Encounter Tango, Poetry & Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires!

So many of the best travel moments are spontaneous! We didn’t expect an encounter with Cecilia Leoni, once a renowned tango singer, when we stepped off of a little cobbled street in Buenos Aires’ Recoleta district and walked into a bar-restaurant with an artsy vibe. Tango is as much about the music as the dance. A night of tango with Cecilia immersed us in the experience.

Tango is all about the mood, like this dark alley in Buenos Aires
In the 1880s and 1890s, men came to Bollini Alley to get into trouble with alcohol, women and knives! The businesses closed and the street was abandoned.

The pink building is La Dama de Bollini, a café with music and poetry readings, and paintings by the newest unknown artists. When La Dama Bollini opened in 1983, neighbors helped convert Bollini Alley into the beautiful, trendy street it is today.
La Dama de Bollini is an intimate bar-restaurant with live music and performance art, with a gallery of paintings by little-known local artists. We visited on a night of tango music. One of the songs we enjoyed most was Chiquilín, a touching story of a young boy who spent his nights selling flowers in restaurants.

Encountering Tango History In Person

Pablo Alberto Gonzalez is better known as Chiquilín, immortalized in the famous tango song.
The story of Chiquilín is true. The street above is one that 8-year-old Pablo Alberto Gonzalez walked every night, selling his flowers.

One night in the restaurant Bachin, songwriter Horacio Ferrer asked the boy about his life. Pablo never knew his father, his step-father had just become an invalid and his mother was working “nights”.

Horacio wrote a tango about Pablo, calling it Chiquilín (little one) of Bachín. It became popular! When Pablo was old enough, Horacio found him a job as a tv cameraman.

The restaurant at the end of the street in the photo above is the restaurant Chiquilín. It was originally Bachín. The new restaurant couldn’t use the old name.
Cecilia Leoni and her son Lionel gave us an authentic piece of history here in Buenos Aires.
But this post is the story of La Dama de Bollini (the lady of Bollini): Cecilia Leoni, pictured here with her son Lionel (named after Lionel Barrymore, the legendary American actor!)

It was Cecilia who opened the cafe back in 1983, changing the vibe of the street. One of her regulars was her friend, Jorge Luis Borges, the famous Argentine writer.

When we arrived, we were alone in the bar-restaurant. Lionel gave us a tour, which he ended by introducing his famous mom! Cecilia was delighted to tell us all about herself!
Sitting with Cecilia and watching her sing along with her favorite songs, was a wonderful experience.
We enjoyed sitting with Cecilia during the show. She sang along with all the songs, maybe a little lost in her wonderful memories.

A Travel Style About Experiences

Our Insta-friend Gabriela left us this lovely comment on one of our posts.

We went to dinner with Gladis, our October AirBnB host, and she asked us if we had seen certain things, those you find on TripAdvisor’s “Things To Do” and we told her that we hadn’t. It’s hard to explain to people, but for us, it’s the depth of the experiences that are fulfilling.

Getting to know Porteños (people of Buenos Aires) like Cecilia, Gladis and Santiago (see our conventillo post) is really the way we like to experience a city. Check out our Instagram feed to get a taste of our style of travel.

The Origin of Tango Might Surprise You! Read Our Post Below:


Sightseeing should be more than learning dates and architectural styles. Look a little deeper and you find the stories behind the places.


  • It’s fantastic that street has been renewed and given such a rewarding new lease of life. I love those kinds of chance happenings, too! Some of the best things do happen from spontaneous decisions, I agree. So Chiquilín means little one in Spanish? Cute! It’s great you got to have dinner with your AirBnB host, I’ve not heard of people typically doing that. It’s such a good way to get to know the area, to get to meet new people there are get so much more meaning to your experiences. Great photos! 😊
    Caz xx

    • This experience with Cecilia at La Dama de Bollini was so special! We didn’t know anything about the place when we walked in! And we’ve been very lucky with our AirBnB hosts on this trip 🤞 Thank you, Caz! Cecilia loved the photos so that was extra special!

    • The worst experience I had was seeing the Mona Lisa. There were hundreds of people trying to take their selfies and nobody even looked at the painting! People like you and me prefer something much more substantial.

      And we asked Cecilia about Borges. She said they would mostly talk about the poets and artists at the restaurant.

      • I hear you. Louvre was traumatic.
        I was on Milos this year and saw a copy of the Venus de Milo and the place where it was discovered. It made me sick when I thought of all those crowds, waiting to see it in Paris.

  • A fascinating history and wonderful to read about artists who remake a neighborhood, Aixa! I’m glad you posted and shared these wonderful photos, too, I’ve been a bit off the SM grid with school duties and writing.

    • This was an unforgettable experience for me! Cecilia was such an interesting person to meet! I know how busy you’ve been so no worries, Terri!

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