‘Espresso with legs’: inside Chile’s risque and antiquated cafe tradition | Chile

‘Espresso with legs’: inside Chile’s risque and antiquated cafe tradition | Chile

At kerbside tables, down shadowy alleys and in underground arcades, espresso in Chile’s capital continues to be served con piernas – with legs.

Waitresses briefly skirts and excessive heels serve espresso on the street-level joints which kind a part of a curious, anachronistic hangover from the Eighties. And in exotically named cafes in underground purchasing centres, the workers – who’re almost all migrants from different nations – put on swimwear.

‘Espresso with legs’: inside Chile’s risque and antiquated cafe tradition | Chile
Mariam, a 26-year-old Venezuelan, touches up her make-up within the dressing room at Kako’s Categorical in Santiago. {Photograph}: Tamara Merino/The Guardian

“It’s odd that these locations which objectify girls exist as we speak within the centre of a metropolis like Santiago,” mentioned Amanda Bruna, a 37-year-old instructor from Santiago. “However girls must work, and the place there aren’t different alternatives, they may at all times take these jobs. It’s work similar to anything.”

Marcela Hurtado, an educational at Chile’s Austral College who has researched the cafes extensively, mentioned: “These locations typically function on the margins of the legislation, and the working situations of the ladies working there are diversified.”

“The feminist wave might need modified how individuals considered these institutions, nevertheless it’s hasn’t modified their essence,” she mentioned.

Over the winter of 2018, a 12 months after the #MeToo motion took maintain within the nation, Chile’s universities have been dropped at a standstill by a sequence of strikes after a string of harassment and abuse scandals in greater training.

And the nation’s girls’s motion continues to affect nationwide and native politics: taking energy final 12 months, President Gabriel Boric pledged to place gender fairness on the coronary heart of his authorities.

However regulating how the cafes function has lengthy been a headache for the Chilean capital.

Amid allegations of prostitution and office harassment within the 2000s, successive mayors ordered that the cafes be open solely in the course of the daytime, banned the sale of alcohol and demanded that their home windows be tinted.

Santiago’s present metropolis council, led by the feminist mayor, Irací Hassler, 32, mentioned that it regulates the cafes like some other enterprise within the metropolis.

“Our administration is just not towards girls working in these cafeterias, so long as this means a good, authorized contract in an authorised institution,” a press release learn. “We don’t need to stigmatise girls who’re in search of work to be able to survive. However we’re fascinated with guaranteeing their security.”

A man shines shoes next to Café Atenas, a café con piernas in Santiago, Chile.
A person shines footwear subsequent to Café Atenas, a café con piernas in Santiago. {Photograph}: Tamara Merino/The Guardian

Most of the waitresses have travelled a protracted solution to attain Chile, and infrequently can not present the paperwork they should work legally.

Lower than a 12 months in the past, Mandy, 25, was finishing a enterprise administration diploma in El Tigre, a metropolis in central Venezuela, when associates in Santiago enthused about cafe work.

It wasn’t a tough resolution, she says, to drop out of college and journey alone by bus via 5 nations, arriving two weeks later at a tiny city excessive up on the altiplano between Bolivia and Chile, the place she started to make her method down via the Atacama desert to Santiago.

“I just like the work as a result of it pays nicely,” mentioned Mandy, who now waitresses at Café Alibaba, one of many below-ground institutions.

“However generally males are impolite to us and misunderstand what these locations are – they anticipate one thing else,” she mentioned, perching on a zigzag-shaped bar beside a number of coffees which sat idle, as her colleagues flirted with shoppers.

But as Santiago’s cafés con piernas go quietly about their enterprise, not one of the homeowners say that altering attitudes have affected them, and regulars nonetheless shuffle previous feminist graffiti within the metropolis centre carrying presents for the waitresses.

“This was an excellent enterprise again within the day,” says Marco Peña, 53, who runs Kako’s Categorical, a metropolis centre espresso store tucked discreetly down an L-shaped passageway.

The cafes date again to 1982, when an Italian-American espresso chain, Café Haití, introduced a brand new gown code for its waitresses, who wore revealing attire and stilettos.

Three years later, El Barón Rojo – “the Crimson Baron” – opened its doorways reverse Santiago’s Nineteenth-century municipal theatre, introducing its notorious “minuto millonario” – 60 seconds of topless desk service.

Mariam serves two regulars at Kako’s Express in Santiago, Chile.
Mariam serves two regulars at Kako’s Categorical in Santiago. {Photograph}: Tamara Merino/The Guardian

Opinion was divided, however with Chilean society nonetheless reeling from Gen Augusto Pinochet’s repressive dictatorship, some entrepreneurs thought the chance was too good to overlook.

Cafés con piernas sprang up throughout the centre of Santiago with new and more and more outlandish ideas – within the mid-2000s, there was an Indigenous Mapuche-themed cafe on a serious metropolis centre thoroughfare; one other with male ready workers lasted only a few months.

After a number of many years within the business, Peña insists that Kako’s Categorical is just not a café con piernas just like the underground institutions he used to run.

He concedes that the pandemic pressured a rethink for cafe homeowners when places of work have been vacated and businessmen stopped frequenting town centre. Now, building employees, market merchants and even former skilled footballers are served lunch by waitresses – who nonetheless put on brief, floral-print attire and heels.

Among the many common clientele at Kako’s Categorical are Luis, 66, and Sergio, 54, who come by most days to drink milky coffees in tall glasses.

They wave away solutions that rising consciousness of gender points in Chile has made the espresso retailers taboo.

“These locations are completely accepted,” says Luis, pointing across the cafe – his reflection gesturing again at him from the mirrored partitions on all sides.

Two waitresses enjoy their break from work at the café con piernas where they are employed in Santiago, Chile.
Two waitresses take pleasure in their break from work on the café con piernas the place they’re employed in Santiago. {Photograph}: Tamara Merino/The Guardian

“We simply come right here, have a espresso, discuss. It’s regular,” says Sergio.

Whereas the espresso retailers proceed to draw curious vacationers and locals alike, the custom appears unlikely to die away anytime quickly.

“They are going to carry on current,” mentioned Hurtado. “So long as there are shoppers, there shall be cafés con piernas.”