When we first moved to these shores many moons ago (wow, how the years roll by!), I had heard from friends how you are inundated with ‘friends’ who are just passing through on their way to so-and-so and could one stay a night or so on the way? It did happen, but not as much as we expected because the other question would always be, “Are you on the beach where you live?” We would answer truthfully that we were a 20 minute drive from said beach and no, we didn’t have a pool. Once they had gleaned this from us they were usually, unless they were real friends, suddenly in more of a hurry to reach their destination.
However, a few years ago we were living in the very centre of the city in a huge flat with great views across the city. As a consequence, we were suddenly more popular as a stop-off destination. We had many a fun weekend with visitors glued to the view and the events happening way below them in the square we towered over. One weekend we had a niece coming to stay with her best friend S (who we didn’t know) and, just before their arrival, she called to ask if it would be OK if her friend S’s brother M (who we didn’t know from Adam) could join them – he’d sleep on the floor and be no trouble. We said of course not, we’ll make him up another room.
They all arrived and we had a really wonderful weekend, they turned out to be prefect guests and great fun to be with. They also feel head-over-heels in love with Valencia and were eager to see and experience everything. They also loved their food, which immediately endeared them to me. We took them to some of our favourite restaurants and bars. All of which they loved. On their last night, I suggested we went to a favourite little bar of ours in the Carmen. “It’s a typical bar,” I said, “very much a barrio bar, but the food and the atmosphere are great.” We took them to La Pilareta (or Bar Pilar, as I have always called it).
As usual there was a queue, but I went to the front and got my number from José, the maitre d’ and voice of La P. I then pushed my way to the bar to get us a bottle of wine, their own unlabelled but surprisingly good Rioja, and some glasses to quaff whilst we waited for our number to be called.
La Pilareta is basically a long bar down one side of the place with buckets along its base (more on these in a minute) and old glass cabinets above holding ancient bottles of gin, brandy and sherry and other assorted liquors and wines. On the other side are low tables and even lower stools dishes of tapas and mussels against old black marbled tiles. Above their heads are framed newspaper clippings on the history of this old bar.
The clochina is king here. Clochinas are mussels, as are mejillones. Clochinas are Valencian, are smaller, sweeter, and have a shorter season (May to August) than mejillones. And any Valencian will tell you – clochinas are far superior to the larger mejillones. This old bar has been serving the best of both of these crustaceans for years. They claim to sell four tons of the things during March, the month of Las Fallas. The buckets on the floor? For the empty shells, of course.
It’s a noisy place at peak times, the waiters shout the orders to the kitchen at the far end of this long bar and the barmen shout back, and José shouts our number when a table comes free. We sit. We order. Nothing fancy, just quality tapas the way they have been serving them since 1917 (that date makes it one of the city’s oldest eating houses), Patatas bravas, Habas (herby and delicious broad beans), the Valencian speciality Esgarraet (salt cod and peppers), mussels, of course, and Sepia a la plancha, which is grilled cuttlefish. The place was an instant hit with M who now returns each year and we make a pilgrimage to La Pilareta. Like me, he loves the whole atmosphere of the place, the hustle and bustle, the characters who eat there and most of all the food, in particular those spicy mussels. No coffee is served. “No time!” say the barmen. Quite right, too.
I regularly eat at La Pilareta (after many years being known as Bar Pilar) with friends and family, it is such a pleasant way and inexpensive way of spending a few hours and eating good home-cooked Spanish food. All dishes are around 5-7 Euros each and a glass of wine will set you back around 2 Euros. It fully deserves its reputation that has become pretty worldwide – just check the glowing reviews all over the web. It was established in 1917 so their anniversary is coming soon!
(The House of Mussels)
C/ Moro Zeit, 13
Tel: 96 391 04 97