Antonio Requeni

The name of "Los Inmortales"

t the turn of the century, on the narrow Corrientes street between 920 and 924 of today's numbering, the Café Los Inmortales opened its doors. The local, not very large, was painted in green and on its facade there was a wide shopwindow. It was open day and night and there you could order a succulent breakfast for 15 cents that often substituted a lunch or supper for the "immortals": poets, playwrights, critics, novelists, musicians, painters, journalists and comic actors, either consecrated or new, that «took definitive possession of the room by simple prescription of the seat taken, by paying or not paying their bill, sometimes paid with music of words in currency of fantasy». As was recalled by Vicente Martínez Cuitiño in his book El Café de los Inmortales.

Roberto F. Giusti, Bernardo González Arrili and Edmundo Guibourg, that were customers of the café and years before told us about their memories, coincided in emphasizing that the most important coteries that met at Los Inmortales were made up of theater people. Guibourg, who went for the first time in the late 1910, soon after Florencio Sánchez's death, confessed to us that he did it for his devotion to the great River Plate author —a major figure at those rendezvous—, attracted by the possibility of hearing the testimony about him from those that had been his friends and from the brother of the author of En familia, Alberto Sánchez, also a playwright that kept on going to that café located between the streets Suipacha and de las Artes (today Carlos Pellegrini Avenue).

Giusti, a frequent visitor of the café before Guibourg, confirmed to us the information of Florencio Sánchez's presence, every evening, —on those tables he wrote Los Inmortales, at the back of telegram forms taken from the mail office, the acts of many of his plays, so did Antonio Monteavaro, Evaristo Carriego (he had written a theater play and was looking for an impresario), the Uruguayan short story writer Javier de Viana, the Catalonian critic Juan Mas y Pi; Edmundo Calcagno, an anarchist who abandoned his activism to become consul in Barcelona and later press secretary during the government of General Justo; more anarchists like the Uruguayan Ángel Falco and the Argentine José González Castillo; the journalist Juan José de Soiza Reilly and other ones.

After being sure that it was not a coterie what was gathered at Los Inmortales but «an archipelago of coteries», he held that the legend had exaggerated his literary undertakings.

Guibourg detailed to us the activity and the representative names of each one of those coteries; one was composed by plastic artists and was headed by the sculptor Pedro Zonza Briano. The attendance included, among others: López Naguil, Malharro, Arango, Maza, Lagos, Franco, Garbarini, Fioravanti, el Mono Taborda, Riganelli and a mediocre Spanish painter called López Turner, whom the man in charge of the café protected and helped with a soup dish when the artist evidenced signs of fainting. So many were those occasions that they finally named López Turner «the stew painter».

At another table the (Radical and Socialists) politicians Perkins, Absalón Rojas, Felipe Torcuato Black, Elpidio González (he sometimes went with espadrilles), Alfredo Palacios, the Uruguayan Emilio Frugoni and Mario Bravo from Tucuman.

At another table the anarchists Alberto Ghiraldo, José de Maturana, Julio Barcos, Emilio Carulla and the ones above mentioned by Giusti gathered. Some of these anarchists were also poets or playwrights, then you could see them switching to the tables of their mates of trade. Guibourg remembered having seen Rodolfo González Pacheco among those ambivalent fellow members.

«He was a well-to-do boy pretending to be a compadre —he told us—. After having lived within a rich family environment, he became an anarchist. He had always worn Stetson hats and went on buying them after his "conversion", but then, before putting them on, he scrubbed them on a table until they looked like a rag».

There was also a coterie of professors, old wrecks that alternated Los Inmortales with El Guarany and in which sometimes the playwright Francisco Fernández was seen. As well there was a circle of people connected with the legal profession, among them an attorney whose last name was Solari stood out. He was author, under the pseudonym Doctor Lyers, of the book titled La mala vida en Buenos Aires.

But the coterie most crowded and noisy was the one belonging to theater people, in it the mediator was José González Castillo. Besides the Sánchez brothers, the attendants were Vicente Martínez Cuitiño, Enrique García Velloso, Carlos Mauricio Pacheco, Federico Mertens, José de Maturana, Enrique Villarreal, Claudio Martínez Payva, Francisco Ducasse, Alberto Novión, Pascual Carcavallo, Ivo Pelay, Alfredo Lliri, Ángel Méndez, César Iglesias Paz, Antonio De Bassi, the team Goicoechea and Cordone, Alberto Vacarezza, Luis Bayón Herrera, Julio Sánchez Gardel and José Antonio Saldías.

