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Buenos Aires Tango shows: Cafe de los Angelitos

Nick MacWilliam

By | August 13, 2014 | Leave a comment

tango shows in buenos aires

To reserve a Café de los Angelitos tango show or you can browse all the tango shows. We have only included the best quality shows (in our humble opinions) that are worth your while. Feel free to email us as well if you are having trouble choosing! Also consider trying your hand at a private tango lesson with Alejandro Puerta (for beginners to advanced), a very relaxed and fun instructor in the San Telmo neighborhood.

It’s sensual, provocative, and charged with sexual chemistry. But that’s enough about my daily interaction with Buenos Aires bus drivers. Let’s talk tango. If you’re seeking this most quintessential of Argentinean traditions, even more so than beef, football or precipitous economic tottering, there are few places as steeped in the rich tapestry of porteño culture as El Café de los Angelitos in Balvanera.

Tonight I’m going to the café, one of the city’s best-known venues, which has thoughtfully sent a minibus to pick up my partner and me. I’m not quite important enough to warrant my own personal chauffeur service, so we stop by a hotel for a group of Brazilians. It’s then a short ride across town, an entertaining journey through the Buenos Aires nightlife microcosm, to the famous café.

A bit of history

El Café de los Angelitos is a true institution. Founded by Italian immigrant Bautisto Fazio in 1890 under the original name of the Bar Rivadavia, the joint garnered something of a salacious reputation for the clientele it attracted. Each night, the Rivadavia would be packed out with rascals and players (known as compadritos or malandras), the hipsters of the day, who came here with their slick moves and natty threads for one thing: to impress the girls. The cavernous wooden interior echoed nightly with the sound of laughter, arguments, chinking glasses and, of course, music, as mustachioed waiters carrying trays stacked with drinks weaved expertly in and out of the uproarious throng.

But the café’s spot in history is largely down to its association with Carlos Gardel and his musical partner José Razzano, who were regular performers as tango’s appeal spread far beyond the humble neighborhoods from where it originated. The café was synonymous with the regional form of freestyle verse, the payada, in which musicians would go head-to-head for hours or even days in improvisational dueling. In the 1920s, the café became a popular spot among left-wing circles, thanks to its proximity to the offices of the Socialist Party. It attracted the likes of Alfredo Palacios, one of Argentina’s most renowned 20th century politicians, who could be found here on various nights of the week, cigar in one hand and brandy in the other, immersed in the sweet, mournful tones of Gardel and other singers from across Buenos Aires.

Nowadays you’re more likely to rub shoulders with tourists or well-off Argentinean evening-trippers than the jovial scoundrels who used to frequent los Angelitos. It’s undoubtedly been spruced up since it was reopened in 1997, following 15-odd years of closure due to economic crisis, but step through the doors and the sense of history is evident in the opulent interior and the photographs charting the café’s distinguished lifespan.

What’s Cafe de los Angelitos like?

Upon arrival, we’re immediately shuffled through to a theater-style performance space, with an upper-level tier and rows of tables set out like at a wedding reception. The dinner menu screams elegance in my uncultured face. I opt for rolls of prosciutto, basil and confit tomatoes with guacamole and mixed green leaves, while my companion orders marinated salmon tartare in soy, ginger and honey in avocado and cherry compression. Giddy with anticipation from the descriptions alone, there’s not long to wait. The prosciutto is perfectly salted, and the avocado is excellent, although the doughy wrap leaves me worried about how I’ll manage the main course, as it turns out, with good reason.

If, like me, you’re the kind of person who after a big meal could do with six hours floating face-down in a swimming pool, then perhaps the sirloin steak is not the best bet. It is rather on the large side. This is generally a good thing, of course, although here it leaves me wallowing in shamed over-indulgence. I nevertheless valiantly polish off the caramel dessert.

The tango show

Any gluttony-related guilt dissipates once the lights come up and that instantly-recognizable music begins to play. The house band inhabits an elevated platform above the stage, every note as unfathomably sharp as the angles in an Escher painting. The stage comes to life in a blur of color and movement, as five couples skim across the boards, their bodies entwined in immaculate harmony. The sheer speed and coordination of the dancers is mesmerizing, all flailing limbs (some of which, by the way, are tremendous) and multiple twirls that make Michael Jackson look like Jabba the Hutt.

The Café de los Angelitos show is delivered in a series of dance numbers, sometimes featuring several couples, other times just the single pair, each based around a different scenario: the grand ball, gangsters and molls, washer-women, tropical rhythms and so on. The sheer variation and musical range ensure it never gets dull, far from it, as the curiosity of what’s coming next, and the many costume changes, keep the curiosity utterly piqued.

The female dancers are a wondrous blend of elegance and allure, effortlessly gliding over the floor or spinning through the air. Their expressions are frozen throughout, even as their partners fling them skywards perilously close to the abyss at the front of the stage. The men are impeccable, the dapper kind who’ll cut your throat and leave you dead while you’re still admiring your reflection in their slicked-back hair. It’s magnificently choreographed and stunningly performed. I’m soon met with the realization that, as someone who normally takes to dance shows like they’ve got herpes, I’m having a bloody great time.

Once it’s all over, and it seems to fly by, I’ve enjoyed myself more than I’d ever imagined. Judging from the pleasurable moans emanating from nearby tables during the show, I’m not the only one. Or perhaps the passionate aura has affected my fellow diners even more than it’s penetrated my own sensory glands. Outside, the minibus is waiting to transport my swollen gut and aroused emotional state back to wherever it is I live. It’s been a night to remember.

To see what I thought about the other tango shows:
Viejo Almacen
Esquina Carlos Gardel

Related: What tango show to see in Buenos Aires?

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