Five Great Bars off the Beaten Track in Logroño

Most tourists who visit Logroño, the Rioja region’s largest city, never leave the old town – calle Laurel, calle San Juan and adjacent streets – because of this area’s tapas bars, restaurants and the vibrant atmosphere. Plus, as one of my friends says, “It’s just a short stagger home or to your hotel.”

Another part of town slightly off the beaten track – a ten minute walk from calle Laurel – is quickly becoming an interesting alternative to the old town for great wines and tapas without huge crowds. The L-shaped area is bordered by the Gran Vía, República Argentina, Menéndez Pelayo, Somosierra, Huesca and María Teresa Gil de Gárate.

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This area used to be on the other side of the railroad tracks that marked the edge of town (today the Gran Vía) until the tracks were moved about half a mile south in the 1960s. Now it’s practically in the middle of town.

The following places are among Inside Rioja’s favorite spots:

El Lagar, calle Huesca 13; +34 941 588054

Owner Carlos Martínez Bujanda belongs to one of Rioja’s foremost families of vintners that own Bodegas Valdemar and Finca Valpiedra. At El Lagar you can enjoy a wide range of wines by the glass with a tapa, a larger plate to share at the bar or have a sit-down meal in the restaurant in the rear of the building.

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With his family connections, Martínez Bujanda is of course a wine lover. He has amassed an impressive collection of fine wines, mostly from small wineries in Rioja and the rest of Spain but also some carefully curated wines from large wineries in Rioja. These wines are showcased in a large glass-fronted fridge located between the bar and the restaurant.

Barrio Bar, calle Menéndez Pelayo 10; +34 941 570162

Barrio Bar is ‘the neighborhood bar’ in Spanish. It’s a combination bar/art gallery/advertising space for alternative activities in Logroño. Want to learn how to dance the swing, take a yoga class or practice transcendental meditation? You can find out at here.

Tapas and shared plates emphasize vegetarian and vegan offerings as well as typical Spanish tapas including potato omelets and gildas.

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Vermouth is the house specialty at Barrio Bar

Barrio Bar specializes in vermouth, with local and Spanish brands that compete with the ubiquitous Martini. When you visit, try a ‘marianito’, a small glass of vermouth on the rocks with a slice of orange or a ‘vermú preparado’ – a Marianito with a splash of gin, kind of a reverse Martini cocktail.

Odisea, calle María Teresa Gil de Gárate 15; +34 666451193

Susana Miranda, the former marketing director of our regional newspaper La Rioja and a partner recently opened Odisea. The bar offerings feature small tins of anchovies, mussels, sardines and the like that you eat straight from the tin as well as a vermouth blended by the owners. Some of the products are presented very imaginatively.

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A gourmet pack of mussels

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Susana Miranda shows off her vermouth

The back of the space is a design studio that houses the partners’ office as well as an area where you can buy original gifts.

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La Carbonera, calle María Teresa Gil de Gárate 18; +34 941 700125

This bar/restaurant used to be a coal warehouse, one of many small businesses located on calle María Teresa Gil de Gárate. Urban renewal has pushed these businesses to industrial sites outside of town, with bars and restaurants opening in their place. The street has been closed off to traffic so it’s the perfect place for a stroll, a few glasses of wine and some tapas.

La Carbonera features one of the best selections of wine by the glass in Logroño thanks to Juan Marcos Gutiérrez, the first Riojan to receive a sommelier certification. When we visit, our routine is always the same – “What’s new on your list?” Juan takes out his Coravin and serves a sample, after which we usually open the bottle to drink with one of their small shared dishes – fried pork belly, a French omelet with small pieces of potato or a croquette.

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Juan Marcos Gutiérrez with his wine selections

La Carbonera is also a restaurant specializing in aged beef from Galicia. The owners have opened a second location- La Sucursal de Luismi – downtown on Avenida de Portugal (an area that we’ll cover in a future article about Logroño’s Golden Mile of hamburger joints).

