There were only nine of them downtown during the 1950s where recorded music was played from 5:00 to 9:00 in the evening. One could go to one the confiterias bailables for a few hours of dancing before returning home. It was a dancer’s “cocktail” before dinner. In those days, everyone who worked downtown was dressed appropriately to go dancing after work. It’s no surprise that this custom continues today. The confiterias bailables are where the young milongueros went every afternoon. They had to be at least 18 years old to enter, but many of them managed to enter by going with older friends. The confiterias bailables were open seven days a week with different dancers and age groups in the evening until 10 and at night until 4 in the morning.
A confiteria is a place where coffee and sweets are served. A confiteria bailable was a place that offered cocktails and dancing to recorded music.
The confiterias bailables have been my favorite research project for several years. It has taken time to piece together information about them. The milongueros, now in their 70s, speak about their days at Montecarlo, Siglo XX, Domino, La Nobel, La Metro, Picadilly, La Cigalle, Sans Souci, and Mi Club. Only Mi Club still exists as a dance hall; the others are gone, but hardly forgotten by those who frequented them. No photographs of the interiors exist, so I took photos of what exists where the confiterias bailables used to be. The downtown neighborhood of San Nicolas has undergone major construction changes although many architectural masterpieces still remain such as Confiteria La Ideal (1917) and Café Tortoni (1893).
Confiteria Sans Souci was located at Corrientes 955 below street level and across from Teatro La Nacional. Everyone went to dance there during the golden era of the milongas. You had to not only be well dressed, you had to know how to dance well.
Roberto Angel Pujol told me that lots of school teachers went to dance in Confiteria Montecarlo in the late afternoon. This is where Miguel Angel Balbi met Isabel Garcia, the woman he married in 1962.
I danced many afternoons in Montecarlo when Alicia “la Turca” Juan and Juan Carlos La Falce ran their milonga Pavadita in 1999. Their milonga closed in October 2000 when the club was rented to another tenant.
Picadilly was once a cabaret and then a confiteria bailable. This may be the case for other places downtown when cabarets were on the decline. They opened in the evening from 5:00 until 10:00, then closed an hour for cleaning, to reopen at 11:00 for a different crowd until 4:00 in the morning. Recordings were played for the evening dances, but two orchestras (jazz and tango) performed at night. Teatro Picadilly is downstairs and still has productions.