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.