Dec 09

THE FT TOP 25 PUBS OF THE 00’s No 17: The Spanish Bar, Downstairs, Hanway St

FT + Pumpkin Publog17 comments • 1,230 views

In my notes for the night we made this list (in the Exmouth Arms) it says the following: “THE SPANISH BAR IS THE KID A”. What on earth can this cryptic comparison mean?

The Spanish Bar is not a pub. I cannot imagine a time when you would possibly go there for a sociable drink if the opportunity of a pub had been offered. The entire Spanish Bar experience relies on one salient factor. It is open late. And nowhere, absolutely nowhere, else in the area was open late and free to get in. So we would traverse Soho, nip down Hanway Street and walk down the unpleasant corridor to get access to £3 bottles of San Miguel and, at weekends, a Hieronymus Boschian subterranean hell of squashed standing up drinking and all the motorway signs led to ruin.

By the way, subterranean is important here. There was another Spanish Bar upstairs which I went to once, which seemed to be slightly more gentrified, if equally poky. But all the terrible tales of nights led that little bit extra astray seemed to involve The Spanish Bar (said, much like Macbeth is referred to as The Scottish Play).

So we remember the night two friends of ours hooked up, and one of them espied us seeing their fond farewell and wanted to get to the bottom of the gossip*. A few nights when American friends turned up and we wanted to show them we could do late doors drinking too (they weren’t impressed). Bumming fags off of all and sundry and putting them out in the stale tortillas**. The horrid horrid toilet like queueing for hell. It was smoky, it was crowded it was unpleasant and it was your sign of a good time well had.

Its still there. I haven’t been for years. These days we don’t seem to drink in the area so much, we are less likely to have a critical mass at kicking out time and – well there are pubs that stay open after eleven even in that area. I can’t imagine it post smoking ban even, it was always hideously smoky down there. But i do remember being on the bus once, and overhearing the following chat between two of my local licencing officers from the police.

“I was down Hanway Street last Friday night.”
“Oh right, the flamenco places.”
“Yeah, you know that little downstairs place?”
“Oh yeah, always rammed after eleven. Health and safety issues.”
“I didn’t go down, didn’t need to the queue was halfway down the road. You know I don’t think they’ve got a licence?”
“What are you gonna do?”

It kind of summed up the place for me. It was the closest I’ll ever have to an illicit speakeasy. Rubbish beer, overpriced, unclean, uncomfortable and simply legendary. Untouchable by human laws, unspeakable by most terms. And all of this without mentioning THE HAIRY MAN – some sort of proprietor cum bouncer who scared the hell out of us and would pop up like some medieval demon to add spice to the evening.

The Spanish Bar is The Kid A. Every list needs it even though it feels wrong to celebrate such a thing.

*Which mainly involved someone falling on his bottom in surprise.

**The Spanish Bar was notionally a late night food place that happened to serve beer (we believed). This meant three slices of stale tortilla on chiller shelf that somewhere along the line someone would buy and not eat. I remember eating a lot of leftovers in there.

[edit: I’ve removed the first image that was on this page, as it was popping up a security prompt – Admin]


  1. 1
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Dec 2009 #

    daer GOD i am glad i forgot abt the SB during the MONTH OF CORRUPTION™: the guilt of introducing newcomers there wd never have left me

  2. 2
    Ewan on 9 Dec 2009 #

    We were going to go there after the list was compiled, that night in the Exmouth Arms, but thankfully were far too drunk to do so. Or not, perhaps, drunk enough.

  3. 3
    Matt DC on 9 Dec 2009 #


  4. 4
    Kat but logged out innit on 9 Dec 2009 #

    Nobody expects to get a seat in the Spanish Bar. Yet bizarrely I have, during an ill-advised afternoon session there with skiving colleagues.

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 9 Dec 2009 #

    The Spanish Bar contains everything in its right place. I’ve never heard the national anthem of their country in there but it would not surprise me if they played it occasionally. How to disappear completely your shots requires downing them quickly. I was once bought a drink in there by an Irishman who then challenged me on how many fingers he was holding up. I was optimistic about my answer being correct but he was including his thumb so it wasn’t “up yours” after all. You only go here when the other pubs closing leaves you in limbo. Idiot-equestrian is a sport that should never ever be played in this bar…again, trust me. The owner’s wolf-like howling when announcing closure is known as the morning bell, befitting a spooky motion picture soundtrack while remaining revellers stagger out in the wee small hours, eyes wonkified by booze.

  6. 6
    Pete Baran on 9 Dec 2009 #

    An anonymous contributer sez…

    There is no need for anyone to know about my own inappropriateness with a coworker when I first visited this bar back in 2004, but needless to say general ruin was involved. That was also the night on which I smoked about 50% of all the cigarettes I have ever smoked in my entire life. Good times, eh?

  7. 7
    Mark M on 9 Dec 2009 #

    Possibly the best thing about sliding into middle age is the comforting truth that no one will ever say “well, we could always go to Hanway Street…” to me again.

  8. 8
    Tom on 10 Dec 2009 #

    My greatest Spanish Bar memory was the DUEL OF THE HAIRY MEN, in which Ed Lynch-B3ll (hairiest of the ILX FAP mob by some distance) boldly challenged the Hairy Man over something or other. He was of course utterly defeated though still came nearer than most by dint of even trying.

    The Hairy Man looks like Rumpelstiltskin BTW.

  9. 9
    Tom on 10 Dec 2009 #

    Incidentally my memory of the Kid A comparison is a little clearer: an enormously unpleasant experience which is nonetheless favourite to win. (obviously it has placed more sensibly)

  10. 10
    byebyepride on 10 Dec 2009 #

    Never been. I feel this is something I will not be keen to remedy.

  11. 11
    Matt DC on 10 Dec 2009 #

    I only encountered the Hairy Man once, he growled at us and made an unintelligible noise that was interpreted as “get off the stage”. It was like seeing the yeti.

  12. 12
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 10 Dec 2009 #

    I don’t actually remember there being a stage!

  13. 13
    Lex on 10 Dec 2009 #

    Matt – TS: Spanish Bar vs The Castle?

    I have been to the Spanish Bar but actually have no concrete memory of it whatsoever :(

  14. 14
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 10 Dec 2009 #

    That is because you have no mohawk

  15. 15
    PJM on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Isn’t it Venezuelan or something?

  16. 16
    Anna_anna on 16 Dec 2009 #

    If I never do anything with the rest of my life, I would like to think I would still be remembered for introducing THE SPANISH BAR to the Ilx-Freaky Trigger axis. ‘Though I really don’t think I can claim a hold on the title Queen of Ruin anymore.

    I’m almost glad I can’t remember half the stuff I got up to in there. Almost.

  17. 17
    Mags on 9 Apr 2014 #

    The Spanish Bar is still going strong, despite the smoking ban. The flamenco places are all closed though.

    We go there for the working vinyl jukebox. A few months back we meet two teenage art students who were planning to take their performance art to North Korea. Quite.

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