Bar Culture in Spain

July 30, 2013 By: erik Category: Partying, Photos, Spain, Travel 1,264 views

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Which way to the nearest bar?After living in Spain for so long, I have internalized so much of the culture, that I forget what is quirky about it and what seems weird to outsiders. One aspect of Spanish culture that visitors often misunderstand is just how central bars are to Spanish society. When you first visit Spain, you will notice that there are a lot of people in the bars every midday and evening (and even for breakfast), and you might think, “Wait, where’s the economic crisis?” There is one simple fact that you need to know to understand almost anything about Spanish social culture:

In Spain, no one socializes with friends at their home.

Obviously there will be some exceptions, but as a general rule, it holds true, especially compared to other countries. In Spain, it’s very common to be best friends with someone for ten or twenty years and never have seen the inside of their house. What you do with friends is go out to bars, and when you’re done socializing, you go back to your own homes.

There are a few causal feedback loops at work.


Spanish homes, by which I mostly mean “apartments”, are very small and aren’t designed with hosting dinner parties in mind. Do people not socialize at home because the houses are small, or are the houses small because people don’t socialize at home? Both, probably.

This insight also explains the very dense – tall apartment buildings – living conditions in Spain. I live in a small town of seven thousand residents, and 95% of those people live in apartment buildings that are at least five stories tall. Do people only socialize in bars because they all live so close, or do they all live so close because they only socialize in bars? Both, probably.

I love SpainThe exception to the rule is family. Space permitting, extended family members do tend to eat at each other’s houses, but often space is not permitting.

One interesting side effect of this phenomenon is the Basque txoko (pronounced “choco”). The formal txokos are “gastronomical societies”, and are made up of a group of friends that have pooled resources to rent or buy a restaurant where they can cook meals and socialize privately together. More informally, the word txoko can be used to refer to a garage or basement that someone has installed a basic kitchen and bathroom in, where large dinner parties can be held. I have several friends, whose houses I’ve never set foot in, that have invited me to their “party garages” for meals.

Now that you understand this basic tenet of Spanish society, a lot more things that make Spain so different from other countries make more sense, like why children go to bars, why the bars always seem so full, even in tough economic times, and how a town of seven thousand people can support thirty bars.

  • luis

    Hi, I’m Luis, although I’ve been following your blog, which is fantastic by the way, for several years, specially those posts focused on Spain or cultural differences, I had never written a comment before.
    I think that your theory about flats and bars is interesting but in my opnion the main reason most spaniards live in flats is gas and land prices. If they were as cheap as they are in the States I’m sure that more people would live in detached or semidetached houses.
    This is bound to be the main problem USA will have to face in the future due to the constantly growing prices of oil.
    I hope that I haven’t made too many mistakes.

    • Thanks for your comment, Luis! Your English is excellent.

      You’re right that there are many other reasons for the Spanish population density.

  • Kaley

    I love the Spanish bar culture, and you’ve done a great job of explaining it.

    I guess Mario and I break the norm, because we invited our friends to our house, and we had just barely met them … along with some we had known for a long time.

    • We’re different too. I think that expats and Spaniards who have spent time abroad vary from the norm.

  • Clint

    Erik love you blog been following you for awhile after having found you via a web search on registering my daughter born here in spain…. Just want to put this out there about spanish bars my daughter was 8 or 9 days old when she made her first bar visit in spain. There we are my wife and I wife cañas in hand and my free hand holding her bottle… I think your take on the spanish bars is nose on and thanks for sharing i don’t feel so alone in spain when i read your blog….