Ode to the Spanish bar: the beautiful country of wine and songs
260,000 establishments make Spain the country with the highest density of bars in the world. From the classic to the more avant-garde, here are the ones not to be missed.
In Spain, each year, 1,000 people die doing sport and 47 at the bar of a drinking establishment. Your choice.” Or, “Here the beer is colder than your ex’s heart”. These phases are taken from the promotional materials of Spanish bars, written in chalk on blackboards at the bar entrance. A fundamental part of the country’s culture and reliable indicator of economic health, the bar business represents 15% of Spanish GDP, double the European average. For many Spanish people, they are a second home, in a country that has one establishment for every 175 inhabitants.
In the more touristy areas, like the south of the peninsular and the Balearic and Canary Islands, they number more than anywhere else. In the south, the Autonomous Community of Andalusia has as many bars as Norway, Finland, Denmark and Ireland combined: 47,000 establishments, which represents 17% of all Spanish bars. With flamenco music playing, bull-fighting décor and a courtyard of geraniums, El Pimpi, Malaga, is the best representation of the traditional Andalusian bar. In Bodeguita Romero, Seville, the star tapa is el piripi, a bacon, cheese, pork loin, fresh tomato and mayonnaise roll. Venison lollipops, cod alla carbonara and foie gras with pineapple compote make Bar Puratasca, in the heart of Triana, one of the most fashionable culinary options in the Andalusian capital.
Madrid and Barcelona have more entertaining versions of their metro maps available, where the stops are replaced by bars. In the capital, Casa Camacho (metro Tribunal) continues promoting tradition. It opened its doors in 1928, and little has changed since then. It is located in the Bohemian Malasaña quarter, and there, the thick-rimmed glasses are sported by grey-haired patrons. When snifter time arrives, the floor becomes a sea of toothpicks, as throngs of cool young things sample one of the best vermouths sold on tap; or one of its legendary yayos, made with soda, gin and vermouth. Another must-visit is Casa Lucio. Located on Cava Baja, its world famous poached eggs have made it onto the tables of Tom Cruise, David Beckham and Bill Clinton.
In a bid to escape vulgarity, and the standard props of the traditional Spanish bar, comprising slot machines, printed serviettes and toothpicks, many bars are opting to renovate. They are modernising and, little by little, the sector is being penetrated by the concept of an ‘ibar’, a place you go after reading the opinions of other users, on the Internet. Ibars launch succulent online promotions and use social networks to showcase their specialities and get customer feedback.
“Bars are like churches: the altar is the bar, the priest the barman, and the offering a cocktail,” affirms Javier de las Muelas, whose Dry Martini in Barcelona, is on the list of the world’s 50 best bars. With its Michelin star, Tickets, also in Barcelona, takes tapaculture up a notch. Managed by Albert Adrià, brother of chef Ferrán Adrià, at this establishment, having a snack is converted into a surprising experience. It is divided into six bars, each with its own culinary concept, such as Iberian or sweet products. Here, the customer becomes a member of a circus audience, enjoying snacks like Manchego-filled mini-airbags, and liquid ravioli.
“Spain, the beautiful country of wine and songs,” Goethe used to say. And both are guaranteed in its bars.