The Soul of Madrid Bar By Bar

The Soul of Madrid Bar By Bar
Madrileño Pleasure Seekers (Critics, Restaurateurs, and Journalists) Pick the 20 Best Places to Eat Standing Up
El País: El alma de Madrid, de barra en barra
Patricia Ortega Dolz, reporting from Madrid February 5, 2011

Madrid is not a city with especially great monuments or avenues. Its wealth is in its street life, dynamized and profiled by bars of every sort, spontaneously converted into small temples of daily pilgrimage. No one who goes out in Madrid tires of going from bar to bar: the vermouth, the draft beer, the wine…they form part of daily life which visitors and passersby blend into without even trying to.

Like so, from the countless bars of the capital, one can tell the history of the city and become part of the expansive atmosphere of delight which makes it unique. There is no going back: it will always be a part of you. Whoever does not have a memory of a bar in Madrid has not really been there.

Madrid en 20 barras demonstrates this. The small Madrid publisher Armero Ediciones has just finished placing the book in bookstores and on the Internet ( as part of its collection Club de los Magníficos, with a prologue by well-known glutton Juan Echanove and a poetic epilogue by Luis Alberto de Cuenca. Seven enthusiasts of food and drink, seven magnificents, seven who work for the life of Madrid, select their sites, their small gastronomic temples, and configure a map of enjoyment, a pocket guide to Madrileño pleasure, practically a declaration of love: “There is nothing like the flavor of love in a bar…”

Food critics Lorenzo Díaz and Ignacio Medina, restaurateurs Pepe Morán and Sacha Hormaechea (of De la Riva and Sacha, respectively), the journalist Javier Rioyo and the bon viveur Gonzalo del Valle-Inclán recommend the places where they pass their time most pleasantly and frequently, their “flagship bars.” Upon reading them, one discovers that there is always more to discover and that you are never finished with Madrid because, as Echanove says, “the bar is the lottery that you never win.”

The strangest thing about this guide to delicious experiences that takes us from one neighborhood to another (from Salamanca to Malasaña or from there to Ciudad Lineal) is that behind each and every establishment is someone who makes it unique and unrepeatable, a soul that imprints its character and makes something extraordinary from the routine. There are gods of small things like Ana María, who cooks her tasty daily casseroles in a small corner of Bodegas Ricla (Cuchilleros, 6), while her sons Emilio and José Antonio carefully tend the colorful hundred-year old bar. “This tavern, like La Ardosa (Colón, 13), opened in order to distribute the wines of the province of Madrid, in this case the Aragonese wines of Ricla,” recounts Gonzalo de Valle-Inclán. “The people come for these meatballs, for example, because they are made with all my love,” says a coquettish and energetic Ana María, who you almost have to search for behind the bar.

But not all the good bars have to be centenarians. Pepe Morán introduces us to two young Madrileños, Álvaro and Ivan Arzábal, who in a year have converted their “modern Spanish bistro” into one of the most notable bars among the many that populate the Retiro Park district. “We aren’t brothers, and we aren’t Basques. We met in hotel management school, and we have loved taverns our whole life. The key to our success is plurality of quality. This is a place for work dinners or friendly meetings where you can spend 10 euros or 100,” assures Álvaro in the midst of the hustle and bustle of noontime.

“I opted for the most popular, least posh, and cheapest bars, those that preserve the essence of what taverns were: friendly places, undemanding in wine and beer, and excellent in traditional cooking,” says Javier Rioyo to explain his selections: Casa Revuelta (Latoneros, 3) and El Boquerón (Valencia, 14). “Even so, my favorite, La Venencia (Echegaray, 7), does not appear because they didn’t want photos to be published.”

“You cannot compare something with roots to something that has branches,” says Gonzalo de Valle-Inclán, who has elected Bodegas Ricla (Cuchilleros, 6). “Dining in the bar is a way of life in Madrid, and there’s no reason not to have a pasta there,” he says.

