For A Few Sweet Hours, The Confitería Del Molino In Buenos Aires Reopens The preview reopening of the Confitería del Molino, a long-shuttered art nouveau pastry cafe near the Argentine Capitol, prompted lines around the block — and, for some former patrons, good memories.
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In Buenos Aires, Crowds Line Up For A Taste Of Sweeter Days

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In Buenos Aires, Crowds Line Up For A Taste Of Sweeter Days

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

To Argentina now. When you stand in the center of Plaza del Congreso in downtown Buenos Aires looking at the Capitol dome, there's a ghost of a building just to the right. It's a deteriorating art nouveau masterpiece closed for decades and now in the middle of a multiyear restoration. It opened to the public for just a few hours recently. NPR's Bob Mondello was there and sent back this postcard.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The crowd started lining up hours early, two and three abreast. And when the doors finally opened, the line stretched almost three blocks. At least half the visitors appeared young enough that they could never have been inside the extravagant, long-shuttered cafe known as the Confiteria del Molino, never have passed under the windmill above the entrance to gaze at the "Don Quixote" windows inside, more than a thousand square feet of stained glass that make the marble and mahogany ground floor look like a cross between a cafe and a cathedral, a place of such storied romance it even inspired a tango.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRICEL")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

MONDELLO: Jose Maria Contursi, a longtime patron of the Confiteria, wrote here of his hopeless passion in the tango "Gricel." The love of his life was married. And for 22 years, he drowned his sorrows here at the del Molino until, one day, word reached him that the woman he loved was now a widow. They were reunited here, married at long last.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRICEL")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

MONDELLO: So there's history going all the way back to 1916, when the cafe opened on July 9 across the street from the recently completed Congress to mark 100 years of Argentine independence. The building above the Confiteria, finished the following year, was a marvel of its time, illuminated by electric lights, that windmill on the roof spinning slowly, topped by a cupola that rose to more than 200 feet, making the Edificio del Molino one of the tallest structures in the city, a landmark and gathering place for more than half a century.

And then, sadly, neglect, decay, vandalism.

GUILLERMO GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: Guillermo Garcia is with the federal commission that's restoring the del Molino building. It was declared a National Historic Monument in 1997 but has sat empty ever since. Now the Argentine government is returning the building to its former splendor, and the plan is to reopen the ground-floor cafe...

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: ...With its original menu. That'll please Bella Frizmann, who positively bubbles as she remembers coming here as a child in the 1930s for teatime treats with her father.

BELLA FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: Pastries, sandwiches and an imperial dessert with caramel.

FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: Clearly, it made an impression, which may be why a bit later, her boyfriend, a soldier, chose this spot...

FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: ...To meet on a day she still remembers...

FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: ...The 26 of March, 1950. She thought he wanted to talk about problems he was having with his regiment. But her girlfriends all said, no way. Dress up; this is going to be serious.

FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: They were right. He was waiting there at the door. And once seated inside, he said something clumsily formal to the effect that, our closeness is required.

FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: It was a marriage proposal, and she accepted.

FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: So there's history. The history of the del Molino building is being refreshed. All the things Bella remembers - marble, stained glass, golden chandeliers - are being buffed and polished.

FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: On the main level where today a string quartet is playing amid crumbling plaster, there's still lots to do. Workers found more than 15,000 artifacts from plaster molds to old menus and are now reassembling them as if they were a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Upstairs, they've already got a smoking lounge and a ballroom gleaming from the balcony for the orchestra to the herringbone-patterned dance floor. They'll be part of a new cultural center, says Garcia, next year, when they get that windmill turning on the roof...

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: ...By fixing the original motor. This one-day glimpse of the Confiteria del Molino, he promises, is just a taste. And the crowds suggest that that taste is whetting appetites for pastries and for old-world ambience.

When we come back next year and it is open, will you go with us?

FRIZMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: "We'll do that."

In Buenos Aires, I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRICEL")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

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