Reservations can be made same day or in advance, deposit or in full, with the LandingPadBA staff under the Esquina Carlos Gardel Tango Show listing.
There are few places which encapsulate the age-old sophistication of Buenos Aires tango like Esquina Carlos Gardel. Located just off Avenida Corrientes next to the art-deco monolith that is the Abasto mall, the venue’s exterior is a whitewashed façade you could easily walk past unaware of its standing in Argentina’s most famous musical tradition. Step inside, however, and you enter another world, one reminiscent of the scene’s 1920s heyday, when Argentina was among the world’s wealthiest countries, and rich tourists flocked to see the greatest tango legend of them all, the man who gives his name to both the street and the venue, and whose statue just outside reminds visitors that, sometimes, it’s impossible to separate the artist from his studio: in this case, the maestro Carlos Gardel and the locale which bears his name and illuminates his memory.
A bit of history
The great man lived just a couple of streets from here, in the shadows of the immense Abasto fruit and vegetable market. The short walk home each night was probably a factor in Gardel making this his establishment of choice, which back then was a restaurant by the name of Chanta Cuatro. For Gardel and his pals, it was not only a place to perform, but a meeting point for fellow musicians and their ilk, the vibrant epicenter of a musical style fast growing in popularity, not just in Buenos Aires, but all over the country and as far away as the grand old cities of Europe, where upper-class visitors to Buenos Aires would return with new-found tastes for the ‘exotic’ music people were crazy about in that faraway place. But the foreign crowds congregated in the fashionable theaters along the Avenidas Corrientes and 9 de Julio, maybe only a handful of blocks away but completely removed from the heady crowds who’d frequent Chanta Cuatro, the market workers, the barrow boys, the immigrants and so on, a microcosm of Buenos Aires working-class society that instantly embraced the music to its collective bosom.
So, when I step through the door and see for the first time the full glitz and glamour of what was once Chanta Cuatro, I can’t help but think “well, things must have changed since then.” Entering the place for the first time is akin to travelling back in time to the lavish theaters in which well-heeled porteños and tourists were so keen to be seen. The velvet curtains drape over the stage in a thick shade of blood-crimson, chandeliers like the sparkling crown jewels hang overhead and everything seems plated in gold. Although this may very well be brass. I decide to rob some of the furnishings and sell them later, see what kind of a price I get. But I then forget.
I’m led by to the upper tier overlooking the entire ballroom. It’s a great spot, with an eagle’s eye view of the stage, still covered by those red drapes. The last time I had a view like this I needed to be given oxygen. But here, a glass of champagne is enough to ensure my physical strength and ability to endure the show. I love the balcony perspective, it makes me feel ready to hurl either insults or roses. Depends on the performance, I guess.
Food and drink
It’s my third proper tango show in Buenos Aires and without doubt the best food I’ve come across so far. There are only three main options (meat, fish, vegetarian) but each one sounds arousing. As my lifestyle prohibits regular seafood consumption, it’s easy to choose: tiger prawns wrapped in pancetta on a bed of cherry tomatoes. This is followed by an exquisitely tender cut of beef loin with a dab of cheese-flecked mashed potato. The food sits on my plate like a horny peacock flaunting its feathers, demanding attention, while the chocolate mousse is the finest I’ve ever tasted. They’re generous here as well, my wine glass is never allowed to fall below a certain level, while further chocolates treats are brought to the table even as I’m bloatedly rolling around like a soccer ball in the wind.
The tango show
The dancers are a talented mob, and there are moves, which mainly involve the girls being hurled round their partners’ heads at breakneck speeds, that I have yet to see elsewhere. There is also a lot of attention paid to sets, with the backdrop of a social club rolled out at one point for our heroes to enact the courtship rituals of days gone by (persistent admirer, coy temptress, disapproving mother etc). There are even some smiles thrown out to the audience, an ice-breaking touch not always seen in the intense seriousness of professional tango shows. One particular couple seem barely old enough to be up this late, their charmingly innocent sequences in contrast with the steamy moves of some of their older colleagues. I later find out these kids are in a Gotan Project video (for ‘Rayuela’) with over a million Youtube views so they’re obviously stars. Good for them, the little cherubs.
My main complaint is the lack of a grand finale where all the dancers come together for the final shebang. Of course, everything is slickly and sweetly choreographed but the show does seem to end rather abruptly. But from my precious vantage point, I can easily say that this has been the highlight of my fledgling tango appreciation career, a spectacle of dynamic exhilaration and rich indulgence. And I won’t be needing a chocolate fix for at least six months.