the same time, European.

Antonio Di Monaco

The main streets, called ‘avenidas’, flaunt a mixture of surprising styles, influenced by Italian, Spanish and French architects, offering tourists that unique blend that makes Buenos Aires one of the mosts ought-after destinations in the world. One of the architects who left his mark most notably on the buildings of Buenos Aires is the Italian Amilcare Duelli, whose splendidly elegant design is still considered today to be an intrinsic part of the layout of the city. Various streets offer a truly traditional Argentinean custom: a coffee together with books. These warm and welcoming establishments open all day long, serve good coffee combined with pleasant reading,thus offering the best possible companion.... a book. The city of Buenos Aires is teeming with attractions for both its in habitants and tourists alike. The rich calendar of cultural events, the theatres, bookshops, historical districts and cafés are only some of the many attractions that captivate people strolling through its streets. Some cafés and libraries have decided to join forces to offer some of the more significant and traditional pleasures of the city all under one roof. Together with choosing books, it is now possible to savor a steaming cup of coffee and other delicacies while enjoying the pages of a renowned or lesser-known author. Hence reading becomes a pleasure for the mind as well as for the palate and the break becomes a chance to browse through the shelves, choose a title and indulge in a little reading accompanied by an excellent cup of coffee.

We would like to offer you a “virtual” trip through a choice selection of café notables, a veritable haven for coffee lovers, worshipped by both the porteño – the inhabitants of Buenos Aires – and tourists from all over the world. There are officially 54 cafés throughout the city that are retained “notables” for several different reasons, among which their refined architecture, their importance due to the location and their historical appeal, jealously guarded in the evocative furnishings and memoirs of the important characters who patronized them.


Café Tortoni. Café Tortoni is the emblem of Buenos Aires though little is known about its origins other than the fact that it was opened at the end of 1858 by a French immigrant named Touan. The name was subsequently borrowed by a Parisian establishment situated on the Boulevard des Italiens, where the 19th century cultural elite of France gathered.

At the end of the century the café was bought by another Frenchman, Don Celestino Curutchet, described by the poet Iragorri Allende as being old and wise with a strong body and great spirit,with bright eyes, very fashionable, and who often wore a beret made of black Arabic silk. He resembled a cartoon character and in time, this characteristic became a valuable attribute to the place.

During that period the Café Tortoni was visited by a group of artists, writers, journalists and musicians who formed the ‘People’s Association for Art and Literature’ led by Benito Quinquela Martin. InMay 1926 Don Curutchet was asked for permission to use the underground cellar. The owner was only too happy to grant this permission as, in his words, “... artists cost very little but add luster and prestige to the Café...”

Today, life seems to have stood still here. People play cards and billiards or simply have a coffee together;the scene resembles those depicted in early photographs. Café Tortoni is without doubt one of the fundamental venues in the history of Buenos Aires.


Jorge Luis Borges. We cannot but envy anyone who has had the good fortune to hear the early morningor late afternoon conversations between Borges and Centeya about popular language, while Julio Decaroand Carlos Mastronardi - the latter author of “Luz de Provincia” - listened to the reminiscencesof José Luis Lanuza and Cañas Carlos drew at the table shared by the most esteemed intellectuals ofthat time.


Quinquela. Don Quinquela, who was not only an artist but also a great organizer, had transferred the ‘People’s Association for Art and Literature’ to the Café Tortoni and made it famous through out Buenos Aires under the nickname “la Peña” or “la Peña di Tortoni”.


Carlos Gardel. As well as housing “la Peña”, Café Tortoni also became a small stage for tango. The tango legend Don Carlos Gardel sang a tribute to Juan de Dios Filiberto here.


Alfonsina Storni. A couple of the walls of the establishment are dedicated to the poet Alfonsina Storni, who for a number of years helped to make the underground café even more prestigious. The welcoming atmosphere with its tables, table cloths and chairs encouraged rest, reflection and inspiration and writers, artists and bohemians often remained to listen to her at length.


El Ateneo Grand Splendid. This is one of the largest bookshops in Latin America and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. The building, which was the former Grand Splendid Theater, was designed by architects Pero and Torres Armengol. It opened in 1919. The great hall was a mustfor all theater, cinema and music lovers of the time. In its halls tango legends from Carlos Gardel to Membrives Lola gave performances and some of the first silent movies were shown here accompanied by orchestras playing live tango music. With the introduction of sound a love story called The Divine Lady was shown and went down in history as being a famous event which saw the participation of the crème de la crème of the Buenos Aires’ society as well as the paparazzi of the time.

Still today it is possible to walk along the corridors lined with books and note the captivatingly splendid architecture that has been knowingly preserved. One room not be missed is the pleasant cafeteria whose dome painted in 1919 by Nazareno Orlandi offers an allegorical representation of peace, depicted as a party held to celebrate the end of the Great War. Paul Auster, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ernesto Sabato, Andres Rivera and Mario Benedetti are a few of the authors who have chosen to present their work in this incredible building. The structure is spread out over 2,000m² with more than four floors of exhibition space and holds 120,000 titles for sale in the store. One section has been converted into a shop selling music and films on DVD.


Clásica y Moderna. This emblematic site portraying the culture of this Argentinean city was deemed so important as to be decreed an area of cultural heritage. Don Francisco Pobletand his wife Rosa Ferreiro founded Clásica y Moderna in 1938.

Since 1987 this site has become a platform linking together books, music, coffee and delicious cuisine. Today Clásica y Moderna is managed by Natu Poblet, who is responsible for there fined and sparklingly artistic play bill which offers a different program every day. Clásica y Moderna is without doubt an internationally renowned landmark not to be missed.


