Jorge Palacio (Faruk)

Cabarets in the forties

’m going to talk about the cabarets in the 40s because I did not see the ones existing before. I was not allowed to enter. In my youth when you were 18 two wishes came true: you were admitted in the Teatro Maipo and in a cabaret.

The word cabaret is of French origin and means tavern. It is neither a lunfardo nor a tabooo term, however when the military government in 1943 banned hundreds of words in tango lyrics also prohibited the word cabaret. I'll give three examples to demonstrate such foolishness:

In the tango “Griseta”, when it says: «En el loco divagar del cabaret», you had to change it for: «En el loco divagar del barrio aquel».

In “Moneda de Cobre”, according to the original lyrics: «Cumpliste 20 años en un cabaret» had to be changed into: «Cumpliste 20 años, total para qué».

And in “Mano cruel”, instead of saying: «Hoy te he visto a la salida de un lujoso cabaret», the singer had to say: «Hoy te he visto a la salida de una fiesta de oropel».

Generally, cabarets were large salons with a wide dancefloor surrounded by tables and a counter, with bright lights. Conversely, boites (night clubs) were smaller and dark. At the door there was always a doorkeeper in uniform with golden buttons and wearing a cap with the cabaret's name.

Even though there were couples among the attendance, most of the customers were men, alone or in group, who used to go to dance with the girls who worked there (taxi dancers) or to try to win the heart of one of them or to listen to their favorite orchestra. In all the cabarets there was a tango orchestra and a jazz orchestra and at midnight a show known as the varieté was staged. This variety show consisted of several numbers. The level of importance of the cabaret depended on the level of the tango orchestra that appeared in it.

The important orchestras performed daily except Saturdays because on that day they played at the balls held at clubs and were replaced at the cabaret by the substitute orchestra. Many of them were consecrated by the Saturday audiences.

Taxi dancers (alternadoras, milongas or coperas) used to wear a long satin dress and were employed by cabarets to stick to a timetable and her mission was to persuade the patrons to invite them to sit at the men's tables to have a drink. Once they succeeded in this, they had to encourage them to go on inviting and drinking with the drinks on the patrons. They were not allowed to leave the cabaret before the time the local closed.

Around 3 or 4 AM (in the wee small hours of the morning), when the venue was about to close, the orchestra played “La cumparsita”, the last tango of the evening. Then the pimps turned up to pick up their taxi dancers and to collect their percentage.

A ubiquitous character at the cabarets was the woman in charge of the ladies' room, generally an ex-taxi dancer whom the girls called Mamita.

The most important cabaret in the country and in South America was, no doubt, The Tabarís, located where the Royal Pigalle was before, on 865 Corrientes between Suipacha and Esmeralda. On the groundfloor there was a large dancefloor which was raised at midnight becoming a stage. There were international artists as well as taxi dancers, but there married and unmarried couples used to meet. The tango orchestra named Di Adamo-Flores, in which the bandoneonista Leopoldo Federico made his debut, played there. That aggregation alternated with a jazz group. The French orchestra led by Ray Ventura performed there.

The Marabú was opened in 1934 and was located on Maipú between Sarmiento and Corrientes. There Aníbal Troilo's debut took place on July 1st, 1937. At the door there was a notice saying: «Todo el mundo al Marabú/ La boite de más alto rango/ donde Pichuco y su orquesta/ hará bailar buenos tangos». But the group that had the longest tenure was Carlos Di Sarli's. Among its frequent patrons Miguel Bucino stood out. The latter used to be showcased dancing with the girls.

The Casanova was in front of the Marabú. The orchestra led by Lucio Demare played at that venue. It was opened in 1931 with the Juan Canaro Orchestra and the jazz band led by Ian Gregor (Gregor Kalikian). The latter accompanied Gardel in his recordings when he sang in French. In this cabaret the orchestra known as Los Provincianos, with Ciriaco Ortiz, appeared at the only live performances of this aggregation. It was put together only to cut recordings.

The Chanteclair cabaret was next door to the Teatro Comedia, on Paraná between Lavalle and Corrientes. It was opened in December 1924 and during the 30s it was as well called Vieux Paris and its façade was adorned with a mill and Montmartre's details. The emblematic orchestra was Juan D'Arienzo's. The master of ceremonies was Ángel Sánchez Carreño, aka Príncipe Cubano. It was demolished in 1960 and reminisced by Enrique Cadícamo in his tango “Adiós Chantecler”.

The Tibidabo was an important venue located on Corrientes between Talcahuano and Libertad. For years the main event was the Aníbal Troilo Orchestra whose season was from April to December. The remainder of the year had other outfits. It was demolished in 1955.

The Bambú was on Corrientes and Maipú, round the corner of the Marabú. Juan Polito and Los Reyes del Ritmo made their debut there, with Alberto Echagüe. It would become later a theater for Spanish shows under the name El embrujo de Sevilla.

We can as well mention the Lucerna on 567 Suipacha Street, owned by the violinist José Nieso. A venue where the singer Antonio Rodríguez Lesende frequently performed. The Cote D'Azur on 25 de Mayo between Corrientes and Lavalle was the first one I came to know. There the Alberto Pugliese Orchestra with Héctor Pacheco on vocals was heard. The Novelty on Esmeralda between Lavalle and Corrientes was the local where the former players of the Di Sarli sextet under the name Orquesta Típica Novel.

Other cabarets were those in the area known as El Bajo, frequented by sailors from overseas. Among them, the one of highest level was the Ocean Dancing, which was on 286 Leandro Alem. On its stage Miguel Caló and Osvaldo Pugliese played and Raúl Kaplún made his debut with Roberto Goyeneche.

Next door was the Montmartre and as well in the area were the Royal, the Derby, Cielo de California with its doorkeeper dressed as a cowboy, and others I don't remember.

In La Boca there were two cabarets, one next door to the other: El Avión and Charleston. They were located on Pedro de Mendoza Street and their ambiance was somewhat heavy. Their customers were sailors and characters of the waterfront.

As from 1955 cabarets were gradually disappearing. Firstly the ones located at El Bajo (an area near the docks) and later, those at El Centro (downtown) closed. That meant the end of a very important source of jobs for musicians.

Finally I want to cite some titles of the tangos that in their lines evoke cabarets and their women: “Pompas de jabón”, “Che papusa oí”, “De mi barrio”, “Milonguera”, “Milonga fina”, “Milonguita (Esthercita)”, “Santa milonguita”, “Galleguita”, “Madame Ivonne”, “Tal vez será mi alcohol”, “Quién más quién menos”, “Zorro gris”, “Noches de cabaret”, “Griseta”, “Moneda de Cobre”, “Mano cruel”, “Fatal y tanguera”, “Adiós Chantecler”, “Estrella”, “Aquel tapado de armiño”, “Esclavas blancas”, “Carne de cabaret”, “Loca”, “Alma de loca”, “Acquaforte”, “Bailarín compadrito”, “Cabaret”, “Cabecita loca”, “Cuándo volverás”, “Desdichas”, “Dolor milonguero”, “Dulce tango”, “El rey del cabaret”, “La canción del cabaret (Mala)”, “La muchachada del centro”, “Maldito tango”, “No salgas de tu barrio”, “Pucherito de gallina”, “Otra vez Esthercita”, “Pobre ilusa”, “La muerte de Milonguita”, “Patotero sentimental”, “Tango de ayer” and many others.