El Boliche de Roberto

I stayed at Pax hostel for my three weeks in Buenos Aires. Knowing of my interest in tango one of the staff recommended a night out at El Boliche de Roberto. So on my last night in tango Mecca for a few weeks I invited a couple of friends to join me there. Unfortunately they’d already made plans to go to an Estaban Morgado concert. Undeterred I gave Roberto’s a try anyway.


El Boliche de Roberto is a tiny bar in Almagro with live tango music most nights of the week. There’s no dancing. Rather in the style of Gardel, this is music for listening to. All I “knew” before going was it draws a mostly young crowd, almost exclusively locals, and to get there early if I wanted a seat. The address is Bulnes 331, across the street from Plaza Almagro. When I arrived I thought I recognised the murals on the wall outside and that I’d walked past it once or twice last year. Possibly I did, but when I checked my photos I couldn’t find one of Roberto’s. The trouble is there are a few Gardel/Troilo murals around.


The bar is about 4m x 8m with half a dozen tables and a tiny raised stage area for the performers. Two of the walls are lined with ancient photos in dusty frames, two with wooden shelves packed with cobweb covered bottles of unknown contents. The bar has existed since 1894, the dust and cobwebs look about a century old. I got there stupidly early by Buenos Aires standards – about 9:30pm – and grabbed a seat. Over the next hour the middle aged and older portenos propping up the bar were replaced by much younger versions and all the seats were occupied. Inside the bar were maybe 30 people, about two thirds seated, the rest standing at the bar. Perhaps twice as many spilled onto the pavement outside. So far as I could tell they were all locals and mostly in their twenties. Inside I recognised a couple of the younger tangueros that frequent the tourist and nuevo milongas.


It wasn’t until midnight that there was any indication that there would indeed be some live music. One of the tangueros I recognised, all face fuzz and scruffy tied up hair, wielding an acoustic guitar stepped onto the “stage”. A girl I didn’t recognise accompanied him. It would be nice to say an expectant hush descended on the crowd but it didn’t. They carried on loud conversations until the guitarist started playing and the singer launched into a painfully sad, melancholic sounding tango. The noise level went down a bit, but not much. After the first tango the singer asked for silence, explained that there was no amplification and with the doors and windows open for summer, more traffic noise. The crowd, especially those leaning on the bar didn’t hear or had been taking lessons in rudeness from the Chinese; conversations continued and the noise level hardly diminished at all. The performers soldiered on regardless. The singer had a lovely voice but needed a bigger set of lungs or an amplifier to be better heard or simply a more polite audience. There were many corazons and bandoneons and some tears but not much else I could pick out of the lyrics. There was no mistaking the feeling in them though. The first set lasted half an hour and I decided not to hang around to see if there would be more and if the audience might be better behaved.

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