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.
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.
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.
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.
A gourmet pack of mussels
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.