If you feel like having a coffee in a traditional spot during your trip to Buenos Aires, don’t think twice: Just head over to Café Tortoni.
On the 800 block of Avenida de Mayo, between the streets Tacuarí and Piedras, you find the city’s top gastronomic museum. Incredible though it may seem, Café Tortoni first opened its doors back in 1858 and has been preserved in perfect condition since that date. From its tall columns and the picturesque stained-glass ceilings, to the elegant suspended lighting, the marble tables, and the paintings on the wall, the combined effect creates a truly unique ambiance.
To mention the Tortoni is to speak at once of Buenos Aires past and present. Some of history’s most renowned figures including writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Federico García Lorca, and Julio Cortázar, and musicians like Arthur Rubinstein and the mythical Carlos Gardel, sat at these same tables.
You’ll immediately feel like you’ve stepped into a bar straight out of the 19th century. Back when the Tortoni’s doors first opened, there was a barbershop, a billiard hall, and an area where the local denizens could play backgammon or cards. Today, each salon has its own name commemorating the celebrities that frequented the cafe. In the Alfonsina Storni room, for example, poetry readings are often held, and works from up-and-coming artists are displayed and sold. What was once a hair salon, rechristened the Salón Cesár Tiempo, still conserves the outward look of an old time barbershop, and the adjacent bodega is the spot to see jazz and tango shows performed nightly.
Don’t miss the famous leche merengada (a base of plain ice cream, topped with milk and a touch of cinnamon) or the delicious pairing of hot chocolate and churros. If you come in the afternoon, you can choose between a beer or the acclaimed cider, both ideal for washing down the variety of meat and cheese platters available. And when the moon arrives, so too does the tango, along with all its musicians, singers and dancers. Enjoy the evening while sampling the tantalizing beef au gratin, a variety of gourmet sandwiches, and a selection from the extensive list of fine wines.
That said, you’ll need to be patient and prepared to wait. The Tortoni is a must on the tourist itinerary and groups on guided tours visit throughout the day, so long lines tend to form around the entrance. Before finishing your visit, you’ll have the chance to pick out some souvenirs to remind you of your visit. Books, mugs, key chains, and glasses are all available for purchase in the main hall.
It goes without saying that you can’t miss out on Café Tortoni, where cafe culture, history, and art come together at one of the city’s top highlights.