On one wall, a giant, exposed heart (of fabric and wire?) seems to rise from the ceiling above the bar, while over the stage on the opposite wall, an image of Carlos Gardel's face looms large, perhaps keeping watch over what can only be considered one of his temples: La Catedral.
This tango club – or milonga, as it's known in Buenos Aires – has a charmingly bohemian atmosphere that is open to all. It's decorated with an eclectic hodgepodge of furniture, art and decorations, but it works.
The dance floor at La Catedral — Photo courtesy of Gabriel Moncrieff
It's an intriguing club. But while La Catedral's name and the vastness of the space may make you think it might once have been a church, it never was. It did, however, once serve to store grain.
But today, you'll find people of all ages (though it skews youngish), all nationalities and all levels of tango here. In fact, La Catedral is one of the best milongas to go to if you're a foreigner and/or a beginner. Some Buenos Aires milongas can be pretty insular scenes, but La Catedral is laid-back in that regard. People are just there to enjoy themselves.
La Catedral offers group tango classes every day for beginning, intermediate and advanced students, in addition to the later milonga dance sessions. The beginning classes are forgiving, so don’t be afraid to try.
But, admitttedly, not everyone at La Catedral comes to dance, so you don’t necessarily have to. Some people just like to come and hang out with friends, drink, listen to the music and watch others dance. Sometimes live bands play, which is a treat.
The kitchen at La Catedral serves reasonably priced empanadas, pastas, pizzas and other Argentine dishes, and there are plenty of options for vegetarians. However, the service is often a bit slow.
As to transportation, if you don’t know your way around Buenos Aires’ Almagro neighborhood, the middle of the night is probably not the time to start. Take a taxi to and from the club. They are usually easy to find.
To be honest, many people either love or hate La Catedral; it doesn’t leave many indifferent. If you're looking for a fancy night out, then La Catedral is not what you're looking for. But if you want a welcoming place to get your feet wet with tango, then you have definitely found the right one.