On certain evenings by placing near one or more tables, poets and prose writers joined them: Evaristo Carriego, always dressed in black, like Ghiraldo; Alvaro Melián Lafinur, known as «El prócer»; Enrique Banchs, Juan Pedro Calou, Roberto F. Giusti, Alfredo Bianchi; Juan Pablo Echagüe, Hugo de Achával, Natalio Botana, Alberto Gerchunoff, Charles de Soussens, Roberto J. Payró, Luis Doello Jurado, Edmundo Montagne, Andrés Chabrillón, Bernardo González Arrili, Domingo Robatto, Héctor Pedro Blomberg, the itinerant singer Federico Carlando, the lunfardist Juan Francisco Palerino and the viscount Emilio de Lascano Tegui (a false viscount). With that group more than once a woman sat, the first one that among us led a café life and the first one that dared to smoke in public: Angela Tesada, an Uruguayan actress that Martínez Cuitiño defined as «pretty sedative demon» and who was supposed to have a sentimental relationship with José Ingenieros.

Another funny character that from time to time arrived at that coterie, stirring it up with sparkling joy and witty remarks, was a man from Tucumán that had spent his youth in Paris, named Alberto Zavalía, a chamber music composer. Guibourg remembered him as «the leader of the shabbiest bohemia».

An interesting information: Carlos Mauricio Pacheco wrote in 1909 a satirical work titled Los melenudos, whose last act takes place at Los Inmortales. At the place where the well-known venue was located, where today we find the "Cervantes" tailor's shop, in 1951 a memorial plate was placed but it was removed years later. In its place there is another plate remembering the musician Pedro Laurenz, who lived many years in the adjoining building.

The Title

In fact, the Café Los Inmortales never showed that name on any part of its building. But what has not been cleared out yet is who gave it that name. Enrique García Velloso has said that that one was Rubén Darío. Martínez Cuitiño, in his famous book, states that Florencio Sánchez did it, what would seem confirmed by León Desbernats' memories, the French who then ran the local, according to what he told the journalist Edmundo Kraken —pseudonym of Gerónimo Jutronich— during an interview published by the Vea y Lea magazine, on February 18, 1960 (Desbemats was then 83 years old).

On the other hand, Alberto Gerchunoff has left some notes about the café in which he says he was the one responsible for the lucky idea, but not Sánchez. The painter Kantor, son-in-law of the author of Los gauchos judíos, partially published those notes in which we can read: «The young people of the magazine and other writers met at a café on Corrientes Street, close to the Teatro Nacional, called Santos Dumont, whose owner was a fair-haired slim French. I christened the café with the name Los Inmortales and his owner with the name Monsieur Guimaraes. The good man accepted his new surname with the same agreement as he gladly accepted the new label for his café, and in 1914, when he went to war, he used to write to me from the trenches signing Mr. Guimaraes. We daily reunited at Los Inmortales with Payró, Becher, Ortiz Grognet, the painters Malharro and Arango, Mario Bravo, Alfredo López, Grandmontagne, Ricardo Rojas and Lugones».

It is worth mentioning another disagreement between the memories of Gerchunoff and those of Martínez Cuitiño; the latter asserts that Lugones never stepped in Los Inmortales, what González Arrili confirmed, when he furthermore assured us that Ricardo Rojas never stepped inside that local either. But there is another mystery still pending: the real name of the establishment. We have seen that Gerchunoff, like other protagonists and witnesses, remembers him as Santos Dumont.

However, don León Desbernats told the journalist of Vea y Lea, at the said interview, that the coffeeshop was called Café Brasil. The misunderstanding is owed, surely, to the fact that at the shop window there was a portrait of the Brazilian aviator Santos Dumont, whose name had been adopted as trademark of the coffee that was sold there.

It will turn out useful to recall other excerpts of that interview made by the journalist Jutronich at the villa that in 1960 don León owned in San Miguel, which he had named El Recuerdo.

«Don León arrived in Argentina in 1892, when he was not 15 yet. He worked as mattress maker —like his father— and he was employed at Gath & Chaves, where he sold neckties. In 1905 he was working at a store when he was offered for 90 pesos a month, the management of Café Brasil, owned then by Calixto Milano. Don León demanded as condition to make some improvements; these were made in eight days at the cost of 900 pesos.

«He modified the aspect of the café and improved its service. Besides coffee at the counter, at the tables you cannot have any other thing but coffee with milk. No alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, even though later, don León kept some bottle of cheap brandy or uncured rum for some few privileged, among whom was Charles de Soussens.

«One day —the French said— some students with much appetite and without a cent came in. They admitted they had no money and borrowed a "completo" for each one (coffee with milk and bread with butter). The waiter transferred the problem to don León, so the latter approached, smiling as usual, the table of the hungry boys. «You may have it and come back again. Pay when you have money. And please tell other people about this house». The students came back many times. Some paid their debts and some were debtors forever. But they all advertised the place. The Café Brasil no longer had the aspect of a desert and, little by little, by seeing the busy tables, the employees of the area began to confirm the excellence of the "completo". Two months later, the place was full everyday and the down and out shop that don León had began to run was at full speed ahead.

