“I’m on the corner of Street of the Miraculous, and Bitterness Street”, laughs Mariano Casado Francisco. Rather than name his bar after the streets on which it resides, as so many no-frills bars do, he has named his bar after himself – the way his customers would inevitably have called it anyway.
Welcome to Bar La Muralla, a perfect, no-frills gem that does what it says on the window… and quite a bit more.
It’s 1979. Franco had died just four years earlier and the transition to democracy was well underway. Everything painted, moulded and built in this era would become a time capsule to Spain’s post-dictatorship optimism. Or, at least, what still remains of this era.
For the past few centuries, Spaniards from all over the country have been packing their bags, saying adios to their towns and villages and setting sail for the big city. When they arrive in Madrid, they disperse into many different lines of work, but there’s one business over any other that harks back to the most recent migration boom. You guessed it: Madrid’s no-frills bars.
Vallecas might feel like the Madrid of long-ago, but for Constantino Carral Sánchez, it’s changed a lot.
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.