The style of Parisian cabarets reached Buenos Aires during the first decades of the 20th century. Cabarets were lavish places that opened at midnight where the wealthy went to dine and dance to music of jazz and tango orchestras. They weren’t exclusively for men, although they were the majority of patrons. Coperas were women who made a living selling drinks to the patrons and who sat with customers at their table for pleasant conversation. They had to work until the cabaret closed and then paid a commission to a cafishio. At one time, the city had 5,000 registered coperas (also referred to as alternadoras) working in cabarets.
The cabarets had large salons with large dance floors surrounded by tables and a bar. Two orchestras alternated sets for tango and jazz music for dancing, and musicians were well paid and enjoyed working nights at the cabarets. During the 1940s when lunfardo was prohibited from use in tango, cabaret was also included, so tango lyrics had to be changed. There are very few witnesses of those times who remain–they are the milongueros who could tell us.
One of the most famous cabarets of Buenos Aires was Chantecler, which opened December 24, 1924, with Julio De Caro. It was located at Paraná 440 near Av. Corrientes. Juan D’Arienzo’s orchestra performed there regularly. The owner gave D’Arienzo the name El Rey de compás. Chantecler was demolished in 1960.
Cabaret Marabú, which opened in 1934, was located at Maipú 365. Many years later it was called Club Maracaibo, and several milongas were organized there before it was finally closed in 2000. The owners were bankrupt, and the place was sold at auction. Walking down the stairs to enter Maracaibo (below street level) was an experience in itself. I remember when Jorge Orellana told me that we were dancing where Anibal Troilo debuted in 1937. Rodolfo Biaggi performed there in 1938 and Alfredo De Angelis in the late 40s.
Cabaret Tabaris, formerly called Royal Pigall, was located at Av. Corrientes 829-831. Today it operates as the Teatro Tabaris and currently has the show La Fiesta esta en el Tabaris. Leopoldo Federico made his debut on bandoneon at the Tabaris when he was 17. His father would go at 4:00 in the morning to escort his son home, and then he went off to work at 6:00.
The downtown neighborhood of Buenos Aires is San Nicolas bounded by Av. Cordoba on the north, Av. Rivadavia on the south, Av. Leandro Alem on the east and Av. Callao on the west, encompassing approximately 144 square blocks where at one time tango permeated the air almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in the dozens of cafés and cabarets.
My research on the internet produced names of cabarets that once existed in San Nicolas, such as Desiré (corner of Sarmiento and Cerrito), Casanova (in front of Marabú; Lucio Demare played for opening night ) Casino Pigall (next door to Casanova), Lucerna (Suipacha 567), Jezebel (Corrientes 900), Tibidabo (Corrientes 1244), Cote D’Azur (25 de Mayo near Corrientes), Novelty (Esmeralda 400), Empire (Corrientes & Esmeralda), Bambú (Corrientes 600), Montmartre (Corrientes 1431-35, where Miguel Calo performed), Shanghi, El Royal, Rendez-Vous, Moulin Rouge, El Derby, Cielo de California, Abdulah Club (in Galeria Güemes at Florida 165), and Petit Salon (where Rufino debuted at 16 in 1938). Corrientes is known as the street that never closes for good reason.