Thursday, June 10, 2004


People often ask me, “Do you REALLY like working from home?”

To which I respond, “Love it!”

“What do you love about it?”

“Coffee breaks at Bar Alcázar!” is my standard response.

And I mean it. Bar Alcázar is easy to love. It is everything that Starbucks is not, and does not want to be. I make the five-minute pilgrimage to Bar Alcázar nearly every morning at 10:15. Without it, I feel incomplete, unfulfilled and, as María will attest, downright cranky. There are many reasons to love Bar Alcázar, but the main ones are listed below.

Reason #1: The décor.

When I named this web-log “Sal’s Virtual Tapas Bar,” Bar Alcázar was the image that I had in my head. You enter Bar Alcázar through a curtain of plastic beads, and then through a second curtain of cigarette smoke. Inside, the main bar area is done in colors reminiscent of Darren and Samantha’s living room on Bewitched. The lower half of the walls are covered with flat-tone beige tiles, and the upper half with dark green fabric wallpaper. Green fabric wallpaper! Doesn’t that make you want to fire up a Leo Sayer CD?

The ceiling is covered with textured, tan-colored ceramic tiles. I’m not sure if the tiles came in this color, or simply evolved to it after exposure to decades of cigarette smoke. Someday I will smuggle-in a squirt gun loaded with Mr. Clean and find out for myself.

The floor is difficult to discern, because it is usually covered with an ankle-deep blanket of litter. I have been told by a Spanish Civil War veteran that the floor is tastefully done in beige ceramic tiles, but I have no independent confirmation of this.

Reason #2: The clientele.

Bar Alcázar patrons come in three flavors: (a) shepherds and construction workers; (b) politicians and priests; and (c) drunks without borders.

Group (a) floods the bar each morning before 7:30 and again from 10:00 to 10:30. They are an impressive bunch that would cause a scandal in the US; not because of their behavior (which is always polite and orderly), but because of their diet. Without fail, each member of this group follows-up (or substitutes) his coffee with a glass of anis, orujo or brandy on the rocks. At 10:00am! I won’t bore you with an elaborate description of what these drinks are. It’s enough to simply state that each is 80 proof, and poured with a heavy hand by bar owners Antonio and José.

Group (b) appears at 11:00am. Bar Alcázar is across the street from the City Hall, and around the corner from the Catholic church. Much like at the White House, there is no separation of church and state at Bar Alcázar. Most members of this group drink only coffee, but then light up a cheap cigar to reward themselves for having the discipline to forego alcohol at such a tender hour.

Group (c) can hardly be called a group, because it is comprised of only one man. I shall refer to him as “Skeletor.” Skeletor is in his late 60’s/early 70’s, has reddish hair, pasty skin, poor posture and tips the scales at a whopping 110 lbs. He drinks a brand of red wine with which I am not familiar. I suspect that Robert Parker would be equally unfamiliar, as this wine comes in a clear glass bottle with a metal, pop-off cap. Skeletor talks a lot, although not necessarily to anyone within hearing distance. For the last two days, he has been drinking alcohol-free beer. I don’t know if I should be impressed or concerned about this.

Reason #3: The coffee.

Man, their coffee is good! It’s a creamy, almost chocolately concoction with no trace of the “essence of ashtray-water” that typifies Starbucks’s product line. I’ve often wondered why the café con leche at Bar Alcázar is so much better than everyone else’s. At first, I thought it was the machine. Bar Alcázar uses an Italian-made La Cimbali machine that looks old enough to be powered by vacuum tubes. I later concluded, however, that it is neither the machine nor the coffee nor the water that makes it so darn good. It’s the milk. Bar Alcázar’s café con leche is 25% coffee, and 75% steamed whole milk. I haven’t consulted the Spanish Food and Drug Administration’s manual, but I suspect that this drink would be classified as a “Milk Shake” for regulatory purposes.

* * * * *

Now, I know what you are thinking: “A dirty, smoky, poorly-decorated bar that serves good coffee to strange people who aren’t interested in coffee? You must be mad!”

But I’m not mad. And I am not the only one who has fallen under Bar Alcázar’s mystical spell. My prim and proper in-laws would not dream of visiting our town without a pit stop at Bar Alcázar. My own mother – a woman who normally unsheathes a samauri sword if a smoker comes within 50 feet – makes a bee-line for Bar Alcázar before her toothbrush is dry each morning when visiting from Chicago. And then there is the story of my friend Scott the Texan. Within one week after first crossing Bar Alcázar’s threshold, he marched into his boss’s office in Houston and demanded (and received) a transfer to Europe.

Bar Alcázar would indeed be embodiment of perfection, were it not for two shortcomings. First, I wouldn’t recommend eating anything that has not been sealed in plastic and opened before your eyes. Second, Antonio and José are relieved at 5:00pm by a bartender whom I shall refer to as “The Grimace.” Why do I call him The Grimace? Because he looks like McDonald’s Grimace, except that he is neither purple nor jolly. Not that I am especially bothered by The Grimace, or that I go out of my way to avoid him. It’s just that Bar Alcázar loses a bit of its charm when drinks are being served to you with a scowl.

I’ve not lost all hope for The Grimace, however. In fact, I think that he is finally warming up to us. Just last week, he barked “Gracias” as we paid our tab and left. At least, I think he said “Gracias.” Maybe it was just, “Grrrrr.”


At 7:18 PM, Blogger carmen deltoro said...


Better than Chomsky. He lacks sense of humour

At 7:42 AM, Blogger carmen deltoro said...

How about asking Bar Alcazar´s owners their opinion about Starbucks?

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

I asked Antonio and Jose about Starbucks. They said that any coffee served in a wax cup should come from a machine.

I asked the same question to The Grimace. He said mumbled something that seemed to have the word "madre" in it. Then I asked The Grimace his views on Chomsky. He SMILED and said, "I like his political writings, but I find his vies on pre-programmed language skills difficult to reconcile with conventional wisdom." Then he offered me a back rub.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger carmen deltoro said...

Grimace for President!!!!

At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sal, darn you. Now that you've exposed me, I'm going to have to resign my post as the President of the "Women over Fifty Who Dye Their Hair and Oppose Cigarette Smoking" lobbying group. go to Bar Alcazar, it's worth it!

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Oh shit. Why do I have the feeling that this will affect my inheritance?

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who said there's going to be anything left?


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