Everyday Chile

What’s with the coffee shops in downtown Santiago?

There are coffee shops all over Santiago and then there are special coffee shops all over downtown Santiago. What is a Cafe con Piernas?

There are coffee shops all over Santiago and then there are special coffee shops all over downtown Santiago. Some have tinted windows, others are standing only, but the one thing that they have in common is that you get coffee with a view.

Cafe con Piernas is a type of coffee shop with special characteristic that was created in Chile around the 70’s. It’s a bit different from other coffee shops around town because they replaced male bartenders and waiters with attractive women. Café Haití was the first to start this trend and soon after café do Brasil followed suit until they took over the downtown area. These two coffee shops still exist in the promenades of Ahumada, Estado, and Huérfanos using this same type of attire and you can grab a coffee.

The name Cafe con piernas means Coffee with legs. The women who serve the coffee are wearing very short miniskirts, showing their legs. Inside the coffee shops, you’ll find multiple side mirrors.  The dresses worn are tight and ladies greet their male clients with a kiss on the cheek. Flirting with clients is also an incentive to receive higher tips. No one really seemed to have a problem with this format as kissing on the cheek is culturally acceptable. 

Things changed in the late 90’s when the Barón Rojo coffee shop opened up. They decided to change the traditional miniskirt for a simple bikini or thong to attract customers. The lights went dim and the neon lights shined bright. A polarized glass was installed to keep the outsiders looking in which was a great success. Business was booming.  Working men found these cafes as a space to relax from their workday and have women willing to serve them, listen to them, and please them visually.  One of the most famous things from this particular coffee shop was their “Minuto Feliz” or “happy minute” in where the ladies would unhook their tops for 60 seconds.

This shop ended up closing in 2005 but downtown Santiago currently has over 100 cafe con piernas. The tradition lives on and it doesn’t seem to be going away. You can still find both traditional cafe con piernas on any street corner downtown and those with polarized glass inside the galleries. During International Coffee day, September 29th, you can even find discounted prices on the “cortado”, (coffee with milk) the most popular style of coffee asked.

So if you’re walking through downtown Santiago, don’t be afraid to stop by and have a cup of coffee. You never know what you’re going to find but you definitely will experience something Chilean. Please remember to be respectful while visiting these coffee shops by not taking pictures without permission or make a big deal and distract other clients. Enjoy, you’re in Chile.

 

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11 Comments

  1. You have got to be kidding me. The way this article is written is like it is ok to have a bunch of sexist guys go drink coffee and ogle women. This is a sad state of affairs. What decade are you living in??? If crap like this gets published then no wonder this country will never progress.

    1. Hi Tracy, we totally get your point of view but this article wasn’t written state whether this behavior is ok or not. It was written because it’s a part of Chile’s Culture, especially in Downtown Santiago. If you go on any walking tour, it gets talked about. Here is no different, we are talking about it. The women who work in these cafe con piernas are there by choice and it’s a business that is unique to Chile. And that’s why we decided to talk about it. Cheers

      1. I get that you want to talk about it, and the cafes are there, but it was the closing line that infuriated me. Just because “it is Chile” does not make it ok. I am an expat and have only lived here for a few months, but things need to move forward. The second class state of women here is unacceptable. Just because the walking tours talk about them does not make it something to promote. I know women often “choose” professions based out of circumstances, but as journalists you should be more respectful of this discrimination and put both sides of view. I know in developed countries these types of places exist (red light district in Amsterdam, strip clubs, etc..), but seriously. As a journalist think twice about using lines like “having women to serve them”.

        1. I believed I used the word “Enjoy, you’re in Chile” and as an expat myself living in Chile almost 8 years now and author of the article I completely understand where you’re coming from. Which is why I also mentioned at the end of the article to be respectful while visiting. I don’t believe I put any opinion in the article, pro or against, just stated facts about a cultural phenomenon in Chile. Each person is free to choose to enter or not. Just like the women who have the freedom to work there or not. These places are regulated and meet codes just like any other establishment. I interviewed these women to have a better understanding of Cafe con piernas and I would invite you to do the same to understand Chilean culture a bit more.

      2. yes, but you should have mentioned that this is ugly type of place and not recommend to go and quietly join the gaze. The last line should have been ” I hope Chilean gender pay gap disappears and women are not forced to work in underwear or to flirt with petty micro- pinus-situation customers for tips/ Dislike this bullshit article

        1. If I said that this place is an ugly type of place, then I’m putting my opinion and as a journalist, my job is to state facts and leave the reader to create an opinion. I clearly understand your opinion and respect the fact that you don’t agree. I appreciate you’re input and would definitely like to create an opinion’s column where more biased is showed. Stay tuned 🙂

          1. no thank you, i would rather read journalists who have moral compass and who is not afraid to stand up for women

      3. They are there by CHOICE? No woman becomes a prostitute by choice. The Chilean Café con Piernas, the Red Zone in Amsterdam and the likes are all a sign of human decay. Does anyone seriously believe these practices empower women?

        1. The red light district in Amsterdam and the cafe con piernas in chile are two different things and the comparison is quite extreme. Women who work in the cafe are not prostitutes and would be hurt by your comment assuming so freely. Believe it or not, yes these women are there by CHOICE. Take the time to understand the culture and speak to these women and then cast your opinion.

  2. From my point of view, and what it seems like gunara is saying is that by not taking a stance you are in fact taking a stance. At the very least you need to put in some information about the history of machismo culture. You can’t merely choose to focus on the “coffee shops” without at least recognizing their nature of sexism. Even if the men there only “get a view” it is still contributing to the culture of machismo. And you can state this while still unbiasedly reporting on this phenomenon. If possible, include what the women said who you interviewed (anonymously of course)! Without that information were left to assume how they feel about working there. Also, I notice that most of the articles you’ve written are about surface level Chilean culture i.e the bip cards, camping, Instagram feeds which is fine/useful. But if you want to report unbiasedly about Chilean culture I suggest you balance out this article with others that are about the nonsexist aspects of the culture like the tradition of once.

    To sum it up, easily stating a little about the culture of machismo doesn’t mean you’re ‘taking a side’, it actually makes you less biased because you’re presenting the whole picture.

    1. Thank you Eva for your input. This platform is very new (we celebrated our one month anniversary yesterday) so we are still testing the waters about what our readers really want. I didn’t except this I want start at the surface and then work our down to really understanding the Chilean culture and all its complexities. The culture of machismo is one subject that I would love to touch on and in due time, I will. There are so many topics to write about and my fingers can only type so fast. Choosing which one comes next, I will definitely be more aware of this and move forward with your suggestions in mind. Thank you.

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