La Venencia - No Spitting, no Tips, just Sherry

Bars and Cafes, Santa Ana

by Ben Curtis

It might be midnight on a Saturday, but that doesn’t deter the two grannies sipping Fino (sherry) in the doorway from gossiping away like they just stopped by for a quick pre-lunch tipple. From where they stand a narrow wooden bartop stretches inside, chalked numbers on the dark wood in front of each group of drinkers keeping a tally of what they’ve had so far. The walls are demarara brown from decades of tobacco abuse, and fading posters for musical events in the seventies, presumably when they were put up, look brittle and decaying enough to shatter if touched. Grubby signs above tables declare that spitting on the floor will not be tolerated, and that tips are not accepted. Great sherry barrels are stacked behind the bar, whilst the drink itself is fished up from under the bartop in chilled, label-less bottles.

This, without doubt, is the most classic, dated, time-warp drinking experience to be had in Madrid. Forget all the ‘Hemmingway drank here’ places around the corner in the Plaza Santa Ana, this is the real deal. The bar opens and closes at will, often leading to disappointment, there’s little to drink beyond the Sherry (try a half bottle of Manzanilla first), and the tapas are simple: cecina (cured beef) and mojama (smoked tuna) for the brave, maybe some cheese or chorizo for the rest of us.

Don’t miss out on La Venencia, there are but a handful of places like this left in the whole of Spain. Location: Calle de Echegaray 7.

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