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.
Emerge from Lavapiés’ metro into the Mediterranean Maghreb. Meander through its narrow, winding streets lined with candy-coloured facades and Juliette balconies, and catch a glimpse of the Middle East and Africa, but also Asia, Latin America and of course, Madrid.
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.
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.
Hearty, home-cooked Senegalese food rolls out of the kitchen fast at Mandela 100, which is owned by Mamadou from Senegal. His Africa-themed diner has hit the ground running, much to the delight – and relief – of Lavapiés locals, because it’s not just quality that can be found here; it’s also equality.
Ice cream academic Pedro begins the week at his micro ice cream factory in the working-class neighbourhood of Vallecas. His aim is to experiment with a new savoury ingredient, while also finding the perfect level of sweetness.
Despite the near extinction of an ancient civilisation, the pupusa survived and thrived for generation after generation until it was finally brought across the Atlantic Ocean to central Madrid, in a Salvadoran restaurant near Atocha station.
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”
Mohammed serves really good Moroccan food, which he makes himself in his tiny kitchen at the back of the restaurant. The food at Ikram is even better than meals I’ve had in Morocco, and you’ll find it right here in the northernmost neighbourhood of Africa: Lavapiés.
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 from you in the centre of Madrid. Going for an impromptu caña 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.