Cities sometimes need to provide space, which is more intimate than an office and more public than one’s home. Santiago de Chile has its peculiar magic formula in Cafés with legs (literally cafés con piernas). Resulting from an hegemonic masculinity in society, these widely accepted cafés still struggle with male and female roles, reaffirming traditional modes of being “man” and being “woman”.
Basically they consist of a café, where refined coffee is served at a higher price than average, by waitresses with naked legs or light clothes/underwear. Clients (mostly men) sit along its bar on stools during their midday break from office work. From the street, a smoked glass turns the prohibited into invisible, while once inside, mirror glasses make the permitted fully visible.
But eroticism aside, the incredible success of such meeting places relies on the waitresses giving psychological support to their customers, a kind of female advisor on personal lives. The fact that waitresses are more naked than dressed, provides an atmosphere of intimacy to talk about one’s deepest feelings.
In a time where women have achieved enough self-sufficiency in Chile, it seems that there is still a necessity for outdated roles of women’s servility, that is not to be found at home. As Devanir da Concha Silva pointed out [magazine for experimental anthropology 5,2005], these places are anchored to former “natural” spaces for men and women, reflecting how [hetero] sexual human beings enjoy everyday urbanity. But does urbanity really need the illusion of being a “real man” to feel more masculine?
Meanwhile, Cafés with Legs will remain between a modernised past and an obsolete modernity…