Café culture is central to the life of porteños, as the people who live in Buenos Aires are called. They get together to talk about anything and everything over a cup of coffee and usually a couple of medialunas (the local version of croissants, sweeter and denser than the regular ones). There is no set time for a quick coffee and these cafés open very early in the morning and stay open until after midnight. Revelers have somewhere to have a late snack or an early breakfast in a city that hardly ever sleeps.
Coffee lovers can choose from a variety of coffee drinks, from café solo (straight espresso) to cortado (coffee with a dash of milk) to lágrima (3 parts hot milk, 1 part coffee) to café con leche (similar to café latte and café au lait). Coffee is served either in a pocillo, or demitasse, or jarrito, bigger than a pocillo and made of glass. Most cafés serve something sweet to nibble on like a small cookie alongside the coffee.
The local authorities have recognized 73 of the city’s bars and cafes as part of the local heritage for various reasons, like their architectural design, they history, or relevant historical or cultural events that took place in them.
Some of these cafes are famous by virtue of their well-known customers. World renowned Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges used to frequent La Biela, a café in the posh neighbourhood of Recoleta. The owners paid homage to Borges by installing a sculpture of him and his writer friend Adolfo Bioy Casares at their usual table, close to the door. La Biela is a wonderful place to see and be seen. Sitting at one of the pavement tables under the shade on the hundred-year-old rubber tree makes for a pleasant way to while away an afternoon.
La Biela: Avenida Quintana 600. Open every day from 7 am to 2 am.
Café Tortoni is the oldest establishment in the city and has been around since 1858. Artists and especially tango singers used to gather here. The Academia Nacional del Tango has its headquarters in the building above. Tortoni is also famous for its draft cider and the chocolate con churros, a steaming cup of dense hot chocolate with churros, crispy outside and chewy inside. I’ve seen people line up outside waiting for a table in the afternoon. It is a very popular venue.
Café Tortoni: Avenida de Mayo 825. Open every day from 8 am to 1 am.
Confiteria Las Violetas, founded in 1884, retains the old-world charm of Tiffany lamps and beautiful stained glass windows, oak floors and a sweeping staircase. On a more mundane level, their afternoon tea combo is loaded with treats, from sandwiches de miga (tea sandwiches) to cake to pan dulce fruit cake to toasted sandwiches and toast with butter and jam. And that’s just for one although two or more can easily share and bring leftovers home. Tea or coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice are included.
Confitería Las Violetas. Avenida Rivadavia 3899. Open every day from 6 am to 1 am.
Los 36 Billares, founded in 1894, is a café and billiards hall. Billiards tournaments are held in the basement and they have live music shows upstairs. The ground floor is so long that it reaches the street behind. There are a couple of snooker tables and a small stage for live music. The wood paneling, the checkerboard floor and bronze light fixtures take you back to olden times.
Los 36 Billares: Avenida Rivadavia 1258. Mondays through Thursdays from 7 am to 2 am. Fridays from 7am to 3 am. Saturdays from 7 am to 4 am. Sundays from 7 am to 1 am.
Clásica y Moderna is a café founded in 1938 where patrons can listen to live music, poetry readings or browse the bookstore at the back. It actually started as a bookstore but the founder’s heirs added the café in the late 1980s. The idea is to promote the arts though exhibitions, concerts, poetry readings and plays. I went there for lunch and a gentleman was playing tango on the piano.
Clásica y Moderna: Avenida Callao 892. Mondays through Saturdays from 9 am to 1 am. Closed on Sundays.
Ana Astri-O’Reilly is a bilingual travel blogger and writer. She is originally from Argentina but lives in Dallas with her husband. Besides writing for her blogs, Ana Travels and Apuntes Ideas Imagenes http://apuntesideasimagenes.