The last time Casto Herrezuelo walked through the doors of El Palentino bar, gastronomy expert Narciso Bermejo was there to welcome him. Castro was co-owner of the bar and had been behind the counter since 1977. Alongside his sister-in-law Loli, he transformed the Madrid haunt into an icon of its time.
When Casto died in February 2018 and the bar was sold, Bermejo, the creative force behind the Macera TallerBar, Nada365 bar and the gastronomical director of the 7 Islas Hotel, took over the business with hotelier Martin Presumido, who is the owner of Mamá Chicó restaurant. On Thursday, they will open a remodeled version of El Palentino, located on Pez street in Madrid’s Malasaña neighborhood. And although it will offer a new menu, it will maintain the spirit of the original custodian who turned the bar into a legend with its affordable prices and authentic charm.
When Casto died, there was much speculation over the bar’s future. His heirs sold the property for €1.3 million to an investment fund which put it up for rent. The bar was being eyed by powerful catering groups such as Restalia, which owns chains such as Cien Montaditos and La Sureña.
El Palentino, like a church, was not created by its walls but by its worshipers Narciso Bermejo, co-owner of El Palentino
But Presumido took over the establishment within 24 hours. “The probability of it opening up again as El Palentino was very low,” he explains. When Presumido got into contact with Bermejo, the chef was hesitant to accept the offer. “I saw it as a responsibility. For me it was simpler not to take it on because it’s very hard to carry on a continuous line of something that was not created, but rather just happened,” he says.
The inspiration for the new El Palentino came from Casto. “How would he do it if he were 28 years old? What made [the bar] legendary was how everyone who went there was treated the same. Loli would deal with a movie star or a homeless person equally,” explain Bermejo and Presumido.
So how did El Palentino gain its legendary status? “The prices,” answers Bermejo, in reference to the €3 cocktails. To stay true to the spirit of the former bar, the new El Palentino will offer the same prices on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons: beers for €1.10 and pepitos de terna (beef sandwiches) for €2. “We’d like to always keep it this way, but we wouldn’t be able to survive financially.”
Renting the space costs €10,285 a month and there will be six professional bartenders on the staff. Working with artisanal spirits will allow them to offer drinks for €7 as opposed to €12. “On this street you can’t find anything for under €8,” says Presumido, who has created a cocktail list that pays homage to the past. The food menu will include local classics such as the sándwich mixto (ham and cheese sandwich) as well as new options such as spider crab croquetas and oxtail lasagna.
The food menu will have local classics as well as new options such as oxtail lasagna
As for the look of the new El Palentino, the bar will switch sides for regulatory and logistical reasons. The lamps and facade will remain the same but the logo will be updated by artist Juanjo López. “We’ve done what we could to save what was left, but it’s fallen to pieces. We’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter, because El Palentino, like a church, was not created by its walls but by its worshipers,” explains Bermejo. Photos by Jonás Bel, the photographer who spent every morning taking pictures in the bar throughout the year 2015, will be hung on the wall in tribute to the former space.
El Palentino will continue to be an emblem of “everyone’s youth,” says Bermejo, because everyone at some point spent time at the bar when they were young. “Or not,” he clarifies. “I believe it’s one of those places where more people say they went one time but never did. And we hope this keeps happening. If there is a goal, it is to reach the entire cross-section of society.”
For Bermejo, running El Palentino is not just a personal responsibility, it’s everyone’s job. “To come [to the bar] and say that it is not the same is stating the obvious in an almost obscene way, but the other option was to have a huge restaurant chain put up one of their franchises here. If there’s someone who was prepared to [run it] it’s me. And every day, I’m more sure of that.”
English version by Asia London Palomba.