Where they do bars better than us

I have a plan - a plan that I will absolutely, 100 per cent not go through with because I'm too lazy - to open a bar in Australia. My bar will be called Sevilla, and it will be amazing.

It will be called Sevilla, obviously, in homage to the Spanish city of the same name, and the bar itself will be similarly reflective of everything that's great about the Andalusian capital.

The reason I'd so love to open Sevilla is that there's nothing of the sort in Australia right now. We do big, shiny, pokie-filled pubs, we do dancy nightclubs and we do trendy small bars - but we don't do bars like they do in Spain. If no one else is going to open one, I will (although obviously I won't).

Because that's what I miss about Sevilla, the city. After a few months of living there in 2012, it's not the charming narrow alleys I dream of now, nor the churches, nor the art galleries, nor the local football matches. It's the bar culture.

Let me take you through a day in the life of a Sevilla bar, and you try telling me it's not the greatest.

Spanish bars don't have themes, they have ham.

The day begins unashamedly early. We're talking about 8am. That's not for booze though, it's for breakfast. Sevillanos ease themselves out of bed and down to the local bar for a "cafe con leche" - coffee with milk - and a "tostada completa". These tostadas are toasted bread rolls filled with sliced tomato and local jamon iberico, and drizzled with olive oil. They're simple and amazing.

Breakfast in Spain isn't a quick bowl of cereal at home, it's a social occasion - old men stand at the bar and chat as bartenders wipe over benches and prep their tapas offerings for the day ahead. Then it's time to head to the office.

There's no such thing as "small bar" culture in Spain - every bar is a small bar. Most could barely fit 30 people inside. Some have no space at all, merely a window from which to dispense drinks to punters who stand in the square outside.

Australia has small bars, yes, but not like in Sevilla. Here at home they all have painfully cool fit-outs and carefully considered themes. Spanish bars don't have themes, they have ham. Legs and legs of the stuff hang from the ceilings of almost every establishment.


One Sevilla bar, Las Teresas, has a "wall of fame" for its retired ham knives, these once proud hunks of steel that have been filed down to mere slivers over years and years of fervent use. They're racked on the wall with their dates of honourable service recorded in bold print next to them. You can't fake that stuff, you can't copy it. It's real.

The bars thrive in Sevilla because they're so well patronised. There's a culture of participation in Spain, a feeling that it would be far better to eat and drink outside with friends than to stay cooped up at home. Every meal is an opportunity to socialise. This goes as much for 80-year-old men as for hard-partying students.

It's lunchtime in Sevilla, and it's time to go back to the pub. Most places offer food - tasting-size dishes that are designed to be eaten with friends and are washed down with a beer. It might be huevos revueltos - scrambled eggs with asparagus. Or maybe a lentil soup with slices of chorizo. There's plenty to choose from.

The beer selection at your typical Sevillano bar, however, is not what you'd call wide - most places offer a single choice. No umming and aahing over the latest trendy microbrews. You order a "cana", a glass of beer, and you'll be served whichever drop your particular bar has decided to stock. It's usually Cruzcampo, the local brew. A glass costs €1.20 ($1.50).

As the afternoon creeps into siesta time in Sevilla it's best to head to Plaza del Salvador, a beautiful square featuring two tiny bars and hundreds of patrons standing in the sun, drinking their canas. This mini celebration will last until about 4.30pm, when the bars will shut their doors for a late siesta of their own, and everyone else will go back to the office to struggle through a few hours' work.

The evening will be yet another movable feast, a hop from bar to bar eating tapas and drinking canas late into the night. Regulars will chat to bartenders they've known for years. Tourists will crowd into places like Los Coloniales desperately waiting for their name to be called as a table is freed up.

Legs of ham will be sliced; olive stones will be piled high; glasses will be clinked; football will be discussed; economics will be bemoaned. There will be no aggression, no stumbling drunks nor shouted arguments.

That's the kind of thing I miss, the type of culture I would like to bring to Australia. Unfortunately Sevilla, my bar, is a pipe dream - but maybe someone else can give it a shot?


Is there a type of bar, or bar culture, you've experienced around the world you would like to see brought to Australia? Which city has the best bar culture you've experienced? Post your comments below.

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