Behind a nondescript door that looks like the entrance to an office building hides the cavernous La Catedral del Tango. La Catedral is a unique milonga (tango ballroom) where tango aficionados and novices gather to take classes, practice dancing and eat and drink together every night.
The unique space mixes the sacred aura of a cathedral and the cheerful bohemian clutter of a circus tent. The vibrant atmosphere features 12 meter high wooden ceilings decorated with large sculptures and hanging lights. In former incarnations the 1880 building was a grain silo, dairy factory and a refrigeration warehouse, before finally being converted into a cultural event space.
La Catedral grew out of an experimental rock band called ‘Los Enviados del Señor’ which performed tango music in classic rock ‘n’ roll garb. The crowds loved it, so the group moved into the Almagro building, which had sat abandoned for thirty years, and started rehabilitating the space. In the milonga’s early years they lived in the warehouse, each claiming their own nook.
“I had a platform in one corner, and sometimes there was a milonga, and if I didn’t feel like attending, I watched the dance floor…from my bed,” says one of four co-owners, Mario Bulacio. “It was like that for many years.”
Though the space originally put on shows and cultural events of all kinds it eventually focused exclusively on tango — with the occasional folklore class thrown in. Today La Catedral offers nightly classes, with performances featuring orchestras of varying sizes.
Classes, Milonga & Performances
The agenda on La Catedral’s website is not always up to date but the milonga opens every day at around 7 p.m. and stays open until 3 or 4 in the morning, depending on the crowd. Classes start at 8 p.m. and 10:30p.m. but are rarely punctual. Dance performances and orchestras almost always start after midnight, sometimes as late as 1 or 2 in the morning.
The best evenings to visit la Catedral are Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The group classes are best for beginners, though all levels are welcome; if a group of more experienced dancers attends the teachers will often divide the class into several categories by level. Private classes and group prices are sometimes available if visitors call ahead to inquire. There is no reserved seating as with more formal milongas, but visitors are encouraged to share the available tables, and the venue rarely runs out of space.
After the class is over visitors can continue to practice or sit down and watch the more experienced dancers twirl into the wee hours of the morning.
Food & Drink & Art
La Catedral’s kitchen offers affordable vegetarian options such as empanadas, pizzas and pastas, as well as wine, beer, fernet and other drinks. The vegetarian menu sets La Catedral apart from almost every other milonga in this carnivorous city.
“We agreed to this when we started, because it was in line with each of our personal philosophies. It was something very different at the time, inside the world of tango and tourism, because many people come to Argentina to consume meat,” says Bulacio. “In the beginning it affected us a lot because people didn’t understand. Now with the passage of time many people come here because they know it’s vegetarian. They know that the place offers the option of vegetarian and vegan food for tourists.”
Today La Catedral remains unlike any other tango venue in the capital: no two chairs or tables match, abstract artwork lines the walls, and a temporary exhibit is on display in the side room on the way to the restrooms. Above the bar hangs the four meter high ‘Corazon del Tango.’
Most of the artwork is by Bulacio, who studied art and architecture before turning towards music and tango. The resident cat, Tita weaves through the dancers, clearly used to the noise and the crowd.
The attendees at La Catedral are noticeably younger than in other tango venues in the city, partly because of the laid-back vibe of the place. “We are not a traditional tango venue. Neither our esthetic nor our approach are traditional,” says Bulacio. “We created this place with the idea to make a tango place that fit our identity. It’s not designed for tourists — and I think people like that.”
* 2×1 entrance until 10p.m.