The prim, off-white façade of El Estaño 1880 stands out on the corner of Aristóbulo del Valle, one of La Boca’s famous derelict and colourful streets. The building, unlike the houses on the block, has been restored, and with its demure window dressings, could fit snugly on a street corner in Recoleta or Barrio Norte. It is one of Buenos Aires 54 Historic and Notable Bars.
Inside, the café is no less impeccable, and offers a glimpse in to another era. The elaborate mural on the back wall and the restored woodwork project warmth, and the tin bar – from which the cafe derives its name – speaks of a distant but tangible past.
Owner Alejandra Lorenzo, a childhood friend of the son of the original owners, explained that patrons of the café once had to leave their weapons behind the bar for safety. Nevertheless, fights would break out, leaving behind bullet holes and hachazos – blows from an axe – which can still be seen on the bar.
One block from La Boca’s stadium, fans congregate at the café before home games. But Alejandra was quick to point out that the bar usually remains calm.
“The fans who come here are a bit more highbrow. The barra brava enters the stadium on the other side,” she said. “From time to time, journalists even come here with the players for interviews.”
And this notable café also has a notable bathroom: the Buenos Aires double-decker tour bus stops here so tourists can use it.
“A few people from the bus come in to experience the café, because it’s been declared a cultural interest site, and others buy coffee or a hot drink to go, especially when it’s cold out,” said Alejandra.
Unfortunately for them, they are missing out on an engrossing menu. In addition to fiambres and milanesas, there is jumbo shrimp, and rice with saffron and seafood. The bread and pastas are homemade, and the fish is fresh on Tuesdays and Fridays. When explaining the paella, Alejandra merely kissed the tips of her fingers. For dessert, you might try the Volcán de Chocolate, which Alejandro described as “a bomb”. Or for something lighter, there is ice cream. The menu ejecutivo at lunchtime will cost you $30 pesos, and during the winter you can get lentil stew.
The café boasts a new stage, which Alejandra uses to showcase musicians from the area. But she is careful not to limit the musical offerings to what the neighbourhood is famous for – the tango.
“People come and tell me they’re interested in playing, so I let them. We’ve done jazz, bossa nova, [Argentine] rock, and folklore…because I don’t want to compete with the tango houses,” she said.
Artists also frequent the café, and Alejandra said numerous movies have been filmed here. Filmmakers value the historical authenticity of the café and the surrounding neighbourhood.
“People are looking for a vintage aesthetic that can’t be found in many places,” she said.
El Estaño 1880 is open Tuesday to Friday from 8.30am to 11pm, Saturdays from 10am to 11pm, and Sundays from 10am to 8pm.