There are over 22,000 bars and restaurants in Madrid, something like one for every 350 citizens. That may not sound like a very impressive figure, but when compared to what the densest food-faring cities in the world, it sweeps them all away. The entire country of Spain is home to some 200,000 bars, and tack on another 75,000 if you want to include all the establishments which cater to the hungry. By bar, I should note, I’m not necessarily talking about a dark seedy joint with a pool table and a lot of Schlitz. Except for the late-night discos and bares de copas, most establishments also serve food, some of which can be highly elaborate. And kids are welcome too. You have coffee at a bar. You have coke at a bar. You have tapas at a bar. It’s where the Spanish go to socialize.
When recent reports cited the hostelry sector as being particularly hard hit by the crisis, with thousands of places taking a dive annually, that seemed to make sense. After all, with the Great Recession of 2007 pushing the country nearly to the brink of a major bailout, it appeared only natural that one of the first sectors to feel the pinch of reduced budgets would be the eateries around the city. 25% unemployment, at least that was the official number. Who was going to waste their precious euros on unnecessary expenses?
Despite the grim numbers splashed around the media, from a very non-scientific standpoint, that of pure ocular observation, recent activity would suggest otherwise. Take Calle Narváez, for instance. The large and active street has seen its commercial activity leveled by the recession, with a dozen shops, from florists to shoe stores posting “closed for good” signs on their windows. Instead of becoming vacant and unfillable retail units destined to represent the disparaging economic turmoil afflicting the country, within two weeks a restaurant or Chinese manicure center takes its place, which leads to an amusing conclusion. As jobs disappear and money fades, Spaniards find comfort and refuge in painting their nails and drinking and cheap food.
If anything, the Spanish have been ingeniously malleable in the face of financial disaster. While no one quite reached a consensus on an official level, all of us have quietly agreed that no one was going to forego their beloved tapas. So, you can do without office supplies and decent furniture, but not a tortilla de patata. The eateries, in turn, finally decided to lower prices to what they should have been years ago, when people had money and were willing to pay anything at any cost. In the center, everything has turned into one giant food pavilion, based on the very premise that people will always have a need for food. So, statistics can say all they want; but those people ought to get outside and into the streets from time to time.