Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Barbara announces that she, Amber, Mercedes together with other friends will be going to Los Laureles to dine and to dance.
Los Laureles is deep in bario Barracas, so deep that it almost kisses the Riachuelo, the river that feeds the old port of La Boca; so far that it drops off my map of Buenos Aires. Omni Lineas tells me that colectivo 24, 45 or 70 will take us from San Telmo to Avenida General Iriarte 2290, and so we steer up Chile, avoiding the carnival revellers, to Avenida 9 Julio to catch the bus.
Save for a detour to Av Regiamento de Patricios, colectivo 70 races through La Boca towards Barracus and, twenty minutes later, we decamp almost at the door of Los Laureles.
Few old bars of this character remain in the bario - here since the 1890's, formerly a general store with a tap room, but since its early years as the hot-bed of political intrigue. From the 1920's to 1940's Los Laureles became a tango bar of distinction due to the presence of José Angel Lomio - the tango tenor known as Angel Vargas. He was shortly to join Angel D'Agostino, leader of one of the great tango orchestras. Enrique Cadícamo, tango lyricist and tango composer Juan Carlos Cobian also frequented the bar. It now retains the mantle of one of the best known tango bars in the Capital Federal.
We choose to enter through the side door which leads directly to the packed dining area, a busy bar running to our right. Along the far wall are rows of chalk boards showing tonight's specials. Further over are photos reflecting the bar's history. Towards the street side is the tango floor, the band perched in the corner - violin, bass, piano and bandoneon. Dancers circle the small tight floor, in close embrace, without the gender divide of leading and following. Here a young athletic youth is led by his tall female partner, towards the back of the floor two men exchange leads. Mercedes is already on the dance floor showing her virtuosity as she leads a young woman into an ocho.
We join the diners at one of the tables scattered around the tiny pista. Dressed with heavy, white linen cloths, each is covered with dishes and glasses, the favoured tables nestling close to the dance floor. Waiters rush conspicuously delivering pizza and other light meals.
Tonight we are not eating - simply dancing. We leave glasses of chilled white wine and slip gently into the pista. The violin and bandoneon tease each other with contra-rhythms as we close our embrace. You sense the history of Los Laureles seeming into dance - with moments of astute character followed by fragments of silence. Only the voice of Angel Vargas is missing.
Between tandas we return to the table to chat, cabeceo and taste the crisp Argentine Chardonnay. The evening becomes suffused with the fragrance of timelessness - like the slow moving sepia images of dancers projected to the screen.
Following the short performance by dancers making a neat professional debut, we leave the bar. Outside, the midnight air is fresh and we await the colectivo which arrives in a late-night hurry of screaming gears and rattling coachwork. A breeze through the open window refreshes. Soon, we cross Av San Juan and enter 9 de Julio, telling us that this special journey is over, and another delicious night of tango slips into memory.