What? Café / Restaurant
Where? Chile 502 y Bolivar
Menu (Spanish) / Website (English) / Open everday, from 8am until late / Mapa interactivo
This is – in my humble (but extremely tasteful) opinion – the best café in San Telmo. It reeks of past glories, has an agreeable upstairs section, and serves good picadas. There’s even a guy playing the piano sometimes. The area with the low ceiling can get a little stuffy on hot days, and the size of the menu is likely to induce choice paralysis; but apart from that, no trip to San Telmo – perhaps even Buenos Aires itself – would be complete without a trip to La Poesía.
I had brought my friend Max to La Poesia because I thought it represented a slice of the ‘authentic’ Buenos Aires, the world of burdeles (brothels) and milongas (tango halls) and bohemian cafes where weighty chunks of cured ham hang from the ceilings, entangled in chorizo sausages like vines climbing a trunk, and where the counters stink pleasantly of wood polish.
Of course, my image of authentic Buenos Aires is entirely nostalgic and completely false. But entering La Poesia can make you believe in the fiction. There really are big bits of ham hanging like white cocoons, and there really are people sitting around reading and writing and looking, well, bohemian.
“We will now play a few tangos,” said a voice from below, much to my delight. Max would only be here for a week or so and my itinerary for him included various days entitled “Classic Buenos Aires,” so the prospect of live tango in a café effectively killed two birds with one stone. I crossed El Boliche de Roberto off the list; now we wouldn’t need to go there.
The pianist began smashing away at the bass chords and, in truth, I was glad that we were sitting in the upstairs section. But neverthless, the sense of being in Buenos Aires itself, a city with its own identity, was overwhelming. Here was not a city that was a grandiose but failed imitation of Paris. Nor was it like any other Latin American city, distinguished by their eternal bustle and ubiquitous knick-knack shops and dire concrete buildings. No, here was something that only Buenos Aires had. I leaned back, satisfied, and tried to make out the words (without success, as usual).
La Poesía is known for its illustrious former patrons: poets and artists and writers, some of whose names feature on plaques at the corner of the tables. To most people the names would mean nothing, but to a a tango afficionado they might ring a bell – Horacio Ferrer, Ruben Derlís, the important-sounding ‘Group of Seven.’ There’s even a video of Ferrer singing Lulú (written about his wife, who he met at the café) in the café itself.
The owners – who also own El Federal down the road – try to keep the cultural legacy of La Poesía going with various talks and photo exhibitions and gastronomic tidbits, but I must confess I have not been to a single one. As much as I love hearing about the delicacies of the language of tango, lunfardo, I suspect that I should try to understand my friend Juan in normal conversation before entering that particular labyrinth.