Zaragoza deserves more in international context. Every time I am there is the conclusion I get. More fame, more importance. But on the other hand, fortunately, it’s not spoiled by tourists. Last weekend, spending there a day trip I only listened someone speaking English twice during the whole day walking around the most touristic places.
Halfway between Madrid and Barcelona the city has kept its on character well-combined with a quick and successful development. I spent many summers around when I was a kid, because of my family and after I lived very close during a year while doing the conscript military service in the 90’s. Since then I have been a visitor many times and had the chance to see the evident transformation of the city. There, there is the neighbourhood I would like to point out, El Tubo (the tube), for me the soul of the city, a bouquet of narrow streets in the heart of the downtown.
El Tubo is a nickname given probably because of the narrowness of its streets. Sounds cool and it’s coincident with how the Spanish call the very popular during the 80´s and 90´s long glasses for draft beer (tubos). It is located in San Gil neighbourhood of the old town, limited by Plaza España, Alfonso I, Don Jaime I and Méndez Núñez streets and formed by the Streets Martires, August 4, Cinegio, Libertad and Estébanes.
Bar areas make a piece of the identity of any Spanish city, and with their monuments, museums and theaters, become the hub of the cultural and leisure life of their inhabitants. These areas are much more than a place to enjoy local cuisine, they are authentic intangible culture where stories, meetings and all kinds of human relationships come along together, where tapas, rations, beer and wine are almost a religion.
El Tubo is today a cute branch of narrow and labyrinthine streets that seem to have been put together just to make people enjoyed. It has not been always like this. More than thirty years ago the neighborhood was quite different. I remember the darkness, the dirt and the smell when I was a kid. There were a lot of narrow and small bars but numerous old-school shops as well. The high proportion of bars comparing with other types of business has increased dramatically in the last two decades, since to run a grocery, a laundry service or a tiny lingerie shop is not worthy anymore comparing with selling or renting the space to an investor who is able to pay a renovation of the space and start a new sophisticated tapas bar.
During the 90’s El Tubo was still decadent, no one of the projects to dignify it has raised. We used to go there when I was a soldier and not even in my twenties. Enter there was like to catch a ticket for a time tunnel. Leather jackets, big ear rings, bad guys and worse girls, local beer and strong wine, simple tapas, charming chats, loud laughs, smiles, friendships… and urine and vomit smell in some corners before the cleaning service arrival, very early morning, carrying their hosepipes.
El Tubo had a rival in another neighbourhood called El Rollo, very famous and popular during the 80’s, full of new wave pubs that attracted the youngsters. Nowadays, El Rollo is clearly on its decay, struggling for surviving while El Tubo is living a renovate success that started with the last years of 20th Century.
Now the streets there are completely clean and the bars are cool. The clients go from noon to midnight and they can choose between those with a strong classical character and those ones with a new generation identity which are trying to remake the concept keeping the essence of the tradition. Some bars are still into simple tapas, such as “croquetas” or “pimientos del piquillo” and some others they have created very innovative new ones and improved the wine selection.
Some of the most classic ones are specialists in one kind of tapa that they have been preparing for a very long time, like El Champi which serves grilled mushrooms on bread, Bodegas Almau for “anchoas en salmuera”, Lamaribel Escabechado for marinade tapas, Taberna Doña Casta with its “croquetas” and “huevos rotos” or “El Musti”, nickname of Bar Fenicia, which makes awesome “empanadillas” with its libanese influence. Into the new generation ones we have Uasabi, El Meli del Tubo or 7 Golpes.
Many of them crowded so if you want to fit inside a Saturday night you need to be brave and lucky. This last time we made into Alta Taberna Soria and La Pilara. But there are many others like Bistró emilio, Casa Lac (The oldest restaurant in Spain according to its licence), El Limpia, La Republicana, La Ternasca, Belanche…
My tip for you is just to go, take a stroll and get in when you get inspired, won’t take very long!