Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Where Everybody Knows Your Name — lyrics by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo
The milonga is where people can take a break from their worries, where people are glad you came, and where people know your name. That’s why the lyrics of the theme song of the former American television program Cheers comes to mind.
Lo de Celia Tango Club is my second home in Buenos Aires. I go two or three times a week to dance. I don’t feel as welcome or comfortable in any other milonga. I sit at the same corner table near the bar for more than ten years. I look forward to seeing the friendly people who go there. I always enjoy the music of Daniel Borelli and Erwin Quispe Zapata. The sound system is perfect. The chairs are comfortable. The staff is the most attentive of any milonga. As I watch the floor, I mentally name the dancers.
Celia Blanco worked hard to create her milonga. That’s why those who go regularly feel like a family in their second home. Everyone is happy there. You can see it on their faces.
Celia and Alejandra (hostess)
When Jimena left as hostess a couple of months before the birth of her baby, Alejandra moved from the security to hostess. She was a familiar face for several years, greeted people by name, and was a member of the Lo de Celia family. When she disappeared recently, I had to ask about her. Jimena always greeted me at the door with a big smile, saying my name. Alejandra did the same. I felt welcomed, and that meant a lot to me. Jimena knew everybody’s name and was always glad they came to Lo de Celia. Celia knew how to carefully select her employees. Now Alejandra is gone because of a reduction in staff by the new owners. I feel a void. They don’t understand the key role Alejandra played in welcoming everyone. There is no one walking guests to their tables. Carlos is at the door and points to a table. I doubt he knows a regular from a visitor, let alone anyone’s name.
Celia and Silvia (ladies’ room attendant)
My first stop is always the ladies’ room to change my shoes before going to my table. Silvia greeted me by name, and we always chatted. She was there to keep the toilet areas clean and fresh. Silvia worked on Wednesday and Sunday — the busiest days. First, she was absent on Sundays for a few months. Recently, there was nobody taking care on Wednesdays. Silvia was let go to cut salary costs. I know Celia would not be happy with the way things are these days. Celia often cleaned the washroom herself so they were clean to her satisfaction.
Celia and Anna (kitchen/bar attendant)
When Anna began working in Lo de Celia, she was the ladies’ room attendant. A few years ago, Celia needed her in the kitchen, preparing picadas and heating empanadas, etc. She takes care of the bar and accounting for everything served; no small task. In addition, now that Silvia is gone, Anna has to find time to check the ladies’ room, keep it clean and stocked with paper towels and toilette paper. She told me last week — I have four jobs.
Celia and Ruth Quispe Zapata (waitress)
There were always two waiters on duty — Johnny and Ruth. Now Ruth works only Saturdays and Sundays. Johnny handles waiting on everyone in the salon on Wednesday. He can handle it during the winter months, but the milonga is full during summer. There is no other milonga with great service like Lo de Celia. I can name milongas where I’ve waited an hour for a waiter. Ruth was working on Sunday, and I told her that we miss her presence on Wednesdays. She’s a sweetheart.
I had conversations with several women in the lady’s room, and we all are in agreement — they are ruining our milonga! The new people in charge aren’t milonga goers, so they have no idea how to run a milonga. One owner dances on stage at Esquina Carlos Gardel. They aren’t asking the staff for suggestions, but are making radical changes. The table cloths were laundered, but they weren’t ironed. It’s a detail, and Celia would not approve. All milongas have pressed table cloths.
There was an announcement made yesterday, but there was so much conversation by the women next to me, that I wasn’t certain I heard correctly. I asked someone if the entrada increased. Celia has always charged the lowest entrada of any milonga along with El Arranque. Once a year she raised the entrada by ten pesos. It’s been 60 pesos for more than a year. Celia never announced the increase during the milonga; you learned that from Mario who is cashier. The dancers weren’t pleased to hear 80 peso entradas, and they responded vocally. Two owners aren’t going to split the profits, they’re going to increase them.
The only use of the salon for 16 years was for milongas. There was a time when Lo de Celia was home to other organizers’ milongas. For the last eight years, there were four milongas by Celia. As of last week, there are classes and a practica on the schedule. Fliers are on the tables for the first time, but the regulars aren’t interested in classes or practicas. A new Thursday milonga begins this week. This means more work for Erwin Quispe Zapata who is the house manager responsible for ordering and storing beverages, etc. Fewer staff members have more work to increase the bottom line. Lo de Celia was never about money for Celia Blanco. She took care of everybody and always welcomed visitors to her home.
On rare occasions, Celia would dance a tango with Pedro at the end of the evening. The only time I saw her dancing tandas was at her birthday or anniversary parties. She knew her job was to socialize with her dancers and keep an eye things. She did that job well, although she was harshly criticized for her management style. The ladies are not happy to see the new owner dancing while they are sitting out a tanda. She doesn’t know that dancing with men isn’t in her job description. The new owners don’t know what to do with themselves.
We were hit with these changes all at once. A milonguero viejo told me he believes the milonga won’t survive very long with discontent. We like going where people are friendly, know our names, and make us feel welcome. This doesn’t include the new owners.
People aren’t happy with the new management. There is nothing stopping any of us from going around the corner to Obelisco Tango or down the street to Salon Leonesa.
If the best team of DJs in Buenos Aires, namely Erwin Quispe Zapata and Daniel Borelli, leave the family, that will be its demise.
Celia left us only four months ago. She entrusted her milonga to new owners who need to learn the ropes. I thought Erwin or Johnny were the most likely ones to take over. We all thought the milonga would continue as it had for so many years, but there is more than decorating going on at the corner of Entre Rios and Humberto Primo. The demolition crew arrived this month, and we are all worried about the new construction.