It’s easy to become lazy in Buenos Aires. In central areas such as Recoleta, San Telmo and Palermo you are only stumbling distance from an array of excellent restaurants and bars. However, whilst continuing The Argentina Independent’ review of the 54 historic and notable bars of Buenos Aires, I discovered that straying a little further afield can be extremely rewarding. Tucked away in the quiet and pretty neighbourhood of Villa Devoto, is Café de García. This joint is really something special.
Run by Ruben García and his brother Hugo, the café sits proudly on the corner of Sanabria and José Pedro Varela. It was first opened in 1937 as a small café, but was increased to the size it is today in 1943. In 1950 Ruben’s parents bought the café and ran it as a family business until they sold up 1968. In 1982 the García brothers bought the bar back and have run it ever since. Ruben tells me that very little has changed about the place since the early 1980s and, “we won’t be changing much in the future”.
Spending time in Café de García is a history buff’s dream, or should that be collector’s dream, or perhaps photographer’s, or football fan’s. You name it, whatever you’re in to; Café de García has something for you. Covering the walls of the main room are photographs and pictures of famous customers (including Francis Ford Coppola), an Argentine football shirt signed by Diego Maradona, radios from the 1930s and 40s, a row of cured and salted hams hang from the ceiling and the list goes on. Somehow it isn’t imposing or crass, but utterly fascinating. I’ve visited many ‘theme’ pubs who buy in memorabilia to decorate their establishments – Café de García is the genuine article. Ruben says that many of the objects adorning the walls are gifts from customers and visitors. It certainly makes sense that such an eclectic mix of objects should have come from many sources.
As you walk into Café de García you immediately notice the black and white chequered floor that makes you feel a little as if you’ve walked into a giant board game. This isn’t too far from the truth as games definitely play a major part in the life of this bar. Two beautiful billiard tables sit towards the back of the main room and on the walls lockers guard the cues for regular players. As I sat soaking up my surroundings, a couple of guys started up a game and the sound of the cues hitting the balls resonated around the large and airy room.
Tucked away off the main room is the ‘Metodio y Carolina’ annex, named in memory of the brothers’ parents. This room is where the serious collectibles and mementos are displayed and also where customers are allowed to smoke. On the walls I discovered a copy of the Argentine constitution, some Garcia family photographs, old cutlery, jugs, locks and the odd head of a small animal. I’m sure that every visitor has a unique experience when they walk in to the annex and when full of people and swirls of smoke, you could imagine you have stepped back into another era.
Even going to the bathroom in Café de García is an experience. To reach the ladies, you pass some old ticket machines from buses (complete with tickets) , several old fashioned radios hang above you from the ceiling and the bathroom itself is full of more interesting bits and bobs to look at. In a room beside the kitchen, Ruben showed me his workbench and tools; here he carefully restores some of the donated objects and fixes anything that’s broken in the bar.
This is definitely a bar for everyone. Ruben states that the café attracts all different types of customers; men who had lost their wives, sit silently, sipping a coffee and watching the world go by; young guys who turn up to watch a football game or play a game of pool; and families and groups of friends come to catch-up over the cafe’s famous picadas. The picadas especiales are available on Thursday to Saturday from 8pm to 11pm and you are advised to make a reservation. For $80 you are treated to 30 tapas-style dishes, a glass of sparkling wine, a dessert and coffee. The rest of the week there are three or four choices of main meals a day and, if you don’t have time to eat a full meal, I’d recommend a slice of mascarpone lemon cheesecake and coffee.
Café de García is a proud place, proud of the community around it proud of its history and heritage and proud of the customers who frequent it. During my visit Ruben greeted most people as they walked through the door. This is a local’s bar, but as a visitor to Buenos Aires, I don’t think it would take too long before Ruben and his staff made you feel like a local too. On the back of the menu for the picadas especiales you will find the café’s motto: “The place, the corner, the night, the climate, the style, the people, the history, the passion, the sport, the newspaper, the coffee, the picadas, the tango, the billiards, the drink – Cafe de Garcia”. I think this is an excellent summary of what this wonderful place is all about.
Sanabria and José Pedro Varela, reservations 4501-5912. For more information visit www.cafedegarcia.com.ar. The picadas especiales are served Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8-11pm and it is necessary to reserve ahead.