Travel Journal – Cafe Tortoni, Bueno Aires

33 - Cafe Tortoni Exterior

One of my favourite places to visit in Buenos Aires is the famous Cafe Tortoni, the historical haunt of the literati, including writer Jorge Luis Borges, painter Molina Campos and the poet Joana de Ibarbourou.

14 - Cafe Tortoni

Other famous figures to have visited the cafe include Albert Einstein, Hillary Clinton and the current King of Spain.

15 - Cafe Tortoni

A lot of people have commented on Cafe Tortoni having become incredibly touristy, but I don’t think it’s as touristy as a lot of other places I’ve been to. True, the clientele is mainly tourists. But that doesn’t deter from the cafe’s beautiful interior and the elegant, historical atmosphere that still imbibes the place, leftover from its famous personages. I’m such a huge sucker for historical cafes and bars where artists, philosophers and writers of past generations used to hang out that I didn’t really care, I just loved checking out old places like this and soaking in the atmosphere.

16 - Cafe Tortoni pictures on wall

Immortalised in a corner of the cafe are wax figurines of three of the cafe’s famous patrons – the writer Jorge Luis Borges, tango singer and songwriter Carlos Gardel and the feminist poet Alfonsina Storni.

17 - Cafe Tortoni wax figurines

I’m always in awe of the huge range of artistic and literary talents and thinkers that have come out of South America, producing people like Silvina Ocampo, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Pauo Coelho, Manuel Puig, Victor Montoya, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Isabel Allende and Julio Cortazar, I always laugh to remember a CIA report describing Che Guevara as ‘fairly intellectual for a Latino.’

Interestingly, one of the places outside Europe where literary salons flourished was in South America where these gatherings were called tertulia. Mariquita Sanchez, in particular, was a famous salonnière in  Argentina and it was at her house where the Argentine National Anthem was sung for the first time in May 1813.

18 - Cafe Tortoni men

Above: the men of Cafe Tortoni and below – the Belle Dames of Tortoni!

19 - Cafe Tortoni Belle DamesThese days, the cafe still caters to the arts as it has a library and games room at the back, and also a small stage in a back room where jazz and tango performances are held. When my friends and I visited the cafe during the day, we decided also to purchase tickets for the tango performance that night.

21 - Cafe Tortoni

This waiter here seemed a little amused by the fact that my friends and I were taking pictures of ouselves in the restaurant before the empty stage! Side note: I’ve read reviews about ‘waiters with attitude’ at Cafe Tortoni on Trip Advisor, but I have to say that that was definitely not our experience during the few times we visited the cafe. All the waiters were incredibly lovely and polite and went out of their way to be extremely helpful every time we visited the cafe. And though the food is kind of overpriced, the meals were decent (as was the wine!).

34 - Cafe Tortoni Waiter

I’ve also read about people having their wallets and bags stolen at the cafe, but once again, that was not our experience and we actually felt really safe in the cafe, more so even than on the streets of Buenos Aires though I would comment once again that in our experience, we felt really safe throughout our entire stay in Argentina. Maybe it was just luck for us and I definitely don’t want to jinx it for myself, but then again, I would always recommend that as a rule, anyone travelling anywhere should always remain vigilant about their surroundings and never leave their belongings lying around or loosely hanging off their arms.

There were several tango dances included in the performance that night and they also incorporated some acting in Spanish which unfortunately none of us understood except my Colombian friend! I would recommend that visitors to South America take some rudimentary Spanish courses and download a Spanish phrasebook app on your phone to carry around which is what me and my other non-Spanish-speaking friend did as it really helped us a lot. We also picked up lots of Spanish while we were in South America – unfortunately, I think I’ve forgotten most of it now!

35 - Cafe Tortoni tango

It was so much fun watching the dancers and checking out their costume changes and their shoes. I’m always reminded of the scenes in Evita which incorporated dancing and how beautifully their feet moved.

36 - Cafe Tortoni tango

37 - Cafe Tortoni tango

A jazzy moment in dim lighting featuring the musicians.

38 - Cafe Tortoni musicians

39 - Cafe Tortoni tango

At the end of the performance, we hung around and checked out some of the memorabilia on display at the cafe. There are also souvenirs for sale in the gift shop which include some really nice items that would make great gifts for friends or family back home – one of our group ended up getting a Tortoni mug for her dad. We had it wrapped carefully and basically went in terror of the mug breaking throughout the rest of our trip in South America as Buenos Aires was the first stop on our trip and we had so many other places to visit!

40 - Cafe Tortoni - memorabilia

It was a great place to visit and take in some historical aspects of Buenos Aires. I would definitely recommend the Cafe Tortoni to all visitors to Buenos Aires and would certainly revisit the place again if I ever come back to Buenos Aires!


    • MarilynChin

      The Historic Cafes Tour sounds great, Analie! I wish we’d known about it because it sounds like it would have been a great addition to our trip. That book shop sounds like a must-visit if I ever go back to Buenos Aires! Thanks for sharing 🙂


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