“Everything can be killed except nostalgia for the kingdom, we carry it in the colour of our eyes, in every love affair, in everything that deeply torments and unties and tricks.”
Perhaps it is with this wistful yearning and romance – a hark back to a bygone epoch – that Café Cortázar, the first bar themed on the literary giant, has come to be.
Julio Cortázar was an Argentine novelist, writer, translator, intelectual, and essayist. He played a vital part in the Latin American literature boom which emerged during the 1960s and 1970s, with many famous works including the iconic Rayuela (Hopscotch).
The core values of surrealism, magical realism, symbolism, and Borgesian fantasy were present throughout most of Cortázar’s work. He was known politically to have supported Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution, Salvador Allende in Chile, and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. In 1981 he became a French citizen, and lived his final years in Paris speaking out against Argentina’s military dictatorship of the time.
Back in Buenos Aires, there is a Parisian feel outside the Palermo cafe that now bears his name. Cafe chairs and tables line the pavement, and for the more discerning hipster, there is even a bench cast around a tree.
Passing through the front entrance, below a black and white stencil of Cortázar’s brow, the dimly-lit building is full of earthly colours and rustic charm. Waiters take orders and jostle about in their uniforms, each adorned with Cortázar’s face.
The big attraction inside are the resplendent murals lining the walls of the cafe. Our guide and historian on all things Cortázar and Buenos Aires at the cafe, Romina Metti, explains that the murals were created by Ricardo Villar, who was affectionately known as ‘Crespi’. We were briefed that this was his last work prior to his passing.
Bedecking the walls are many photos of the writer’s pastimes, places of cultural significance, and black and white portraits. Fragments of Cortázar’s famous prose add to the romantic cafe setting: on one wall, a poem reads “words are never enough when what there is to say overflows the soul”.
There are also many artefacts of Cortázar’s era, but perhaps surprisingly the literary cafe does not yet include books. Metti explains that they are in the process of obtaining first and secondary editions, to allow customers to lose an hour or two in rich verse.
There is also a wide selection of fresh and exquisite dishes to sample while soaking up the literary vibes. Options range from home-cooked pasta, salads, pork selections, grilled meats, cheese boards, pancakes, burgers, sandwiches, and puddings. Of note is a hearty selection for vegetarians, which often isn’t the case in restaurants and cafes in the traditionally carnivorous Buenos Aires.
This is a great spot to visit for some good sustenance with a healthy dose of cultural insight.