When I think back to many of the fantastic times I had out and about whilst living in Córdoba, Bar El Clandestino is the place that mainly springs to mind.
A couple I used to work with introduced me to it very early on and I was relieved that I’d found somewhere a bit more in tune with what I enjoy from a good bar (as much as the quaint Spanish tabernas were a lovely cultural experience, I needed something a bit cooler and more modern too).
Situated on Calle Diario de Córdoba on the bended road heading from the town hall and Roman Temple down towards the river, it is one of those classic legendary postage-stamp sized bars which always seems to the most popular kind of place. It is just on the edge of La Judería (the old Jewish district/UNESCO World Heritage site of Córdoba’s historic centre) and close to several places to eat, should the mood take you.
Friday nights would have dozens of people spilling out of the bar and milling round the street outside, a happy and chilled vibe where you could meet anyone and end up with another new drinking partner.
Clandestine by name, clandestine by nature. The owner, Jesús, told me that the bar’s name was inspired by the name of the seminal album ‘Clandestino’ by French-Spanish artist Manu Chao.
This prompted me to discover the album for myself and I can see why he decided this name would suit his bar- chilled, cool, offbeat and just a little bit ambiguous. Manu Chao records songs in multiple languages, some within the same song. The main languages he sings in are Spanish, French, English and Portuguese.
A thing in common with its namesake is that Bar El Clandestino tends to attract the few foreigners who live in Córdoba. I guess this is down to its welcoming vibe, eclectic music and refusal to conform to the standard, generic Spanish tapas bar.
You can discover Manu Chao’s Clandestino album on Youtube here.
The owner had spent some time living in New York and had amassed a collection of art and artefacts which adorn the bar in a quirky yet somehow still minimalist fashion. The most striking feature of this tiny bar though is the fact that regular live performances take place on a stage which is above the toilet. Performers scale a ladder to get up there and I don’t know why but this sums up the charm of this place.
The genres of acts playing at this bar are endless. I’ve seen traditional African music, Latin music, guitar, acapella, soul… in fact, one of my favourite memories is of a grey, rainy day in February and for some reason, half of my colleagues piled into Clandestino.
The music choice of that day was Colombian Cumbia; a tropical trumpet-led genre which goes against the body-grazing sensuality of Salsa and Bachata and works on a basis that by keeping some distance between the dancers, there is more of a sense of anticipation.
Clandestino often offers a perol on a Saturday afternoon for people who call in for a drink. A perol is a particularly Cordobes institution which refers to a type of pan. They cook rice in it which resembles paella although the difference in name comes from the difference of pan.
Córdoba is home to several artistic and literary festivals throughout the year and despite Clandestino’s compact size, it is often used as one of the hubs across the city for housing expositions and homenajes (homages).
Cosmopoética is the annual poetry celebration every October and 2017’s theme was Mexican poets and artists. Clandestino hosted a tribute to Frida Kahlo with accessories around the bar to put on such as floral headbands and flowing red shawls.
Clandestino attracts the local characters of Córdoba. There are the regulars- couples who have been married forty years and still love going for a drink and a dance on a weekend, travellers, the odd ERASMUS student, musicians, writers, older people, younger people, British teachers, International teachers… the main drink sold here seems to be cerveza (beer) so here is a guide to the names of the different glass sizes for a beer in Spain. Forget pint and half pint, they don’t serve it like that here.
Un zurito/corto- I discovered this measure in Clandestino. It is a very low, disc shaped glass which allows for a couple large sips at most!
Una caña– this is common and smaller than a half pint. The small quantity means you can drink the beer before it gets chance to become warm and flat in the searing Spanish heat
Una maceta- this is quite an Andalusian/Cordobes word for a glass which is bigger than the caña
Un tubo– a tube of beer haha. Tube shaped, a bit like a high-ball glass.
Una botella- a bottle!
[You can learn some more Spanish slang and colloquialisms on my blog post ’27 Spanish sayings to Sound Like a Local!’ ]
One time when my mum was over visiting, she was standing at the bar in Clandestino one quiet, hot July afternoon. A rare period of peace in this usually crammed bar. A much older, inebriated Spanish caballero (gentleman) came over and started singing romantic flamenco-esque songs to her, swaying and gesticulating passionately as he did so.
Suddenly, his mobile phone rang, he answered it nervously like a naughty schoolboy then put it in his pocket, put his hat on and walked out of the bar as if none of that performance had just occurred, much to our amusement/bemusement!
The genre of music played varies greatly from soul to blues to rock to jazz to Latin… many times I’d shout across to the bar staff “what is this song called???!” and I’d come home armed with so many songs to download, scribbled down on whatever scrap of paper I could find at the time.
There are plenty of tales from this appropriately named Clandestine petite bar with its blend of New York cool and slight touch of modern Andalusia. It’s the bar I have the most memories of and miss the most.
I recommend you pop into Bar El Clandestino if you’re in Córdoba for something other than the traditional tapas taberna route… great music, good cheap drinks and a brilliant atmosphere!
For more recommendations of great eating/drinking spots in Córdoba, see my blog posts on ‘A Guide to the Four Best Plazas in Córdoba, Spain’ and Jugo Vinos Vivos, Córdoba’s only organic wine bar!