Madrid is not an especially monumental city, nor is it crisscrossed by wide avenues. Instead, its value lies in its streets, which teem with life, and its bars, which become places of pilgrimage for residents and visitors alike. Nobody who goes for a walk in Madrid can fail to drop into a Madrid bar for a vermouth, a beer or a glass of wine. It is part of the daily ritual that locals and tourists alike seem to adopt as second nature - almost without noticing.
One could easily tell the story of Madrid through its countless bars. In fact, someone has. Madrid en 20 barras (Madrid in 20 bar counters), which has just gone on sale in bookstores and online (http://www.madriden20barras.com/), is published by a small Madrid outfit called Armero Ediciones, with a foreword by renowned food buff, the actor Juan Echanove, and a poetic epilogue by author Luis Alberto de Cuenca. In the book, seven food and drink enthusiasts share their favorite spots for wining and dining in the capital, drawing up a pocket-size guide that is practically a love song to the city and its gastronomy.
Behind each place, there is someone who makes it special and unique
"I opted for the ones that preserve the essence of what taverns used to be"
The contributors to Madrid en 20 barras are two food critics, Lorenzo Díaz and Ignacio Medina, two restaurant owners, Pepe Morán and Sacha Hormaechea (proprietors of De la Riva and Sacha, respectively), the journalist Javier Rioyo and the bon vivant Gonzalo del Valle-Inclán, all of whom reveal the bars that they frequent the most, or as they like to call them, their "primary-care bars."
Reading the book, which jumps from one neighborhood to the next, one realizes that there is always something else left to discover in Madrid, and that not even the most diligent barfly could ever get to the bottom of it, because, as Echanove points out, "the bar counter is like the lottery that you never win."
The curious thing about this guidebook of culinary delights is that behind each place that is mentioned, there is someone who makes them special and unique - someone who adds soul and character to everyday things, making them extraordinary. They are the gods of the little things. People like Ana María, who prepares her tasty dishes every day in a little corner of Bodegas Ricla (Cuchilleros 6), while her sons Emilio and José Antonio tend the colorful bar. "That tavern, just like La Ardosa [Colón 13], is one of those establishments that opened to distribute wines from Madrid province - or in this case, the Aragonese wines from Ricla," says De Valle-Inclán.
"People come for these meatballs, for instance, because I make them with loving care," says Ana María, a small, spirited woman who you almost have to search out from behind the counter.
But not all good bars need to be 100 years old. Morán points to two young Madrileños, Álvaro and Iván, whose "modern Spanish bistrot" Arzábal has become a reference point in the Retiro area in just one year. "We're not Basque and we're not brothers," says Álvaro, in reference to the Basque surname they used for their establishment. "We met at hospitality school and shared a love for old-fashioned taverns. The key to success is the plurality of quality. This is a place for business lunches or friendly reunions, where you can spend anywhere between 10 and 100 euros."
"I opted for more popular, less posh, less expensive places - those that preserve the essence of what taverns used to be: family-run eateries that were undemanding about the wine and beer but served excellent food, prepared the traditional way," says Rioyo about his choices: Casa Revuelta (Latoneros 3) and El Boquerón (Valencia 14). "And even so, I couldn't include my favorite place, La Venencia [Echegaray 7] because they refused to appear in a picture."
"You cannot compare something that is deep-rooted with something that has branches," says De Valle-Inclán, who picked out Bodegas Ricla. "Eating at the counter is a way of life in Madrid, and there is no need to spend a fortune to do so."
Jacobo Armero is the co-publisher of the guidebook, which is bound in a fuchsia material. "It will be good when that fabric gets worn out, and covered with stains picked up in bars," he says. "That's what the book is for, for going places with you and living with you."