La Venencia: Sherry, Hemingway, 1930s Spain

As I’m a tremendous fan of fun facts, a fun fact about Madrid is that it’s got the most bars per capita when weighed against any other European country. Another fun fact is that the Korean peninsula drinks more alcohol per capita than any other country in the world. It’s a shame I’m not even close to being an alcoholic.

A third fun fact is that I love historical places and artifacts. I’ve always felt that way, from the time I leaned over the velvet rope in 8th grade to sneakily touch the Liberty Bell during a school trip to Washington DC and Philadelphia. The idea of touching something that really historic people touched, or for the sake of Madrid, sitting where Ernest Hemingway once imbibed while getting the scoop on the war makes the history lover in me really excited.

That being said, I’m guilty of feeling quite sedentary and saying I want to explore Spain more than I actually get around to exploring it. It’s one of those things I can’t stand about my Spanish self, but so it is. However, this attitude has a tendency to shift whenever a visitor comes knocking on my door from afar. Luckily it happens sorta kinda often. I can go on and on about how Spain and I just never hit it off, but I do love to show it off to my visitors. Plus, there’s still so much I need to see, of which I have a growing list that I need to get around to checking off during these last few months.

One of those places on my list of must-visits was La Venencia, an unassuming bar established over 70 years ago, circa the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The fun facts keep coming – it also happened to be a local hangout of Don Ernesto, as Hemingway was referred by the Spanish. La Venencia is like a little time capsule, and with one foot in the door, you are immediately transported to a time of bygones, of Republican soldiers sipping the one drink the pub sells – sherry, while divulging information to Mr. Hemingway.

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During Veny’s visit I dragged her to the bar at the top of my list, and I got a bit day lit while drinking both glasses of sherry that I ordered for the two of us. Knowing nothing about sherry (or jerez), I ordered one of each – a manzanilla and a palo cortado, served with a tapa of deliciously herbed green olives, and a side of dialogue with the others in the bar after asking the bartender “cual es la mas mejor?” Yes, I asked which is the more best, yes my Spanish sucks, and yes I got people talking with me – intrigued why two clueless girls stumbled into a sherry bar.

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Our tab was written on the wooden bar with chalk just before sneaking this picture, disobeying the ‘no photos’ rule which has been long standing since wartime when Republican soldiers didn’t want their photos taken, for fear of being outed by fascist spies. After having a good laugh at my poor Español, the guy standing next to us asked how I found out about this place, wanted to know which sherry I preferred (the manzanilla was fruitier, while the palo cortado grew a little hair on the chest – I enjoyed both as time went on), and told me he has been a long time regular and believes La Venencia to be the most authentic bar in the city.

As if the ambience of the wooden bar, wooden tables, barrels of fermenting sherry, antique cash register, and decades old posters weren’t enough, a couple guys sitting behind us had a bottle of the manzanilla and a plate of machego that they offered us a taste of – unaware that I had ordered a glass already. I loved feeling like a visitor being urged to experience the bar’s offerings to the fullest. On the opposite end of the bar, as we veered our sights to the right, just to the left of the entrance, sat three older gentlemen looking as if they’d been posted there since the ’30s and hadn’t moved since. I sometimes have a bit of a staring problem, and think one may have noticed our gawking which I don’t think he enjoyed, but I was enthralled.

If you’re in Madrid and fancy a bit of history, are looking to try something a little bit different, something a lotta bit Spanish, and stumble into one of Hemingway’s many stumbling-grounds, I urge you to pop into La Venencia.

La Venencia – Calle de Echegaray 7, Madrid, Spain

Have you ever visited La Venencia? Have you ever visited an age-old watering hole that granted you a different side of the city you were in? Let me know in the comments!

 

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