Saturday, April 30, 2016

Santiago: A putsch in a punch at La Piojera

by Roderick Eime

Once the air would have been thick with a pungent fug of Cuban tobacco and seditious schemes yet today, years after the last dictator was deposed, La Piojera (the flea pit) still retains that vital air of free speech and dangerously creative thought.

Owned by the same family for a century and formerly known as 'Restaurante Santiago Old' the name is derived from that given to it when former president of Chile, Arturo Alessandri Palma, called it a lowly 'flea pit' when on a visit in 1922.

You want it in a dirty glass?

This nondescript hole-in-the-wall in the Mapocho district, lies just across the road from the over-hyped, French-designed Central Market, a feature on many conventional tourist trails.

In stark contrast to its shiny, pompous neighbour, the grimy La Piojera's floors are wet with untold spilled drinks, beaten-up furniture, take-it-or-leave-it service and a rowdy, convivial crowd sporting lots of black, tattoos and Che Guevara beards.
Rough neighborhood
Back in the '80s, seditious left-wing plots were hatched here by minor revolutionaries and poets like Jorge Teillier, Rolando Cárdenas, Alvaro Ruiz and Aristotle Spain. The famous opera singer, Ramon Vinay, was known to get up and rattle off Verdi on top of a wine barrel.

Dangerous mutterings were once heard in dark corners, fearful of Pinochet moles, but today subversion is served in a plastic 10oz cup and called a 'terremoto' (earthquake), a cheap and nasty concoction of rough white wine, grenadine and a scoop of pineapple ice cream. Here, they like to add a straw for a touch of sophistication.

This proletariat temple and working class chapel is worth the visit if you are looking for the quirky, seldom seen underbelly of Santiago.

For information about tours that include this and other out-of-the-way sights in Santiago, contact Movidas Journeys

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