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]