Preserving a coffee lifestyle in the ‘notable’ cafés of Buenos Aires

By Xinyi Zhang and Yilin Xie
Medill Reports

BUENOS AIRES — Fifteen years ago, Nestor Pichelli decided to change careers and found himself helping preserve a mainstay of life in this capital city: the café notable, or historic coffee shop. “The coffee culture in Argentina is a lifestyle,” he said, as he sat among tables full of patrons at Café Tortoni, one of the city’s oldest “cafés notables,” and a magnet for tourists. “It is a mode of how people interact and talk about life.”

The ornately decorated Café Tortoni — with dozens of artifacts hanging on its walls — has a history going back more than 160 years. Before it became a destination for international tourists, it had long been a social meeting place for artists, writers and politicians in Argentina.

Café El Banderín is another of the city’s classic neighborhood coffee bars. Its history is told through the wall of pennants and pictures from soccer teams given to owner Mario Riesco over many decades.

Riesco isn’t betting his bar on the lure of its history. He is seeking a younger clientele, with original and novel drinks and specials. He hired Agustina Sarni to help bring in a more diverse, neighborhood crowd, many of whom have become regulars at this cozy coffee bar.

Photo at top: In the afternoon, almost every café is full of customers. They come here to unite, to chat about things that have been going on, or just relax and enjoy the coffee. (Yilin Xie & Xinyi Zhang/MEDILL)