Madrid’s no-frills bars are a portal to Spain’s migrant boom years

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.


In 1606, when Madrid was declared the current capital of Spain, it was as populous as Lavapiés is today and, geographically, not much bigger. Over the next 300 years, Madrid’s population would grow at the speed of a horse and cart to a mere half a million.

Make way for the steam engine and let it thrust us to 1960, where Madrid’s population has soared to 2.2 million. But even ten years later at 3.1 million, we were still not chugging at top speed. Today, Madrid’s population is hurtling towards seven million people, but few identify as Madrileño. Here’s why…


Following the death of General Francisco Franco and his regime, the first trains pulled into Madrid and scores of young, optimistic Spaniards caught a glimpse of their capital for the first time. The 1970s and 1980s were exciting times for Spain, but especially capital.

As these new arrivals lugged their suitcases off the trains, I wonder if they had any idea that they were about to forge the modern personality of Madrid. Extremadurans, Andalusians, Galicians, Asturians all armed with valuable manual skills would construct the foundations of the city we know today: our buildings, our local shops, our proud regional bars and restaurants, and the nostalgic communities that frequent them.

It’s thanks to these Spanish migrants that we can experience the culinary corners of the whole Iberian peninsula without ever leaving Madrid, simply by tapeando through the city’s little neighbourhood bars…


If you think of cherry blossom in Spain, you picture the valley of Jerte (Valle del Jerte). In spring, this stunning expanse of blossoming cherry trees is other worldly, and is one of the most visited destinations in Extremadura.

Valle del Jerte is also the name of a bar in Madrid and you can find cherries on their signage, on their walls and in their drinks menu. Their cherry liquor, proudly grown in the hills of Valle del Jerte is served cold in the heart of Madrid with a thick, regional accent.

More clues to the owners’ Extremaduran roots lie in their menu: Picadillo Extremeño and Huevos al Jerte


Step into this sidrería and into a shrine to Asturias. Adorning every wall are souvenirs and, in the back, there are posters from decades of cider festivals, and you can also find an aerial photograph of the town’s spiritual home, Luarca.


Bar El Eutiquio, our favourite no-frills bar in Vallecas, has an aerial photograph of Tino’s home town, León, taking pride of place. But the food that he and his wife serve isn’t so typical of León – many dishes are a twist on traditional Spanish food. Could they be toying with the idea of a Michelin star? One last triumph before they retire for good? Oh, I hope so.

Update: Bar closed last year due to retirement of the owners. 


Bar Tronco may appear as Castizo as it comes, but look closely and spot a photograph of a Roman bridge, which still stands strong in the town of Cangas de Onís in Asturias. Their local dish is fabada (bottom left on the menu behind the bar).


Look for family photographs with kids sporting a regional football strip, and the menu of chorizos de Linares, morcilla de Bolaños, or carracoles de Palencia. The clues are building up, but keep scanning the walls for an aerial view photograph or painting of a village or a town: that’s where the owner is from. Start up a conversation about that very village, and you’ve just unlocked a suitcase of stories of their migrant roots.

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1 Comment

  • Hi Leah. I’m really enjoying your work documenting the old bars of Madrid. I’m a reasonably regular visitor to the city and love having a wander, popping into proper local’s bars. Of course, some are disappearing (I noticed that the wonderful La Alegria in Calle Veneras has recently succumbed to a makeover) but plenty appear to be thriving. Keep up the good work! Cheers, Tim

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