Perched on a corner just around the bend from Cava Baja and just up the street from Almendro 13 sits one of the most quintessential Spanish hipster wine bars that I’ve ever seen. When I say hipster, I must make it clear that I’m not talking about Euro-hipsters – the vapid, label-wearing big sunglass bunch. By hipster, I mean that its home to young, hip, Madrileños. The group that congregates at Corazón Loco is a likable crowd. There’s your fair share of piercings and tattoos in the bunch but they’re a congenial lot overall and they won’t stare too hard at a couple gringos and their curly blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter on a Sunday afternoon after El Rastro.
The requisite chalkboards behind the bar advertise the wines that they have on hand and, as with El Tempranillo, it’s best to go to the bar with a good idea of what you want to order and a good accent. You can’t go wrong with what they’re pouring so there’s not much to fear. But man cannot live by wine alone so Corazón Loco also has a good menu of eats on the chalkboard to the left of the bar. The “Papas Arrugadas” are one of my favorites and are perfect for splitting with some friends while relaxing on the beer keg barstools. The potatoes themselves are a Canary Islands specialty that come with a green and red sauce that has to be tried to be believed. Never has a boiled, salted little potato tasted so good. They’re served with a red “mojo” pepper sauce and a green one that, I believe, is a garlic and cilantro mix. Everyone ends up liking one over the other but both sauces are super tasty.
In the back of the establishment, there is more of a sit-down restaurant. It looks cool but I’ll admit, I’ve never been back there. The front wine bar area is where the action is and the corner location gives one a strategic view of La Latina and all of the goings on in the Costanilla San Andrés. It’s an inviting atmosphere and one that I return to every time I’m in Madrid.
This place is the real Spain as I remember it. The Spain before the EU, mass immigration and the Euro. It’s the Spain that I hope never goes away.
La Latina’s El Tempranillo makes you feel like you’re stepping into a forbidden guiri-free slice of Spanish bar culture. I’ve never seen anyone in there speak a word of English in my 3 or 4 visits. I think the fellows behind the bar would like to keep it that way as well. On our last visit there, as all prior visits, upon stepping up to the bar to look at the chalkboard wine list, I was asked “dígame” and was subsequently stared at until I put on my glasses and made heads or tails of the list. Kind of a cold, unblinking dark-eyed Spanish stare. If you go and the same thing happens to you, don’t flinch. Just calmly make up your mind and order a couple of glasses – in the best Spanish and accent you have. Then, to show them you really know what you’re doing ask for “la carta.” Ask for the menu and you’re dead meat. (I learned that in another place in Barcelona and have never repeated the error.)
After that, you’re home free. You’re in. You can enjoy yourself. If you flinch, you’ll be gone after the first glass – or maybe before. But for those who persevere, surviving the stare is worth it. The place itself is what a wine bar should be. Warm, rustic, all chipped paint, exposed beams, cool pillars, attractive but not ostentatious clientele and a gravity defying wall of wine. Oh, the wall of wine.
They feature several varieties of Spanish wines by the glass and even more by the bottle. “La carta” reveals a decent bunch of tapas and tostas that pair well with the wines they serve. The plate of “queso curado” we ordered on the last trip was big and probably some of the best cheese I had while in Iberia. Maybe it was the wine (they have cañas, too) or maybe it was the fact that my 2-year-old made friends with a little Spanish girl whose parents were there enjoying the place as well but El Tempranillo is everything it should be – and nothing it shouldn’t.
No wonder the guys behind the bar seem to guard it like jealous boyfriends. It just wouldn’t be the same if it was packed full of people clutching copies of Lonely Planet Spain. Not to mention, those folks would never survive the stare.
I can’t count how many times I’ve been to Almendro 13. I can’t even count how many people I have sent there when they tell me they’re going to Madrid. You would think with all of that exposure, I’d be over it. You might never guess that I would go there twice in the course of three days with a near miss of a third time. Well, we did. It is just that good. Not only did we go there twice, we had the exact same thing twice. Manzanilla, olives, and Huevos Rotos. Simple flavors and an incredible parade of richness over the palette. The green painted interior matching the flavor of the olives, with the shiny brass fixtures highlighting the bite of the Manzanilla and the wood bar and yellow painted walls capturing the savory essence of the bright yolks of the eggs, saltiness of the jamón and perfectly cooked, just thicker than a potato chip, slices of potato.
Yes, I realize the prose is a bit heady but I think it’s befitting of a place that is so deceptively casual as to ambush your senses with color, flavor and smell and make you even consider a third visit in one short trip to Madrid. Go – and return often.