«Much later, hungry and shy, the early Immortals appeared, they might have been Florencio Sánchez or Evaristo Carriego, Héctor Pedro Blomberg or Mario Bravo, Carlos M. Pacheco or Juan Pedro Calou. Don León does not remember it precisely because then he neither knew them, nor he had the vaguest idea he was witnessing the inception of a new and small olympic group. But it is possible that the first ones had been Florencio Sánchez or Carriego, for whom the manager always evidenced his preference and whom he very often invited to eat invigorating stews at a nearby restaurant, opened by a Catalonian with the money he won at the lottery and that he lost by the tricky arts of a wicked partner.

«The glory of the café grew and saw the international figures that visited Buenos Aires in the year of the Centennial and until 1916 parading in his saloon. There Jacinto Benavente, Enrico Caruso, Tita Ruffo, Jean Jaurés and Ramón del Valle Inclán had coffee. Don León left Los Inmortales on May 30, 1915 and went to France to fight in the war that had begun the year before. In 1919 he was demobilized and returned to Argentina. He again worked at Gath & Chaves as salesman in the perfumery and later at the toyshop, until he resigned. In 1920 he worked at the coffeehouse A los Mandarines, to which he brought a remarkable commercial impulse. In 1938 he again traveled to France and came back after the war, in 1946».


Martínez Cuitiño, that included in his book about Los Inmortales, according to Giusti, «even those walking along the other side of the street», has narrated many stories that happened at the legendary café, among them there is one important for theater people: in 1910 out of the theater coterie of Los Inmortales, the iniciative of creating an association of authors sprang out, it was materialized soon later at García Velloso's place, «to defend the artistic ideals and the interests of the author». That early group was the seed of the present ARGENTORES. At Los Inmortales the idea of creating a national institute where to study dramatic art was born as well, that is to say the place that today is the Conservatorio Nacional de Música y Arte Escénico.

In Confidencias de un hombre de teatro, Federico Mertens informs us that at Los Inmortales, the Arturo Giménez Pastor's magazine Vida Moderna was founded, and there also Papel y Tinta was conceived, it was directed by Benjamín Villalobos and Edmundo Calcagno.

«Each one with a cup of coffee —recalled the author of Las d'enfrente— seated at different tables, we stayed until the break of day reading to the others, consulting, when we wrote and were getting something ready. Scene by scene, line by line, chapter by chapter, a comedy, a poem, a novel were springing up. Or we commented the bibliographic and theater movement or the main articles of «La tribuna de doctrina» written by Joaquín de Vedia. With our racket we drove away the pacific customers and whatever dull woman from A la Ciudad de Londres, a big store located on the corner of Carlos Pellegrini and Corrientes, that went there to elucidate fashions and chat about muslins and madapollams. And, finally, we were left as the sole masters of the bulwark, ruining the poor owner of Los Inmortales, sacrificing him in his tolerance of patron of the arts"».

The poet Mario Binetti told us a story that Rafael Alberto Arrieta had told him. One night, by coincidence, at a table of Los Inmortales two young poets, that were followed at that time by two opposing groups of readers, met. One was Evaristo Carriego and the other, Enrique Banchs. Both had been revelations in the Nosotros magazine around 1907 and were appearing, each one with his own style and personality, as the most valuable lyric poets of their generation. When each one of them was invited to read a poem, the refined and restrained Banchs read the octosyllabic lines of his beautiful "Romance de la prefiadita", that he later included in El cascabel del halcón.

Mañanita era de Mayo...
Le doliera el corazón:
como niña recatada
esta cuita bien guardó.

Evaristo Carriego —according to Arrieta's version, recalled by Binetti—, interrupted the reading with a brusque remark and after criticizing the «Hispanic smell» of the romance, he began to recite one of his compositions in a realistic style with vulgar expressions from the outskirts. Enrique Banchs left the table and never returned to Los Inmortales.

Here's one more story about the mythical café. One day when Gerchunoff was seated at a table, he was approached by several young boys not quite faithful to their sex. After telling the author of La asamblea de la bohardilla how much they admired him, they confessed they as well had literary inclinations and that before launching themselves into writing books they had decided to print their rhymes and prose on a magazine they were intending to found. They had the material and the money to deliver to the printing house. They had solved the problems of diagramming, typography, etc., but they did not find an adequate title for the publication. Gerchunoff had a reputation for "namer" (he was who christened the Nosotros magazine, by Giusti and Bianchi, taking the name from the title of an unfinished novel by Payró, and he credited himself, furthermore, as we have already seen, for the fatherhood of the name of Los Inmortales). Then he accepted the compromise with the ambiguous boys —whose words had been expressed with a sort of mellifluous and affected gestures— and after a few seconds of silence he exclaimed: «Here it is!». The young guys, anxious, expectant, were eager to know the name that the maestro would pronounce. «I think the title must be The Annals...»

Antonio Requeni is writer and journalist. His literary work is completed with varied styles; he was awarded the top Ricardo Rojas Municipal prizes for Poetry and Essay, for Línea de Sombra and Cronicón de las peñas de Buenos Aires, respectively. His book El Pirata Malapata was awarded the third National prize in literature for children.

Published in Desmemoria, Re-vista de Historia, no. 5, Buenos Aires, October-December 1994.