Monday, 28 December 2009

Some milongas: Confiteria Ideal

Confiteria Ideal should be one of the truly wonderful milongas of Buenos Aires. You can practically scrape tango off the old mirrors and hardwood panelling. Everything about it (even the waiters!) seems to predate the golden age. And yet...

The BBC did a marvellous job in creating the image of Ideal as a place where all the great milongeros and milongueras hang out, where people from all walks of life turn up just to dance. I guess it might have been like that six or seven years ago, although I doubt it, and it's definitely not like that these days. It's very sad for this wonderful old building to have suffered such a terminal tango decline. At El Arranque the ordinary people, good dancers and OK dancers, go to dance tango. It's a serious milonga. Relatively few people turn up at the daytime milongas at Ideal, and to judge by a recent afternoon, very few of them are serious dancers. The night-time milongas may well be better, as I remember from last year. In particular, Friday night is when Unitango play, so at least there's live music.

But the sparsely attended daytime milongas have their uses. Go with a partner, and you've got plenty of room. You can just walk! Something hardly possible in the downtown milongas. You just have to avoid the occasional couple drifting round the floor the wrong way. & in particular, we had to avoid the 'pareja' doing high boleos in platforms. It was that eccentric. But if your partner happens to enjoy people-watching, then you have some innocent entertainment in front of you too. & the music is OK, although they didn't play a single vals in over two hours. The floor is hard and slightly uneven, but tiled floors aren't unusual here. & if you are very lucky you might catch a waiter's eye and be able to order a coffee or a bottle of water. All in all, what a strange place!


tangocherie said...

I first danced at La Ideal in 1997, when there were very few tourists in attendance. At that time more often than not there was no water in the bathrooms.

Still La Confiteria Ideal was the star of all the tango movies.

Government money was alloted to refurbish and maintain the old building, but somehow never trickled down to the level where repairs were done.

In 1997, there were no late night milongas full of young foreigners and orchestras--just the Friday afternoon milonga of Diego and Zoraida, which continues to this day.

You are right--the walls, and the waiters, have seen it all. It is so worth going there to dance to traditional music of the golden age with the few milongueros who are left.

A tango icon, every bit as much as Carlos Gardel.

Tangocommuter said...

I thought of calling the post 'Tango in Wonderland' but that sounds like wonderful tango, rather than a kind of Alice in Wonderland experience. It's certainly a great experience to dance there. I've always thought that the accoustic is excellent; the sound is clear and full without being over-loud.

I've lost count of how many films it's starred in!

But I think the upstairs was renovated. When I arrived a year ago, towards the end of November, there was no access, then a week or two later it was open, and looked really good. The downstairs is still sadly in need of attention.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Tangocommuter,

Thanks for posting about your observations of La Confiteria Ideal. We've been there twice - once for a Camicando festival closing milonga in 2007 on the 2nd floor, and the other time for Milonguisimo on the 1st floor. We, like you, thought it was a strange place too! It should be much more glorious than it is, but somehow ..... it is not. It seems like a home for no-one, just a big empty space where forigners can project their fantasies about tango (and end up feeling a little hollow). Is this something that is bound to happen when a place (no matter how beautiful) becomes unaffordable to the local people of the milonga?

Irene and Man Yung

Elizabeth said...

Well, I agree, the
Friday afternoon milongas is one. At night it is a zoo and when we tried to get in (and we had reservations) they had given our seats away. There were hoards of drunk, non-dancers. But in the afternoon you can absorb the place. And I had a lovely experience there. It might be a good place to start a tango trip in BA. I hope to see it again one of these afternoons.

Tangocommuter said...

Hi Irene and Man Young, yes, it sort of has a past and no real present. But it can't be because of the entry price. You probably paid more for the special events, but the daytime milonga price is around 20 pesos, which is about average, and the evening price last year, if I remember right, is about the same. The 'milongueros' just seem to have moved on to other venues, perhaps because other places feel more intimate.

@ Elizabeth, wish you a return to an afternoon at Ideal very soon! I didn't go to a night milonga there this time, but last year I went several times, and I just walked in and sat at an empty table, so your evening might not have been typical. But you're right; staggering off the plane and onto the floor there in the afternoon, with a partner you like, would be a good transition to nights at the more crowded places like Canning and 444. But for anyone who arrives alone, don't rely on getting a dance with a good partner at Ideal...

tangocherie said...

When the first floor was closed more than a year ago, it was for repairs alright, but not for beautification or improvements. The big central chandelier fell down (injuring a dancer, BTW), and spit and glue had to be put in place so that the whole skylight ceiling didn't fall as well as other antique accoutrements.

The government and other official entities should be embarrassed that this venerable salon, built in 1912, is literally falling down and nothing is being done about it. La Ideal brings in tango tourists by droves--why isn't that appreciated? Not to mention the cultural and architectural history it represents.

For a very, very sad story of a once fabulous building with a grand dancing salon, check out El Molino where it stands empty in Congreso, falling tragically into ruin at the corner of Rivadavia and Callao.

Let's hope and pray that that doesn't happen to La Confiteria Ideal!

Tangocommuter said...

So that's what that building is/was! I was trying to photograph it just last week. I guess it's from an era of mass tango and big dance floors. These days most of the the venues are smaller, more intimate. But tango is growing again: maybe those big old venues are waiting to be full again!