They have configured a mosaic of bars for all tastes, expensive and cheap, modern and ancient, with and without snacks…

It is not the first gastronomic guide that has been published in this collection. Before it were Los 20 Magníficos (2006) and Otros 20 Magníficos (2008), both of which sold out. “When we want to make a guide of bars and restaurants, we always end up with portrait of Madrid,” says Jacobo Armero, responsible along with his brother for the publication of this latest edition on fuchsia pages. He adds: “The most beautiful thing would be for the pages to wear out and be stained with splashes from these bars. It is a book for this purpose, for going out with and living with.”

For this reason and also to increase the list of sites and know the opinions of others, for the first time and as an alternative to traditional distribution, the book includes a digital “key” in each copy. Each one is unique and has an access code to a web page in which one can find other suggestions of these and other Madrileño ñampazampas (barflies) as well as interviews with proprietors of other bars and their own recommendations, such that each person can configure his own map and contribute his commentaries to others. It is a kind of social network dedicated to culinary subjects in the capital, like a Facebar.

This latest guide to Madrileño pleasures can be found in the principal bookstores of the capital, in some of its many bars, and of course on the Internet ( To read it is to take a long walk through a Madrid that props itself up on its elbows and lives on its feet: “¡Una de bravas!

14 Magníficos
– Arzábal (Doctor Castelo, 2).
– Asturianos (Vallehermoso, 94).
– La Ardosa (Colón, 13).
– Ricla (Cuchilleros,6).
– Casa Rafa (Narváez, 68).
– Casa Revuelta (Latoneros, 3).
– Combarro (Reina Mercedes, 12).
– Docamar (Alcalá, 337).
– El Boquerón (Valencia, 14).
– El Cangrejero (Amaniel, 25).
– Fogón de Trifón (Ayala, 144).
– Jose Luís (Serrano, 89).
– La Garriga (Castellana, 153).
– Nájera (Calle de Guzmán el Bueno, 51).

Route of Traditional Bars
Photos and Captions by Pedro Albornoz, February 5, 2011

Bodegas Ricla: In Cuchilleros, 6 one can find this enchanting old-style bar. Vermouth, glazed tiles, azulejos, colored silk screen over the door…a bar with roots where one can enjoy the best wines at a reasonable price.

Casa Rafa
Casa Rafa: Famous for its lobster salpicon, this bar in the Salamanca neighborhood has “probably the most expensive liquor cabinet in Europe and part of America,” in the words of Emiliano Suárez.

El Boquerón
In the center of Lavapìés, El Boquerón (Valencia, 14) is for Javier Rioyo “one of those tight, crammed, uncomfortable places which we will never abandon.”

Nájera: This local bar on Guzmán el Bueno Street was established as a tavern with the air of a neighborhood bar, and it has already had more than half a century of life. It is a place to enjoy fried fish or garlic shrimp.

Puerta 57
Puerta 57: This bar has aspired to be a traditional luxury bar of the highest level. It was awarded Best Bar of 2007 and makes “the best Russian salad in the capital” according to Lorenzo Díaz.

Casa Revuelta
The nonagenarian man seated in the background of the photo is Santiago Revuelta, founder of Casa Revuelta (Lantoneros, 3). He arrived in Madrid in his 30s with a bundle of chorizo and queso (sausage and cheese) in 1966.

Arzábal: The young Álvaro and Iván have converted their “modern Spanish bistro” into a place of note in the Retiro park district. They’ve only been there a year, but their success has shot through the roof.

El Cangrejero
El Cangrejero: A classic on Amaniel Street along with Conde Duque. It was an appetizer shop that sold crayfish and shrimp in cones. Now it is a king of canned pork and pork rinds.

Docamar: Another classic whose address is 337 Alcalá Street. Its DYC bottles filled with sauce are mythical, and its fried potatoes are some of the best in Madrid.

Explore posts in the same categories: Cuisine, Spain, Translations

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