James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

The Best Cocktail Bar in Spain Is a Nameless House in the Middle of Nowhere

The Best Cocktail Bar in Spain Is a Nameless House in the Middle of Nowhere

It doesn’t have a name and it doesn’t have a telephone number or website, but it has an address: the junction of the local roads AS256 and VV5, more commonly known as “the curve of El Gobernador” in the east of Asturias. It opens randomly and it is, without a doubt, the best cocktail bar in Spain.

Some have agreed to call it Soda917 but if you ask the owner for the name of his temple, he will go “bah, no name” and change conversation or just do something else. Obviously, there is no sign outside. Just an outdated official “Tabacos” signal in a corner of the stone facade.

The place is literally in the middle of nowhere and it’s been owned by his wife’s family since ever. In the past, it was both a bar and a store where families and workers would stop in their endless journeys along the new roads of the old Franco days.

Very few of this kind of places remain nowadays and the ones still standing have become key community touchstones in areas of Spain that are so rural that they have no city center to speak of,just lonely houses and family farms scattered across fields of vivid Celtic green. Spain has the most bars per capita of any country in the world. You can find endless shitty bars, one next to the other, in any street, but there are also strange gems like this one.

The bar is the local for a heterogenous community that only makes sense as a group because all of them are equally convinced about the magic powers of the reverend and act accordingly. Lonely old villagers, with their cane and beret, who walk over from the very next valley, drink sophisticated vermouths in Riedel martini glasses next to a small group mums with their babies, a gang of retired French bikers who are touring the north of Spain and, maybe, the latest gastronomic adventurer who has landed there, as an UFO, and is taking photos of everything and burning the owner’s mind with questions and admired observations.

All of them are going to put themselves in the hands of the master, who will ask each one of them a couple of short questions and start his sorcery without saying a word about what’s to come; it could be classic, suddenly inspired or a simple shot of Japanese whisky. The house has one of the most amazing Japanese whisky collections in a country with the poorest whiskey culture in the world.

A famous Spanish songwriter who admires Leonard Cohen as much as me had the generosity and clarity to give this advice in a verse: “you should never try to go back to the place where you were once happy”. For this reason, among others, I will never get back to the curve of El Gobernador and it is a shame and a disgrace, specially today, day one after Cohen.

If it wasn’t a thousand kilometers away from where I write these lines, I would be there tonight and, for the first time, it would be me the one making the short questions to the owner: can you make me a Red Needle? Can you play “That don’t make it junk”?

I fought against the bottle but I had to do it drunk…

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