Living Museums

The story of a no-frills Gran Vía Hotel run by 81-year-old Delfina from Galicia

27 May 2021

Author: Ignacio Carrascón Herranz

View article in Spanish.

Gran Via number 12, a splendid white building dating back to 1914, has seen many things in its 107 years of history, including the Spanish Civil War. But, at ground level lives the legendary Bar Chicote, once crowned the best in the world by MTV in 2004. Its bar top has seated a long list of personalities including Ernest Hemingway, Sofia Loren and Salvador Dalí, as well as royalty, sports, politics and intellectualism.

Four floors above this exclusive hotspot, however, lies a no-frills establishment that’s seen just as many people pass through its doors, though the most esteemed of all is the owner, Delfina, who the hotel is named after. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, guesthouses just like Delfina’s offered Spain’s immigrants the chance to earn a living in the city (just as Madrid’s no-frills bars did) which is exactly why she’s here. Born in 1940 in a village in Orense, Delfina left her home at age 24 and, along with her husband, settled in a very different Gran Vía from the one we see today. Although, as Delfina puts it: 

Gran Vía is Gran Vía no matter what they do to it.

In these 57 years of being a madrileña, Delfina has seen the street and the city change and grow. When she and her husband first moved in, Madrid was much smaller – the perimeter of Madrid reached only as far as the Las Ventas bullring. 

Delfina’s guesthouse was originally a home away from home for Spanish migrants that moved to Madrid without a family to live with – some stayed as long as 14 years. Delfina also served her guests well at a time when most men not only didn’t know how to wash their shirts or cook, but also didn’t even see it as a possibility. 

Over the years, Delfina has made periodic renovations, the biggest of which has been putting private bathrooms in each room which was not actually an original feature of the hotel. Rooms are now fully equipped with a TV, wifi and telephone and, fortunately, still retain all that beautiful old-world charm: doily tablecloths, floral bedding, mint-green sheets, hat-stands in the corner of every room as well as turn-of-the-century dark-wood furniture and ornate cast-iron radiators – the same ones you can find in the Tabacalera art museum.

Delfina’s son set up a website and helps her with bookings via all major hotel booking platforms. You only have to take a quick look at the online reviews to notice how absolutely everybody praises the warmth and hospitality of Delfina. The impeccable hospitality, nostalgia, kitschiness and classical charm of Hostal Delfina, however, is an increasingly rare phenomenon in Madrid due to the rise of Airbnbs, which have not only taken business from hotels but also pushed up the city’s overall rent prices. 

But Delfina has, so far, managed to resist this disruption to the hotel industry because, many years ago, she and her husband were able to buy the place after saving while paying rent. Sadly, though, Delfina lost her husband 10 years ago but, at 81 years of age, she shows no signs of slowing down. The Galician abuela moves quickly and graciously between her 14 hotel rooms, cleaning them herself and also dealing with check-ins, check-outs and requests, all without ever forgetting to smile. 

While she has fewer guests nowadays, her workload is greater than before because, due to loss of business, she can’t afford to hire full-time staff. However, proudly vaccinated, she trusts that we are reaching the final stage of the pandemic and hopes for things to return to normal again. 

The first thing she did after reopening the guesthouse after quarantine was renovate all the bathrooms. They didn’t really need much improvement, as Deflina told me, but it was her way of saying that her guest house is here to stay. 

INFO


This article was written by Ignacio Carrascón Herranz, a journalism student at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, where he specialises in independent under-reported journalism. In his free time, he’s a staunch defender of its importance and impact, especially in Madrid. 

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