Madrid is a great city. Anyone who’s lived there will tell you: there’s something about the parks, plazas and bar-filled streets of the Spanish capital that can’t be matched, let alone when you put them together with reasonable rents and a quality of life you couldn’t dream of in, say, London or Paris.
So last time we were in town, we had arranged to meet up with a good friend, and we decided to head to a little bar named simply ‘El 2 de Sagasta’ or Vinos Sagasta. After a disappointing dinner in the once-great Café Comercial, we were delighted to find a slice of the old Madrid here, sandwiched between the neighbourhoods of Malasaña and Chamberí.
Vinos Sagasta is a bar divided into two separate spaces, of no more than 75 square metres in total but packed with history and that peculiarly bittersweet Madrileñan joie de vivre. After 130 years of service, the metal bar, old photos and old-fashioned menus still survive. This isn’t the place for elaborate dishes and fine dining – but they do have a selection of cold tapas, many home-made, and all served with something that is often missing in big cities: cariño (a Spanish word that, in this sense, roughly translates to a mix between care, love and attention to detail).
The bar is run by Alfonso García, a true Madrileño gentleman, and his wife Araceli, who is the great-granddaughter of the Vinos Sagasta’s founder and who caught the eye of Alfonso back when he was a businessman in need of a change, and something to come home to after his travels. Alfonso walked into the bar for the first time and asked the pretty girl behind the bar to marry him, ‘next week, if you have the time.’ The answer (unsurprisingly) was no, but two years later, when Alfonso returned with the same question, the answer was ‘let’s see’. They’ve been married ever since, and Alfonso started helping out his wife in the bar. The rest, more than twenty years later, is history.
Alfonso estimates that the bar has around 5,000 regular customers who come by every few months – and his memory is spot on. He even remembered that our friend had been in a few months ago. Alfonso told us about how he had seen people’s lives pass by from behind the bar: young people meet, fall in love and return with their children. All of this, while pouring generous measures of excellent Catalan vermouth and a couple of cold tapas, on the house.
Go to Vinos Sagasta – it’s worth it. And say hello to Alfonso. There aren’t enough people in the world like Alfonso.
Vermouth (lots and lots)
Price: Our friend Rubén picked up the bill – thanks Ruben!
El 2 de Sagasta Vinos, Calle Sagasta 2, Madrid 28004
Tel: +34 915 32 21 43
Opening Hours: 12 to 16h and 20 to 24h, closed on Sundays