Forget Tim Hortons, this is an experience you don’t want to miss
As I strolled down the streets of Santiago de Chile, I turned to my Chilean friend, “What can I do here that is truly a Chilean experience?” I asked. Without blinking my friend responded “Do you want to get a coffee?” The devious smile that appeared on his face advised me that this was no ordinary coffee experience.
Café con Piernas was the brain-child of disgruntled male Chileans who lived under the Pinochet dictatorship and felt that these cafés could be a release from a oppressive conservative society. Literally translated to “coffee with legs,” these cafes were introduced in the 70s and were filled with scantily-clad women in high heels that would serve men with their daily dose of coffee before or after work. The first cafes were relatively conservative; however as years went by, Café con Piernas started it’s own evolution.
Chile is known as double-standard country, both liberal and conservative in different ways. It is a strongly Catholic country that values family and tradition above all else, which is why the idea of visiting a coffee with legs Santiago peaked my interested.
Cafe Haiti waitresses dresses in tight dresses and heels
The first café I visited with my friend was Café Haiti. These cafes were one of the first in Chile. As I walk inside I instantly notice the women all wearing similar dresses and high heels. In these establishments, patrons must first buy their drink at a cashier before sitting down at a table. The women working in the café rely heavily on tips. So when you’re having coffee, you not only buying a beverage but also the company of one of the ladies. My friend informed me that women in these cafés can often earn up to $2,000 dollars USD a month and often receive gifts from their more loyal customers. Considering that the average individual earns only approx. $400 USD a month inChile, many women have chosen to work as a café con piernas woman.
As the popularity of the conservative Café con Piernas spread through out the city, other types of cafes also started to pop up. The second level of Café con Piernas (or as some say the “true Café con Piernas”) is a little more shocking. These cafés have darkened windows and are often only entered by male individuals. Inside these dingy and dark coffee shops, where loud dance music is played, women are dressed in lingerie and bikinis. The idea is the same but the women are often more friendly and attentive in these shops.
The outside of a more Risqué Cafe con Piernas
As I entered through the door of a more “liberal” café con piernas, near Plaza de Armas, I instantly noticed that I was the only woman patron in the establishment. My friend and I ordered a drink and stood by the bar waiting for our waitress. Most cafés have no seats and individuals stand around bars while sipping their coffee. Our waitress was wearing a bikini top and a g-string bottom that glowed in the dark. She greeted us with the traditional kiss on the check before taking our order. Smoking is allowed inside these cafés and the air is thick with smoke while the ground is littered with ash. Around me women are talking to male patrons, often touching their arms, hugging them and even at times kissing them on the lips. Our waitress comes back with our order and instantly starts to gravitate towards my male friend. As she talks to us, she often strokes his arm and flashes a big smile. When the conversation falls into a lull she starts dancing to the music before excusing herself and moving on to her other customers. When she does eventually come back, she explains her situation and informs me that this café was still relatively “tame.” In fact, there are other cafés around the city where women would sometimes offer other services with the coffee.
While Café con Piernas is not my style, I am glad that had the opportunity to experience this interesting Chilean phenomenon. I sipped a coffee, chatted with a true café con piernas woman and learned a little bit more about the history behind this strange yet fascinating Chilean anomaly.