If you have not heard of Confiteria Ideal you have not heard of tango.
Today it has rained. The huge clap of thunder this morning signalled a gorgeous downpour that cleaned the air and washed the streets. Only afterwards did the pair of blackbirds start to sing, and steam rose from the evaporating pavements. After a light lunch of avocado, bread and soft cheese - with home made chimichurri vinaigrette, I strolled out through San Telmo, crossing Av de Mayo at the centre of the city and turning right into Suipacha. There at 380 is Confiteria Ideal. The entrance is imposing in a lost century way. The cafe dates back to 1912 and is in the Parisian fashion of 'glittering splendour'. Manuel Rosendo Fernandez was its founder and his beautiful French wife was its inspiration. The tea room is on the ground floor, with marble, mirrors, wrought iron and dark wood panels. Between the tables, set with white starched cloths, is a sense of space - as if at any moment this place could evaporate in time like the earlier rain. It is faded elegance at its best.
I do not linger at the ground level, but follow the turned marble staircase and music. Above is a large, airy salon, the floor again marble, surrounded by tables set with red cloths. The first impression for the Argentine tango dancer is that one has either come home or gone to heaven. There is a quality to the atmosphere which says, "You will leave this place but it will always be within you". My hosts are Rudi and Linde who have arrived early to dance and secured the best table with the support of the best waiter at the head of the room, where I join them. We embrace and sit together sipping chilled sparkling water. It is 3,00 pm and small handful of elegant dancers grace the floor for Diego Alvaro y Zoraida Fontclara’s afternoon milonga. I prepare to test my new dance shoes.
For the cynical tangueros amongst you who may read this blog, I have to correct one thing. Despite the presence of tourists (now the life-blood of tango here in Buenos Aires), Confiteria Ideal is still unsurpassed as a venue for dancing. The floor is large, the room cooled by fans rather than chilled by air conditioning, and the music soft and lyrical. Here are exquisite dancers of all ages who take joy in dance. If your experience of Ideal is not of the best, visit on a Friday afternoon before mid April each year, and accept my cabeceo. Together we will weave the dream afresh to restore your faith in dancing in this place.