Confiteria Ideal is almost 100 years old and, over the years, has served as a meeting place for artists and was once a location for the film ‘Evita’. The Buenos Aires government has designated it one of their 54 ‘Bares Historicos y Notables’ and it does indeed house two floors of opulent furnishing that harks back to a decadent early twentieth century.
However, upon entering, you would be forgiven for thinking that the place has seen better days. In the cold light of day, it lacks some of the glitter and shine so prominent in the photos displayed on the website. Nevertheless, with its ornate carving and wood panelling, the building as a whole is impressive and the peeling paint adds a touch of historic charm.
We paid $18 to join the milonga upstairs, which was quite busy for early on a Friday evening. Most of the dancers were over 50 and, with age, comes expertise. Those who feel confident in their tango shoes will have no shortage of partners. Even we, planted determinedly in our seats, received frequent offers to dance as the regulars are quite friendly here.
The staff, however, were a lot less welcoming. On arrival we upset the lady who sold us our tickets by not having the right change, causing her to sigh and shake her head dramatically with each banknote she handed over. Then once seated at a table, it took a long time to get the attention of a waiter and request some drinks – rather frustrating when it is 32°C and there is no air conditioning.
The milonga was an experience in Argentine etiquette. The ladies sat at tables lined up against the wall, fanning themselves as they awaited the next dance. The men drank at their respective tables or popped out onto the balcony for a cigarette before returning to lead the ladies around the large dance floor. The traditional tango was interspersed with 80s electronic dance music. This last element was anachronistic and detracted somewhat from the ambience.
We entertained ourselves watching the large dance floor before heading down to the actual confiteria downstairs. It seemed rather sparse and empty, but at least the waiter was more attentive than his fellow waiters upstairs – or so we thought. My colleague had not ordered anything, but, to her surprise, was presented with cafe con leche and three medialunas.
In spite of this, the coffee was hot and strong and the medialunas were soft and buttery, so we tucked in. The menu offers other standard cafe fare such as sandwiches and various types of coffee. Despite its name, Confiteria Ideal does not offer a huge variety of cakes or desserts. A coffee and three medialunas costs $12.
Around 7.30pm, staff started shuffling tables around and our waiter pointedly handed us our bill. Presumably, they were preparing for the evening tango and dinner show. After I spent a few minutes trapped in a toilet cubicle with no door handle or toilet paper, we emerged into the night to see tourists congregating at the door.
Whilst the milongas are a good opportunity for experienced tango dancers to mix with locals, those with less knowledge might do better watching their well-reputed shows. It seems like the focus of the staff is geared towards these and, as a bar in itself, it lacks in atmosphere. It is worth popping in for a good coffee and a peek at the beautiful building, but they do not allow photography inside, something we were reminded of several times.
Set in a central location with a famous name behind it, Confiteria Ideal has become accustomed to shunting its customers about without offering much in the way of service or information. When I asked for details about the bar, I was silently handed a leaflet. Architecturally and historically, this bar certainly deserves to be preserved, but I’m not convinced it deserves the prestige that comes with being on the list of ‘Bares Historicos y Notables’.