what’s a peña?
it’s a form of entertainment in various Spanish-speaking countries that combines folk music, food, and drink. Salta is particularly famous for them — i was told that what tango is to Buenos Aires, peñas are to Salta by my Buenos Aires Airbnb host, and that i must go to one.
from what i gather, there are two types of peña — one with a stage and a more formal schedule and set of music, and one with locals bringing their instruments, playing at tables right next to you, and everybody getting involved. of course, i chose the latter, of which La Casona del Molino is probably the most famous in town. (psst, there’s a video at the end of this post.)
La Casona del Molino
located on the west side of Salta, it’s about a five minute cab ride or so from the Plaza 9 de Julio; it shouldn’t cost more than 20 or 25 pesos. it has a central courtyard (referred to as the patio) surrounded by individual rooms, and an outdoor deck in the back. each of these is packed with tables for people noshing on yummy parrilla.
when you arrive, make your way through the two rooms you hit until you get to the courtyard; that’s where the employees congregate. keep in mind it doesn’t open until 9 PM, and reservations for the patio are hard to come by past 10 PM unless you call in advance, especially on weekends (i tried to make one on a friday afternoon for that night and was not successful). i chanced it and got there around 9:30 and got one of the few remaining two-tops at the patio. while the vast majority of the patrons were locals (with strollers and kids running about, even), i was seated next to three people from Australia who also did not make a reservation. English is somewhat spoken.
NOTE that the fun (= the music) on the night i went didn’t start until 10:30-11:00 PM and i don’t think it was even in full swing by the time i left past midnight, so you may want to nap in the afternoon, eat something in the early evening to tide you over, and then draw out your dinner, which actually isn’t hard to do because as the night goes on, it gets overflowing with people and the staff gets overtaxed. (no complaints, since i was able to keep my coveted patio table for quite a while.) the music actually started in some of the side rooms and no one was playing in the patio by the time i left, so be sure to walk around and explore all the rooms you hear singing and music coming out of after your meal. there’s no problem just standing to the side and enjoying. you can even pre-eat and get there past midnight and hang out with a drink (or without?).
i totally overate. they have typical parrilla stuff as well as local specialties. the total of all of my food and drink below was around 220 pesos.
i probably lingered at my table for nearly two hours (yes, quite selfish), and one of the customers was trying to get me to join his table, i think to help the restaurant out with customer flow, which i finally did when i was done eating. that’s why i was so close for the first part of the video below — i guess i’m kind of glad it worked out that way, although i felt kind of awkward.
people just show up with instruments (guitars, drums, flutes, whatever), some solo, some in groups, find a seat, and start playing. i’ve heard that many now-famous folk singers have gotten their starts in peñas, but it’s not just them that are making music. the audience sings along so it’s not just a show, it’s a shindig. it’s also not like those fancy restaurants where musicians come by your table and serenade you expecting tips — these people are singing because they want to have fun and they want you to have fun.
if you get a chance to go to one of these more intimate type of peñas, GO. i mean, how can you say no to great music and great food?
Waiting for a cab, still listening to the music. Peñas are fun! Dinner and folky music (locals bring instru… //t.co/djwK1iQcmk
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) February 8, 2014