They don’t make cafés for writers like Tortoni anymore – certainly not in the West of Buenos Aires anyway. So I’m wondering if I should make a trip into the capital with my notebook to breathe the coffee-scented secrets in Buenos Aires’ historic literary haunt. I’m a little lacking in spark and flair in my writing at the moment. I need a shot of inspiration and what’s better than a café doble in the presence of Argentina’s past great writers? But do famous literary cafes like Café Tortoni still inspire writers today? Am I missing out in the West?
Built in 1858, Café Tortoni is famous for its longevity but mainly for its literary clientele. Writers like Jorge Luis Borges and poets Alfonsina Storni, Atahualpa Yupanqui and Rubén Darío stopped by for a cafecito. The mirrored walls are hung with plaques and posters and pictures of solemn-faced men and women writing Great Things.
If they wanted to write poetry today they’d probably have to wait 15 minutes outside for a table, such is the popularity of Café Tortoni with tourists. That would interrupt the flow somewhat. As would the price ($30 pesos for a cafe con leche is somewhat beyond the budget of a starving artist.) Today Café Tortoni is less a place to sit taking stock of your ideas and working through plots than it is a place on the tourist trail to take photos.
Cafés like literary Tortoni are inspiring, for their gilt-draped decor and the busy hum and clatter of the visitors and waiters, and for their sense of literary history – but they don’t make me want to bury myself in my notebook and give myself over to the creative muse.
Give me one of Buenos Aires’ classic cafés like Plaza Café Dorrego, with real clientele as well as history attached. Or a Starbucks in San Telmo, a Havanna in Haedo; places where the flirting couple banter next to the stressed laptop-pounder in his suit, and the waiters don’t care you’ve been scribbling for three hours. BA writers – the literary spirits have left Tortoni. They are hovering around your local café, so long as you open your imagination to their presence.
Avenida de Mayo 829
Café Plaza Dorrego