Inside the Bar Where Peruvian Presidents Go to Drink
Since it opened in 1905, Lima's bar-restaurant Cordano has served pisco sours and butifarra sandwiches to almost every Peruvian president in modern history.
Inside Cordano. All photos by the author.
If you take a drive through Lima today, you will immediately notice the political advertisements plastered on every billboard, sign, and spare concrete wall. It's election seasons in Peru, and the candidate mix is of particular interest, with a former president's daughter in the running. And not just any daughter, as Keiko Fujimori is the child of Alberto Fujimori, a former Peruvian president who is currently serving a prison sentence for war crimes and human rights violations during his term (1990-2000).
If you lived in Peru from the 1980s through the 1990s, then you're intimately aware of the Shining Path, a guerilla organization led by Abimael Guzmán, which sparked a civil uprising that nearly caused Peru to come unglued. The Shining Path targeted the poorest of Peruvians, enlisting Quechua-speaking, indigenous recruits from the highlands to wage war on government institutions by preventing citizens to vote and interfering with government aid. The guerilla group recruited an estimated 15,000 members at its prime, who all fought with borderline impunity, with the main goal being to use as much violence as possible to end the democratic era of Peruvian rule. By eliciting this force, the conflict is estimated to have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Peruvians; and it is Fujimori's actions taken against the Shining Path (and countless innocents), his control of the press, and his seizure of almost all of the country's other institutions that led to his incarceration.
It was during the era of the Shining Path's early formations that Jacinto López Delgado, co-owner of Lima institution bar-restaurant Cordano, moved to Lima and earned his first job downtown as a cashier at the bar he now owns. Since it opened in 1905, Cordano has had a privileged position in history, as it is directly adjacent to the Government Palace, home to the executive branch of the Peruvian government and the official residence of the president. The bar has served almost every Peruvian president in modern history, and Delgado has had a front-row seat to it all.
With translation assistance from local Intrepid Travel guide Luis Lazarte, Delgado reveals his journey to Cordano. At the young age of 23, Delgado left his home to pursue a better life in Lima, and he credits his position at Cordano as a good stroke of luck. "By coincidence of life, I came to work here in 1973," Delgado says. "I always loved restaurants and I wanted this place to continue through the economic crisis." And it's during said economic crisis of 1978 that the Cordano family's namesake came into turmoil, leaving the Cordanos in a dire situation, with the only remedy being to sell the bar. Delgado—along with Cordano's staff of chefs, bartenders, and waiters—established an association so they could purchase the restaurant, saving it from outside ownership. Cordano turned into a staff-run enterprise split among 18 people, with the total today being 15, as three original owners have passed.
Now, at the ripe age of 66, Delgado has quite a few stories. "I like the environment of Cordano, and the opportunity to be next to the Government Palace," Delgado says, with a menacing grin, like someone who knows more than he lets on.
But as any good politician would, Delgado refuses to give up his secrets. Instead, he insists Cordano is an establishment where Peru's presidents can be regular citizens, sitting to enjoy the bar's famed butifarra, a ham sandwich beloved by Delgado and locals alike. "Presidents don't come for private booths, but rather to blend like anyone else," Delgado says. But it's hard to imagine this scene, as old photos line the Cordano walls, each revealing a Peruvian president's jaunt to the bar. And there's a quiet room in the back, where a herd of government businessmen sit, discussing pending deals and Peruvian legislation.
What are Delgado's thoughts on the upcoming election? "I don't have a favorite candidate," Delgado says. "I have to remain neutral in this environment. I've happily worked here since 1973," he says, laughing, as he knows I know he's holding back his full opinion, for due reason. With his position in Lima, you have to play nice. Although he wouldn't reveal his choice, Delgado did mention former Prime Minister and current presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is a Cordano regular, making frequent stops into the establishment for a sandwich and pisco sour.
As the owner of such an iconic establishment in Peruvian history, Delgado is proud of the bar he's built, but he still insists on being called a cashier, rarely revealing his ownership title. "I'm very proud of this place because of the people working here," Delgado says. "People don't stay here one year then leave. They stay for 20, 30, 40 years…they work with their heart."
At such an interesting era in Peru's history, only time will tell who will claim the seat as Peru's next president. Will it be the conservative Kuczynski, the liberal Verónika Mendoza, or the former president's daughter, Keiko Fujimori? Many locals believe that if Fujimori wins the race this Sunday, April 10, her father will eventually be set free, as they suspect her to change legislation to favor her father's pardon.
Regardless of the outcome, Delgado will be there to welcome the next president with a butifarra and pisco sour. "I only see positive things coming, but we will always keep things the same," Delgado says assuredly. "We will continue as we are."