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The Fisherman's Club

el Club de Pescadores en Buenos Aires, Argentina

A friend suggests visiting the Fisherman’s Club while in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And as he is someone with impeccable taste, there’s no hesitation – we embark upon this journey with glee.

But really, a fisherman’s club? Did it mean we’d see fishermen coming and going, hauling the catch of the day? Or rather is it where they congregate to socialize, all dressed up swapping fish stories? Might we catch a glimpse of wives and children, also flush with the excitement of a day at the club? Will there be boats; and nets and lobster traps and buoys? Are any of these Canadian coastal references remotely applicable?

In 1903, the Fishermans’ Club came into existence because for many years prior, local fisherman would gather and fish off the French dock that served the coal ships which arrived to deliver coal directly onto trains at Retiro Station which then dispatched this essential fuel across the country. The club was founded because the dock had fallen into complete disrepair and the fishermen got together to rebuild it, which they did collectively, by hand, so as to continue their pastime of fishing.

As the Google translate version of the club’s website explains:

”A group of fishermen who gathered there to practice their sport, allowed for the use of it by the national authorities, armed with planks, wood and debris rail will repair and reform their own efforts, putting that to practice under fishing there: Nothing more and nothing less than ten blocks of spring! Born there a community-minded impulse fishing.”

From where we are staying in Palermo Soho, our walk takes us past/through several charming green spaces. A botanical garden. A Japanese garden. A public park with private friendship clubs. And on until we must cross the highway, which inspires the feeling that we are being terribly intrepid. So exciting. Somewhere new and never before seen (by us)! Will we actually make it? Does it indeed exist? Did we understand the whole idea properly or are we just going to end up at the airport?

Finally we can see the building in the distance, and are quite pleased to realize this is our destination. Built on a long sturdy dock, the Fisherman’s Club immediately conjures refinement, history, Argentina, and is most definitely a social club.

After much photography shenanigans outside on the ramparts, Helen and I enter confident we’ve been thorough in our record of the utter coolness of this place: the building, the dock, the water, ourselves.

As we approach the entrance we pass someone who is plainly a sturdy man of the sea, complete with his tackle and weathered face. Oh how exciting this is.

So imagine our disappointment to discover the club, which is situated on the main floor past the front lobby, is for members only! We peek in. Their entrance hall is lined with bamboo fishing rods. Directly beyond the entrance hall — where a guard sits placidly but emphatically positioned to halt any possibility of more girly shenanigans (such as slipping in anyway to have a good look) — we glean part of a dining area and beyond that are floor to ceiling glass doors revealing the long, gorgeous dock extending gloriously into the great river. It is startling to me when Helen observes the dock is also private. The only access to it is through the member’s only club. Serious frowny face.

Since we made such an effort to get here, we default to the public space above, an absolutely marvelous restaurant full of 1940’s character surrounded by glass windows and a fine balcony. It is a completely divine consolation prize. Here we merrily continue our photography shenanigans while enjoying espresso and ice cream combined as a classic Italian dessert courtesy of Helen’s positively worldly repertoire.

When the original fishermen founders went to work rebuilding the dock, they thought to enhance the place and built the social club. Less grand, but I’m sure no less popular.

However a great storm washed everything away at one point. The members had to start over again. It would seem they were quite committed, undeterred in their desire to maintain this social/fishing aspect of their lives. As one reads the very long history on their website one learns the rebuilding process was long, involved several Argentinian presidents and mayors approval, (in terms of building permits perhaps? My Spanish is still somewhat lacking), a pretty spectacular opening, and an astronomical hike in fees to the members to cover costs. (The newly created lifetime membership was set at $500 at a time when a car cost $1,000.)

The dock and now recognized historical building that stands today took the club 10 years to realize after that storm and they are quite rightly proud of the fact that they did it entirely themselves, without any outside financing. There’s a robust calendar of fishing events and competitions and it really makes one thing it would be fun to be a member.

If this were a travel article and you were a traveller looking for something to do in Buenos Aires, I would give it two thumbs up and highly recommend this jaunt. Order a sandwich and watch the weather change over the water.

Originally published February 22, 2013

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