Rómulo Berruti

The nose pressed on the glass (Some barrooms in the Argentine movies - First part)

uenos Aires, built with people from many countries, filtered habits and traditions for its vertiginous growth. The immigrants reproduced here many of the conditions of their geographies to keep alive the forge of their behavior.

The café and its appeal were a Spanish contribution, maybe like the ones found in Madrid, especially. Alive and active since the colonial times –when the basic infusion was chocolate- it appeared by the end of the nineteenth century as a key reunion place.

In this book my task was to recall the porteño cafes –some restaurant maybe will sneak in, no doubt- which were the shelter, especially, for theater people. They are those incurable exhibitionists that, at least in the case of actors, use to continue with their collocated voices and their imperative gestures even when they are not on stage. There is nothing more suitable than that environment not to let go of the role.

But there also the authors contended in erudition, stories and sarcasm. As a nephew, disciple and, since an early age, companion to Alejandro Berruti, brother of my father and theater man, I knew that café liturgy live and directly besides the many stories he told me.

It is better to explain, before mentioning the most frequented and famous ones, that also for show people the café was an essentially masculine temple. In spite of the fact that at its tables maybe it was possible to see more women than at other locals (actresses with shining blonde or red hairdos with overwhelming and noisy bijouterie that used to smoke like vampires and strike strongly their dice on the marble) they were a minority. But those who went there did not reunite in female groups, they plainly joined the men’s groups bringing to those coteries the scarcely formal coexistence of the dressing rooms.

It is likely that this healthy mixture had greatly contributed to the hardly sinful mood, rather more polite and courteous, that the theater cafés always had in comparison with their counterparts of tango, horse races and, of course, the plain underworld that also met around those tables that never asked questions.

Undoubtedly is the most renowned. It also closed earlier. In 1917 it no longer existed. But while its doors were open on Corrientes 922 it reunited all the Argentine intelligentsia in its wide salon. According to several writers that dived into its story this appeal to people of letters was part of the strategy of its manager, Mr. León Desbernats, who sold clothes in Gath & Chaves and was quite aware of public relations. As many did at different times –one of them, the famous Pepe Fechoría in his restaurant on the bend of Córdoba Avenue- pigeonholing the patron in search of a profile may be profitable.

For over ten years Los Inmortales (so named by Florencio Sánchez, the great Uruguayan playwright) was frequented by the most renowned people: Alfredo Palacios, Evaristo Carriego, Roberto J. Payró, Horacio Quiroga, Enrique García Velloso, Eduardo Martínez Cuitiño –who dedicated a book to that café-, Enrique Muiño, Elías Alippi, all the Podestá family (founder of the Argentine theater), Guillermo Battaglia Sr., not the one consecrated by movies, Francisco Ducasse (a lead actor with a great influence on women who turned those tables into a sort of trap to catch female flies), Enrique de Rosas (later first actor of the Comedia Nacional Argentina) and many more. Even the stunning Spanish maid La Bella Otero, in that salon, used to get hot erotic proposals sometimes placed inside a case with blinding diamonds.

Maipú 238, between Sarmiento and Cangallo –today Perón-. Here the attraction was the table of the spirited anarchist writer Alberto Ghiraldo. He was a sort of musketeer with piercing moustaches and lion-like mane that also premiered theatrical plays and his articles inspired by Bakunin, the beacon for those liberty seekers. Among the patrons of this café there were those who, even though did not think as anarchists, pretended to be so because it meant a romantic aura. And furthermore those who, on the contrary, did not want to make public their condition crossed to the other side of the street. A well renowned figure in La Brasileña was Rubén Darío. Another one was the prestigious intellectual Ricardo Rojas who maybe took the battling courage at the service of the Radical Party from that Ghiraldian atmosphere.

Theatrical café par excellence. It inherited the Apolo’s clientele, a café with the same name of the theater where so many popular figures shone from the Ratti brothers to the rhymed comedies by Germán Ziclis. As every venue located close to a theater, the closed Apolo left many show people looking for a place where to go.

El Telégrafo was on the southeast corner of Corrientes and Uruguay. Quite soon other two nearby theaters, the Cómico and the Smart, in turn brought their generous attendance. The first one headed by Lola Membrives, the other by Blanca Podestá (later both theaters bore those names).

The patrons of this café were very loyal habitués and they would seldom go to another one. Because they were friends of my uncle Alejandro’s I became acquainted with several renowned patrons of this house thereafter: the writer Luis Rodríguez Acasuso (with a serious face and quite formal, he boasted about knowing everything: medicine, architecture, astronomy) was the playwright preferred by Blanca Podestá. Alberto Novión (a notable forger of grotesque plays). Alberto Vacarezza (a genial sainete writer) with his strong voice he promised me a poem so that I would stand out at school and he did.

Also at the El Telégrafo Florencio Parravicini, the comic, drove his transgressions to, sometimes, scandalous extremes: There he said goodbye in a somewhat ambiguous way on a cold night of 1941 and before sunrise he blew his head off with a bullet.

More like as a tearoom than a café, it was an exquisite salon (a lot of marble, bronze and mirrors. The coffee cup was charged ten cents more) and one of the few that remained working until the early sixties.

It was on the southeast corner on Corrientes and Talcahuano and always was “La Real” for everybody. Certainly it appealed to well-known tango men –from Julio De Caro to Aníbal Troilo- but at the same time it captured quite a number of theater men: Antonio Botta and Marcos Bronemberg (revue men of the Maipo), all the Serradors: Esteban, Juan, Teresa and Pepita, Milagros de la Vega and her husband Carlos Perelli (he liked loud-coloured checked suits. When looking at him the severe Orestes whispered from his table facing Talcahuano Street: «He’d better wear some time a bit of mourning clothes!...»), Enrique Serrano, sometimes with his team partner, Irma Córdoba, used to have an aperitif there.

Restaurant. One of the most famous in Buenos Aires, frequented by many important people among whom the theatre men were mixed. It had three locations: Callao and Bartolomé Mitre, Callao and Cangallo and lastly Callao 248 where it closed for good.

A great dining room and an excellent kitchen were its outstanding features. Not many actors but a large number of playwrights. There its frequent patrons were Armando Discépolo, Julio Sánchez Gardel, Pedro E. Pico, Carlos Mauricio Pacheco, Antonio and Arturo De Bassi, Roberto Tálice, Carlos Schaeffer Gallo (they said he was the most charming of the authors) and in its last stage, Abel Santa Cruz. One of the most loyal actors was Luis Arata and Alberto Closas, whose table I shared for many evenings, used to enjoy its stews.

At El Tropezón the author and Spanish impresario Pablo Bueno –he was the key piece of the great commercial machinery of Darío Víttori- used to display his wit. As he had to follow a rather severe food regime he wanted to explain it to a waiter who was new and had a bad temper: «All right, yes, I understood, what else?» replied the waiter with a vinegar face.
Pablo Bueno asked him:
-What’s your name?
-You’re as happy (Alegre) as I am good (Bueno)!

El Tropezón was also witness of the anguish of the Spanish actor Pedro López Lagar when –ill with a larynx cancer- tried in vain to narrate the contents of a play he wanted (and was unable) to premiere.

Another voice, Edmundo Rivero’s: «Pucherito de gallina con viejo vino carlón», did not allow it to fall into oblivion.

From the book Los escenarios del adiós, published by the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata.