Celso y Manolo

The year is 1965. A boy of sixteen from the northern town of Cangas de Narcea, in Asturias, leaves his mining community and heads off to Spain’s capital. This sort of trip may be common nowadays, but back then it was an arduous journey indeed.

Our protagonist, Manolo, embraced calle Libertad wholeheartedly and made it his home for five decades. We don’t quite know what it was that attracted him to La Tasca de Pepe (“Pepe’s Tavern”), whether the name or the fact that Pepe was the owner, but in any case he started working there as an apprentice, loading boxes, pouring beer, serving customers, peeling potatoes, loading coal and filling up porrones—a traditional Spanish pitcher with a tapered spout that is used to pour wine, usually straight into the mouth.

One day after polishing off a plate of callos—a hearty tripe stew in a spicy paprika sauce that is one of Madrid’s most typical dishes—Pepe announced that he was retiring. Manolo, ever restless and enterprising (he is similar to Carlos in that way, just between you and me), took over ownership of the bar. He asked his mother to sign the bank guarantee (we did the same, just ask our mum) and brought along his brother Celso. They gave the restaurant a new name: Taberna Argüelles—not, as some might guess, after the neighbourhood of Argüelles, but because it happened to be their surname.

And so, after endless trips up the stairs to the charcoal stove located on the first floor, they finally started to get the hang of serving customers from behind an eight-metre-long counter. Some cañas here, boquerones there, plates upon plates of codfish and callos, and before they knew it, they found themselves immersed in the glorious 1970s and 1980s: a golden age for Taberna Argüelles. They fed all the office workers from Telefónica (the only telephone operator in Spain at the time), Bank of Spain and other companies that had started to set up shop in Madrid’s majestic Gran Vía. They became known for their tortilla, their codfish, their stews and their marble counter.

Like us, Manolo had a close relationship with Taberna La Carmencita. He told us once that when he was 17, he made it a tradition to go there for a plate of beans and steak when he got his monthly paycheck. That’s how he became friends with Carmencita, the owner, and her brother.

This story might seem short, but it is the briefest of summaries of half a century of hard work. One day, Celso and Manolo finished their plate of callos and decided they were retiring. We met the Argüelles brothers by serendipity and liked everything about them, including the brothers themselves. We liked their tortilla, their demeanour behind the beautiful bar, their kindness, the way they kept their bar spotless at all times, the strength that comes from fifty years of tireless work, their honesty and open-mindedness, and finally, their history.

The bar had many suitors, but Celso y Manolo took a special liking to us because, with some help from our mother, we had rescued La Carmencita and restored it to the way it had been when they arrived in Madrid so many decades ago. That made them trust us. Now we, the Zamora brothers, hope to maintain the spirit of this traditional Madridian tavern for at least another fifteen years, serving delicious food and welcoming people with joy.

And since we don’t like callos, we have no intention of retiring!