The sun pours through the smokey windows of this upstairs diner and is intercepted by half a dozen coconut palms, casting exotic shadows on the terrazzo floor. Everything – and I mean everything – is a shade of brown, as it has been since its last refurb a few decades ago.
I’ve forever found no-frills bars inspiring spaces. They’re gateways to Madrid’s working-class soul, and are unpretentiously beautiful, just like the city. They’re also where Madrid No Frills was born, propping up the bar with a caña and a tapa and listening to the owner’s story.
Those hermetic voile curtains are partly to preserve Café El Despertar’s clandestine atmosphere, they’re but mostly there to deter the naive walk-in customer. The steely elderly owner, with his enviable beard, is interested only in clientele who are specifically here for his jazz music, and most certainly not the police, who, for good reason, he constantly fears.
When I took these photographs, I thought it would take a little longer than a couple of years for them to become an archive of the lost.
Edward Lawrence continues his offbeat adventures to the most surprisingly located no-frills bars in Madrid. This time, he explores two bus stations, a family-run service station and a shrine to Franco, and climbs a hill – passing a decaying bunker – to find serenity in the most peculiar place.
When I asked Jose Luis Jiménez who the people in the photographs were, he spent the next half hour telling me stories from his childhood and showing me pictures taken by his friends from all over the world.
“Do you know about El Comunista? It’s painted Ruby red for people who can’t read – just like the other bodegas – and when you step inside, you’ll see the Spain my great-grandparents knew”
My obsession with horchata began exactly where it should: on the coast of Valencia, surrounded by orange blossom and flamingos. On my return to Madrid, I vowed never to rest until I’d found the best horchata in town, and there it was – as it has been for 74 years – in a little roadside kiosk run by the fifth generation of the same family.
Much like a municipal bin, a no-frills bar is never more than 50 metres away in the centre of Madrid. Going for an impromptu knees-up was never easier, be it at a train station, on a train, in a hospital or even next to a funeral parlour.
In the thick of bustling Indian restaurants and foreign food stores, a jazzy facade with bold retro lettering stands out from the crowd. This neighbourhood veteran is Bar El Jamón, the Godfather of Lavapiés.