Crack Up. Situated in the heart of Palermo, one of the trendiest and most famous districts of Buenos Aires, this establishment mixes a bookshop, a café and an area dedicated to events and seminars. A small, quality publishing house operates within the building and allows visitors to enter offering them a variety of publications, works by new authors, contemporary poetry and young narratives which help make Buenos Aires a state-of-the-art literary city. While this is not a true bookshop, it is possible to find some rare gems and reasonably priced volumes.


Eterna Cadencia. The warm welcome offered by its rooms characterizes this bookshop and has allowed Eterna Cadencia to gain a position of respect in the Buenos Aires circuit. You cross the threshold and feel immediately at home. Eterna Cadencia houses a beautiful bookshop and café as well as a room for meetings and a publishing house for young authors and new talents in Argentinean literature like Diego Guebel or Guillermo Piro.


Cuspide. Its prestigious premises on Florida Street together with the possibility of savoring delicious cakes and snacks in a comfortable atmosphere during book reviews have made this establishment one of the most sought after in the city. Its location in the very heart of Buenos Aires makes it easily accessible to a vast public including tourists eager to immerse them selves in local literature.

It is possible to order books and this service is widely used and appreciated by those who wish to seek out books which are hard to find or rare.


There has been a sort of coffee war in Buenos Aires for some time now. It all started quietly whena few chain stores started offering coffee in different sizes with varied ingredients and origins and groundin different ways, ending with the advent of iced coffee and Frappuccinos with a distinctly American flavor -very popular and available all over the city. Some peaceful, sleepy old cafés and retro bars have kept to their original style while others have opted for the coffee-brioche-buttered toast banner based on the high quality of their product. These are the top ten establishments fighting the chain phenomenon in favor of a healthy, old-fashioned nostalgia; cafés where a cup of coffee is just an excuse to have a chat, read or simply enjoy the pleasure of whiling away the time in small sips.


1. Bohemian café: La Giralda. Eccentric characters, avid readers, poets, artists and fanatics are only partof the fundamental scenery of La Giralda. The truth is that between its walls made of wood and tiles,it is a pleasure to breathe in the Bohemian atmosphere and smell the unforgettable aroma of hotchocolate in timeless surroundings.

2. Football fans’ café: El Banderin. This bar which was born in the 1920s still has a retro feel. It is jampacked with soccer team flags from all over the world, photographs of players and illustrations oftan go linked to the most popular sport in Argentina. The coffee is excellent savored in this picturesque atmosphere: a noisy world where soccer, tango and impassioned chatter bond together.

3. Café Cosmopolitan. This remains a remarkable spot where cosmopolitan customers flock in the form of hundreds of tourists coming from all over the world who wander incessantly through the rooms. It is a high spot with 150 years of history behind it and a fundamental part of the city’s cultural heritage. There is no doubt that it must be seen at least once in a lifetime.

4. Bar Oviedo. Matadeiros is a district historically well-known to courageous men and the Bar Oviedo 1900 is inkeeping with the district that houses it. It was founded at the beginning of the century when time seems to have stopped for this bar.

5. Café Esquina Homero Manzi. Café Esquina Homero Manzi is situated in San Juan and Boedo, a well-known corner of the city made famous by Homero in his tango lyrics. The bar, founded in 1927, has become the symbol of urban culture since the 1940s. Every evening fantastic and surprising exhibitions can be seen on the stage that attract a packed international and local audience.

6. La Perla de Caminito. It seems that absolutely everyone has been to the La Perla café to see the photographs of a smiling Bill Clinton, Diego Maradona and Marcello Mastroianni. The walls of the Boca are full of color, culture and history and this is the place to sip a coffee while enjoying the view of the colorfully painted houses of the district. Prices are high but are off-set by the atmosphere and courtesy of the staff.

7. Bar El Federal. El Federal is one of the café notables which has remained faithful to its history. Its appearance dates back to a 19th century general store with a bar and an old cash register made of wood. Among its specialties worthy of note is the coffee laced with rum and cinnamon. The house favorite, the Grand Federal, is also worth a try.

8. 24 /7 coffee: British Bar. This bar is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It was closed in 2006 only to open again very much as it was before. An environment oozing with charm, excellent for coffee and breakfast but also for the freshly made pizza. The perfect choice? The Napoletana.

9. Café Los 36 Billares. This café is recognized as being one of the main pillars of the porteña tradition with its115 years of history. Los 36 Billares is situated on one of the main streets of the city, Avenida de Mayo.A number of famous people in the history of Argentinean culture like Federico Garcia Lorca, Abelardo Arias, Miguel Angel Bavio Esquiù have sat at these tables. One thing not to be missed is coffee 36,a double espresso coffee with cream, Baileys, cinnamon and chocolate.

10. Nostalgia Café. Entering the Nostalgia Café is like taking a trip back intime: vintage car accessories, antique ornaments, collectable baby carriages and old prints adorn the walls. The café is situated on the ground floor of a 1935 building which was originally a funeral parlor, a pizzeria andfinally a fruit and vegetable store. The area outside is very pleasant with tables looking out on the street, as is the area inside where it is possible to have coffee, lunch or dinner, all served with exquisite care by the family who have passed on the tradition from generation to generation. This is a place where it is possible to observe the present with a nostalgic eye on the past.


Buenos Aires is a game of contrasts, a black and white film colored by energy and vitality.

Its cafés are a meeting point for art, literature, culture and history; a unique mixture of the bustle of city life interwoven with its diversities. Now if all this does not arouse your curiosity...

  • Café Tortoni
  • Café Tortoni
  • El Ateneo Grand Splendid
  • Cuspide
  • Crack Up
  • Café Eterna Cadencia
  • Café Girlanda
  • Café El Banderin
  • Bar Oviedo
  • La Perla
  • Homero Manzi
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