Memories of Old Lima, Peru

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Sprawling, noisy, bustling with traffic and people at all hours of the day and night, Lima seems to epitomize the chaotic South American capital. But its modern façade conceals a romantic past.

The landmarks listed here were chosen for the glimpses they afford of the Lima that was. Some are off the beaten tourist path; all are very much worth the trip.

Bar Cordano

Located just one block from the Palacio del Gobierno in the plaza mayor, this bar/restaurant dates back to 1905 and is recognized as a historical monument by the Peruvian government. Its original owners, a family of Italian immigrants, sold the business to their employees back in 1978; it continues to be run by the workers’ families to this day.

The restaurant’s interior oozes history—the walls are lined with memorabilia and old photographs, including black-and-white prints of the many presidents who have dined there—but the atmosphere is surprisingly un-nostalgic. Harried government workers rub elbows with journalists carrying on fierce disputations one table over, and the service is brisk and matter-of-fact.

Matter-of-fact, that is, until you ask the waitstaff about everything that has happened here, upon which they will regale you with tales as tasty as the food: political scandals, coups d’etat planned in the bar’s dining room, artists who drank themselves into a stupor, and more.

Go during lunchtime for the full experience, and order the ham sandwiches (for which the bar is famous) or the bistec a lo pobre with tacu-tacu—steak with fried egg and beans (for which it has no special reputation, but which is among the best in the city).

Antigua Taberna Quierolo

Chalkboard menus, shelves piled to the ceiling with locally made wines and piscos, a well-worn wooden bar, and even an old hand-cranked telephone give this venerable institution its nostalgic charm. It’s impossible not to feel like you’re stepping back in time as you cross the front grille. This is unsurprising, given that the restaurant has been in continuous operation, in one form or another, since it was founded in 1880.

The restaurant has survived to this day, substantially the same as it was all those years ago, though last year it underwent a much-needed expansion. The best dishes are the cau cau (beef tripe with potatoes), the escabeche (fish stew in spicy sauce), and the sandwiches. When you go, don’t forget to chat with Stella, the waitress who is almost as much of an institution as the bar itself, and to check out the Santiago Queirolo wholesale business next door, which is still thriving after more than a century.

Bar Hotel Maury

The pisco sour is Peru’s national drink, and there’s no surer way to get Peruvians arguing than to float them an innocent question about its origins. There does seem to be a consensus, however, that the Hotel Maury played a key role in the concoction’s history.

According to Don Eloy Cuadros, who has worked at the hotel for half a century and, at age 70, is the doyen of Lima barmen, while the drink was born at the now-defunct Morris Bar, he and other bartenders at the Maury were the ones responsible for adding the egg whites that gave it its body and texture.

Whatever the case, the decayed splendor of the Maury Hotel provides a perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy the beverage: the giant U-shaped bar, striking murals, decadent backlighting, and red-jacketed staff call up images of bohemian Lima in the 1950s, while the hotel’s faded exterior evokes memories of a vanished elegance. Go late in the evening, when the crowds and atmosphere are at their best.

Photo credit: Elena Maria

Mike Gasparovic is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. His great passion is Latin American culture, and he devotes most of his free time to studying the history, art, literature, and people of the Spanish-speaking world. He currently lives in Lima.

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