Beitia, calle María Teresa Gil de Gárate 35; +34 697 486323

Beitia recently moved to a bigger space. They needed it because both the bar and the outside terrace are always busy. Beitia specializes in typical Riojan tapas and shared dishes – leeks in vinaigrette, snails, deep-fried sheep’s intestines, garlic soup, lamb’s livers, potatoes with spicy sausage and freshly picked white beans (pochas).

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Iberian pork ‘secreto’ with green peppers and home fries

Do the above dishes turn you off? Take a walk on the wild side and try one! Riojans have been eating them for hundreds of years and our life expectancy is one of the highest in Spain!

Still fainthearted? Beitia also offers slices of grilled filet mignon and pork tenderloin from Iberian pork (called ‘secreto’ in Spanish) with grilled red and green peppers as well as other dishes for the unadventurous palate.

There are lots of other interesting places in this area, including El Tirador and Vinos Murillo that we have already profiled in Inside Rioja.

The next time you’re in Logroño, visit some of the bars and restaurants away from the tourist areas. You’ll save money and enjoy really good food and wine.

 

 

 

Baby Lamb Chops Grilled and Logroño’s Mayor Roasted at the Annual Celebration of the Lamb Chop

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Who doesn’t like an outdoor cookout? Whether it’s a South African braai, throwing some shrimp on the barbie in Australia, smoking ribs or grilling hamburgers in the back yard in the USA, making a meal outside is a great way to entertain friends and families.

In the Rioja region, our version of the cookout is grilling baby lamb chops over coals from vine cuttings, and the traditionally accepted way to eat them is with your hands, even in restaurants. Once at a large event at a Rioja winery, the chefs grilled lamb chops for guests that included Spain’s King Juan Carlos. When the king received his plate, everyone in the room held their breath to see how he was going to eat them. When he picked up his chop with his hands, the guests breathed a sigh of relief and picked theirs up, too!

One of the most popular events during the wine festival in Logroño in late September is the “celebration of the lamb chop”. According to two of my friends who grew up in the neighborhood, this tradition started in the 1970s when a local bar organized a contest to see who could eat the most lamb chops. Participants came from all over Spain and the winner was determined by weighing the bones.

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Turning vine cuttings into coals

This contest no longer takes place, but to commemorate it, the Riojan Social Club Federation, with the blessing of the city hall, closes off four blocks of one of Logroño’s main streets on the last Saturday morning of the wine festival. Groups of friends sign up to participate and for a fee of 80 euros, each group is provided with a table, four chairs, a big plate of lamb chops, a large steel plate on the street, a special lamb chop grill and several big bunches of grapevine cuttings. This year there were 125 tables. The groups always bring thick slices of bacon and other pork products to grill, sliced tomatoes, olives, spicy green peppers, chorizo and of course, plenty of bottles of Rioja and cans of beer. Friends and passers-by are encouraged to enjoy the atmosphere.

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A grillmeister with a sense of humor

At the table I visited, everyone was talking about two anecdotes. The first was about two tourists who happened to walk by during the cookout and were invited to have a few lamb chops and drink some wine. They readily accepted the invitation and then asked what for them was a logical question: “How much do we owe you?” Our group roared with laughter and told them that it was free. The tourists walked away dazed. Such is Riojan hospitality!

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Dead soldiers in the gutter

The second anecdote was the previous night’s controversy about Logroño’s new mayor saving the traditional ‘burning of the wine barrel’, the event marking the end of the wine festival. The mayor’s reasoning was to participate in the World Climate Strike to help save the environment. Everyone looked at the dense smoke rising from the hundreds of smoking grills in the street and wondered how much heat the mayor was going to get on social media and at the next city council meeting. He was appropriately roasted!

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Smoking grills with lamb chops – Notice the grill-it can be flipped over to cook the chops on both sides.

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Photos:  Tom Perry