By Rodrigo Garcia
Rosario, Argentina, Jan 5 (EFE).- Eight decades after it first opened its doors, Rosario’s Bar El Cairo remains the watering hole par excellence in this city that gave the world Lionel Messi and Che Guevara.
The bar is most famous as the haunt of another Rosario native, cartoonist and comics author Roberto “El Negro” Fontanarrosa (1944- 2007), who presided over the “Mesa de los Galanes” (Table of Handsome Men).
One of the galanes, who often figured as characters in Fontanarrosa’s tales, was singer-songwriter Ricardo Centurion, who now handles public relations for the establishment.
“El Cairo is a marvelous place,” the septuagenarian tells EFE.
Two months ago, Spanish music icon Joan Manuel Serrat, a great friend of Fontanarrosa, traveled to Rosario for a ceremony officially renaming the intersection where El Cairo is located from Sarmiento and Santa Fe to Serrat and Fontanarrosa.
“Rosario adores him (Serrat),” Centurion says. “Both he and El Negro have been wonderful guys who have only given good things to the people.
Entering El Cairo, the visitor’s thoughts turn inevitably to the Table of Handsome Men, a moniker Centurion says originated as a joke.
“We had a companion who did a radio show at night. When he didn’t have a theme, as he passed by here on the way to the radio station, he began to invent things. And he said: ‘I went by El Cairo and the galanes were there,'” Centurion recounts.
He goes on to describe the company at the table on a typical evening.
“There is a liar, a charlatan, someone who’s broke, a fat guy, a cheapskate … as at every table of friends,” Centurion says.
And though the conversations ranged across many topics, soccer, women and anecdotes dominated.
In his stories and comics, “El Negro used many of the names of the members of the table,” Centurion adds. “He said: ‘who could say this outrageous thing? Ricardo, Pitufo, Chiquito can say it.’ He put his ideas in our mouths.”
The bar, which sits next to an Art Deco-style cinema of the same name, only began admitting women in the 1970s.
“In El Cairo you’re going to encounter very grand people who tell you stories and we say that if the story is well-put-together and doesn’t hurt anybody, we accept it as true, but they are no easy to believe,” says Centurion, a denizen of the bar since the age of 14.
Following Fontanarrosa’s death, the bar became something of a shrine to the humorist whose funeral drew thousands of people.
Samples of El Negro’s work cover walls and columns and the street outside is decorated with a sculpture of Fontanarrosa. EFE rgm/dr