When I tell my mother I met up with my friends for coffee at a bar, she gets suspicious. Coffee? In a bar? Does. Not. Compute. But it’s true—and luckily for you, I’m here to explain the differences between bars in Spain. Sit down and grab a cuppa because this post might make you thirsty.
Bars are a huge part of Spanish culture, but not in that way. Almost every town in Spain has at least one bar, even if the town’s population is 50, like in Mario’s mother’s village. In cities like Salamanca, there are bars aplenty, and you shouldn’t have to walk more than 2 minutes without seeing one. They’re the definition of ubiquitous. But don’t get me wrong—I’m not talking about the bars we know in the U.S., with their cacophonous music and floors sticky from spilled beer.
Family Style Bar
This is the type of bar to which I am most often referring. It often has a patio where you can sit and enjoy your coffee/beer/Coca-Cola in the warmer months. Mothers bring their babies; fathers play with their toddlers; groups of friends chat over café con leche, old men grouse to each other and play cards. It’s all in the family. You may have a selection of delectable pinchos, perhaps tortilla española, olives, or roasted potatoes with the most delicious garlic-mayo sauce. Spain is the country with the highest ratio of bars per person, its rate being three times that of the UK’s. For Spaniards, a bar is not a place to get wasted; rather, it’s a meeting place. It’s quite common to suggest to a friend, ¿Vamos a tomar algo?, meaning “Wanna go get a drink?” And by drink, they don’t always mean alcohol. There’s no problem bringing your baby to the bar with you; in fact, why wouldn’t you? It’s what we, in the U.S., would call a café.
But Mario would like to clarify that not all bars of this type have food. Just some. Thanks, my Spanish expert. (He really seems to get the culture! Weird how that works.)
Bar de Tapas
Remember that post I wrote about tapas? There are definitely bars that specialize in tapas. They generally are only busy on Friday and Saturday nights, starting around 8 p.m. and lasting until midnight. At other times, tapas just aren’t what’s hot. You go there to have a drink and eat a little appetizer-type food. Some bars are real gems, while others leave a lot to be desired, but that’s life, isn’t it?
Bar de Copas
Literally, una copa means glass, the kind you drink out of. But a lot of times it’s associated with drinking. Specifically, alcoholic beverages. Una copa de vino = a glass of wine. Unfortunately, these types of bars don’t often serve wine. They’re not running with that crowd. They generally open around 9 p.m., when the afternoon in Spain ends (nope, it doesn’t end until you eat dinner, which is typically around 9 in Spain). They can stay open until around 3 a.m., though it depends on the city. It’s not a place to go if you’re hungry, unless beer and/or rum and cokes satisfy your growling stomach. It doesn’t get busy until around 11 p.m., but usually can count on a steady stream of people from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m., when it closes down. After it closes down, do the people go home and to bed? Not on your life … this is Spain, and partying doesn’t stop until 5, 6, 7, even 8 a.m. Where do they go, then? It’s off to the …
… discoteca! As the Spanish Wikipedia tells me, a discoteca is a place for people to listen to music, dance, and drink. Generally, there is no food, although there are always exceptions. You don’t go to these bars to drink; you go to these bars already having drunk your fill because it’s expensive! And you wanna dance, of course. These places stay open until dawn.
So what do you do after a night of dancing at one of these discotecas? Don’t ask me; I’ve never done it. But I hear churros con chocolate are quite delicious and easily available once you finish partying at 8 a.m.
Hurley agrees. That’s all the proof I need!