BarsLiving Museums

The 128-year-old Chueca hideout for generations of simmering lefties

20 June 2018
Tienda de vinos (El Comunista)

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.

– Silvia, a fourth-generation Madrileña

An unruly crack of sunshine interrupted the clandestine undercurrent of this 128-year-old wine bar, making everything around it seem even darker. The creaking furniture, high ceilings and curtained windows have eavesdropped on generations of intellectual conversations and provided a safe space for controversial topics – particularly during some of Spain’s darkest years.

The old floor tiles

The old floor tiles

General Francisco Franco apparently knew about this bar and many others like it, but didn’t stop them – a trend amongst dictators to make them seem less oppressive.

In fact, during Franco’s dictatorship rule, Madrid became rife with hole-and-corner bars for simmering lefties to have a tertulia (a gathering to discuss philosophy, politics, art).

The dining room and bar area

The dining room and bar area

Everything from poetry to war was discussed. Amateur plots to oust Franco from power were drafted over thin tumblers of wine in this labyrinthine bar.

The bar area

The bar area

Almost every structure you see inside is made of wood, much of which has warped over the years. Nothing is perfectly horizontal, vertical or even straight. Original doors and windows like this need to be carved over the years in order to adjust to the building’s natural contortions.

The wine glasses

The wine glasses

El Comunista provokes a reaction you may have had in other tertulia places in Madrid – it’s the feeling Earnest Hemingway wrote about.

I begin to visualise a blur of bygone punters coming and going, and I imagine their conversations through whirls of cigarette smoke…

Through to the bar

Through to the bar

“Does the church have too much power? Should I close up my shop or keep it open and fight for normality? And have you heard from Javi? I suspect he’s been killed in the fighting and thrown in a secret mass grave.”

Shockingly, the last is a question many relatives of Spanish Civil War fighters still ask today.

The breezy table by the door

The table by the door

I look into the antique mirror below and see reflections of these animated conversations, and I wonder if any of the older punters who start rolling in for lunch had anything to do with the years when the Tienda de Vinos acquired its left-wing nickname.

The old mirror

The old mirror

Its beams have warped sightly, smoking inside is now prohibited and the war is over, but knowing that very little about El Comunista has changed since the day it was built in 1890 makes this furtive Chueca wine bar a true living museum. It’s run by the great-grandson of the founder and is a gateway to Madrid’s unrecorded past, which continues to inspire leftie tertulias to this day.

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See other Living Museums my friend Silvia has shown me, including the museum of springs, the vintage barber’s, the scrap metal dealer’s and the last toy hospital in Spain.

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