No Frills

The Rastro fish bar that will never give in to tourism (even when it totally could)

3 September 2019

Man it stinks in here!

… said my sister. It’s true, but she did ask for it: the full no-frills experience for the weekend she was visiting, and she got it!

There’s a fish scale floating in my beer.

Okay, maybe this place goes a little too far sometimes, but you’ve got to hand it to Bar Santurce – it’s definitely no-frills.

With fish scales literally flying around the room, I explain to her that the owner Raúl Lázaro – the man frying our sardines a foot from her head – was born the year that Franco died, in 1975. Just two years later, his father opened up Bar Santurce, giving madrileños a taste (and smell) of the Mediterranean Sea. Raúl eventually took it over without changing a thing.

Though eerily quiet on a weekday, when I took these photos, on Sundays you’ll struggle to find a space to put your caña and sardines. Bar Santurce is in the heart of El Rastro – just off the square of the oldest part of this 400-year-old flea market. Thousands of people clock the bar every week and with a location like this, even the dodgiest bar with the worst food and run by the rudest staff would make a killing.

But Bar Santurce is different. The customers pile in week after week, and not a single tourist is treated differently to a local.

The prices remain low, the quality is pretty good, the service is no-frills, the menu is in Spanish and the soul and decor of the bar are deeply Castizo.

It would be easy for Raúl to increase his prices and bring in poorer quality fish – many tourists that hit El Rastro on a Sunday don’t know any better. But, fortunately for the endangered soul of Madrid, there are still bar owners around that maintain pride and stay true to the quality demanded by their local clientele, rather than becoming yet another tourist bar serving sangria and paella to the Rastro tourist that didn’t do their homework.

My sister and I go up to the bar to pay. Raúl pulls his index finger out of the mantle cavity of a raw squid and takes her tenner. She asks me to tell him to keep the change. He asks me to tell her he said “thank you”.


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Christine 3 September 2019 at 3:01 pm

I absolutely love this place, my hope is that it will continue for decades to come.

Jason Hull 30 October 2022 at 1:24 am

You inspired me to try grilled sardines, and they were fantastic! I had to watch a YouTube video to see how it’s done.

To get in now, you have to dodge the road construction, but it’s totally worth it.


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