“There are no bartenders like me any more, I’m a museum piece”

EL PAÍS speaks to Amadeo Lázaro, the 90-year-old owner of the iconic tavern Casa Amadeo, about success, preparing snails and why he has no plans to retire

Amadeo Lázaro, founder and owner of Casa Amadeo “Los Caracoles” in Cascorro square, Madrid.
Amadeo Lázaro, founder and owner of Casa Amadeo “Los Caracoles” in Cascorro square, Madrid.KIKE PARA

When Amadeo Lázaro is asked if he is the boss, he replies that he’s just the errand boy. “We’re here to serve you, to welcome you with a positive attitude,” he says. Lázaro first began working at a bar when he was 11. Now, at age 90, he has been running Madrid’s iconic Casa Amadeo “Los Caracoles,” in the La Latina neighborhood, for nearly half a century.

Question. You’ve been here a few years…

Answer. A few years less than Cascorro square [where the bar is located].

Q. The square is going to be renamed.

I am a barman at heart, there is no secret

A. After all I’ve done, the square should be renamed after me.

Q. What have you learned in this time?

A. I’m still learning! Because there is so much to learn. I have learned that it is a virtue to be friendly, warm, and humble when accepting people‘s money. You have to know how to hope and how to love.

Q.That must be why you look so good for your age. Or does it have something to do with genetics?

A. I believe that I have a certain degree of mental savviness. My brain’s central receiver and transmitter work well.

Q. Do you come here everyday or just on Sundays?

A. I roam about, I do what I want. I’m very young at heart, I feel like a child. Do you know what a child does? Divides little and adds a lot.

Q. Is that why you have brought all your family to work at Casa Amadeo?

A. I have seven children and three work there. I invited them with the best of intentions, I suggested it because the tavern is our livelihood. But this job requires patience, dedication and love.

Q. And that is how you have been running your bar since you opened it in 1972.

A. Not my bar! My taberna! I came to Madrid when I was 11 and started to work as a barman in this very square. In 1972, I bought this space to open my own tavern. I want to reiterate the difference between a bar and a tavern because, at the time, it was very clear. There is a social ladder. Taverns were more for the people, they had bar stools. In bars, there are chairs.

I put my life, heart and soul into the snails

Q. Your tavern still has an old-fashioned air, have you not wanted to modernize it?

A. We are simple folk, we are not blue-blooded. We don’t have anything against those who are, but we prefer people who don‘t come from a privileged background.

Q. What is the secret to your success?

A. I am a barman at heart, there is no secret. This influences your treatment, hospitality, gratitude and sociability. Spreading love guarantees unexpected and immeasurable rewards.

Q. Your famous snails must have something to do with your success.

A. Of course, I put my life, heart and soul into them. They are an oasis of life.

Q. And the ingredients…

A. They have to be spicy, that's key. Chili pepper, paprika and a little chorizo.

Q. Who taught you how to make them?

A. My mother. I am from Burgos [in northern Spain] and snails are very popular there. I used to work with my mother, and that's how I learned. I learned little by little, and now they are very sought after.

This job requires patience, dedication and love

Q. How many snails do you serve on a Sunday, your busiest day?

A. Between 40 and 50 kilos. We need to work for up to five hours nonstop. On a normal day, we serve between 15 to 20 kilos.

Q. You also help make the snails?

A. I’m in public relations. They don't let me in the ring anymore.

Q. You have not retired.

A. I like being [at the tavern], I greet everyone. I create an environment of warmth, of communication. I have an international way of being. I am loving and compassionate.

Q. You’re the boss then?

A. Here I’m the errand boy, I am not the boss, we are here to serve you.

Q. Has a franchise ever tried to buy your business?

A. Yes of course, there have been temptations. But this is the bread of God. Plus, my boys are here, and this is their livelihood. But, of course, it has to be done with love.

Q. Have famous people come to meet you?

A. Yes, people who have felt curious have come, because there are no bartenders like me anymore, I’m a museum piece.

“No vulture fund is going to make us leave”

Casa Amadeo used to be a canned goods shop and a hair salon. In 1972, Amadeo Lázaro bought the two stores and turned them into a taberna. He and his wife still live next door to the tavern, on the top floor of a building without an elevator in Santa Ana square. "It is where we raised all of our children and no vulture fund is going to make us leave," he says.

English version by Alicia Kember.

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