El Anciano Rey de los Vinos is a classic place to have a vermouth aperitif in Madrid. It’s close to “las Vistillas” and if you go on a Sunday it feels like stepping back in time.
The first time we stumbled upon El Anciano Rey de los Vinos, it was a sunny Sunday morning in Madrid. One of those days with an azure blue sky, warm enough for only a light jacket and a scarf and just begging for you to stroll through the streets of the historic section. Just before lunch time (the hour of the aperitif in Spain) we saw the words “vermouth del grifo” written in large gold letters on the window of a classic Madrid style tapas bar. This was El Anciano Rey de los Vinos. You can find it caddy corner from the Almudena Cathedral and steps from the Royal Palace. This is one of those bars filled up with grandpas and locals, and it’s been around since 1909. We didn’t think twice before stepping inside.
El Anciano Rey de los Vinos is a classic Madrid tapas bar. As you walk in, there are large plates of pinchos (little rounds of bread with delicious toppings such as cheese, ham, Spanish omelette), as well as a list of wines, tapas and “raciones” (bigger portions so you can share with all your Spanish friends 😉 We took a seat at the bar and ordered two vermouths. I only recently learned that vermouth is actually made from white wine steeped in spices to give it that characteristic caramel color. The tradition of vermouth on tap has been part of the Madrid culture for centuries and has recently come back into fashion. Served with an olive and a bit of orange, this is the perfect drink to have before lunch. And at El Anciano Rey de los Vinos it comes with a tapa. What could be better?
We chose to sit at the bar, as we were just stopping in for a vermouth or two before lunch. I highly recommend this option, as the aperitif is a great way to feel like you are part of the local crowd in Madrid (or any other Spanish city, for that matter), and it allows you to stave off your hunger for that late Spanish lunchtime of 3pm! That being said, you also have the option to sit at a table in the restaurant and order raciones including the famous chicken strips with cabrales cheese (which reminds me of blue cheese and comes from Asturias), as well as the fried eggs with ham and green peppers, the ham croquettes and pork sirloin topped with goat cheese. El Anciano Rey de los Vinos has any of the Spanish classics you are looking for, as well as some you didn’t know you were craving.
As far as decor, they haven’t changed much in the 100 plus years they have been around. And thank goodness for that! The walls painted yellow and are lined with green and white painted tile. Behind the bar there is a mirror surrounded by chalk boards announcing the wines and prices. You will also salivate over the tapas under glass as you enjoy your first round of drinks. Remember to ask the waiter if you see one you’d especially like to try. If you ask them nicely, they generally will oblige. (I am personally not the biggest mayonnaise fan, so when they give me one of the little pinchos with mayo, I always try to switch it.) The tables are white marble and wrought iron and the bar has high wooden stools. There is nothing too fancy, but it does have some gorgeous light fixtures and images of the old Madrid.
This is the place we always stop for an aperitif if we are anywhere near the Plaza Mayor or the Plaza del Oriente (by the palace). It is an authentic experience that hasn’t changed, even though vermouth has become the “it” drink of the moment, or because other people have learned about it’s status as a Madrid classic. The Anciano Rey de los Vinos is everything you want in your tapas experience. There’s even a terrace outside for nice weather (although it tends to be filled, and I personally prefer the hustle and bustle of the bar.) There’s just something about the Spanish people chatting enthusiastically with their friends, having a drink and a bite to eat and then heading on home for lunch. What’s not to love? We ruskommend el Anciano Rey de los Vinos with 4 boquerones!