Located next to the Plaza de la Virgen, Café de las Horas has sat proudly for 28 years as a place where people go to forget their present day worries and step into an elegant, neo-baroque fantasy where anyone and everyone is welcome. Inside you will find a mix of classic and baroque pieces from vibrant red curtains to elaborate paintings and sculptures. Along with this, customers from all walks of life sit around, chatting over jugs of the café’s famous ‘Agua de Valencia’, the place is bursting with vibrancy, character and the excitement of not quite knowing what is going to happen next. It’s like a Parisian Café, English Tea Room and American Cocktail lounge rolled into one!
I was able to sit down with Marc, the owner of Café de las Horas to talk about everything from the history of the bar and its customers to their iconic ‘Agua de Valencia’ and what the future holds for this staple in Valencian culture. We also get to talk about the exciting new development in ‘Agua de Valencia’ at Café de las Horas – ‘Licor Café de las Horas’ – a concoction of the key ingredients for the base of this classic cocktail and a way to bottle the magic and take it home!
24/7 VALENCIA: How was the idea for ‘Café de las Horas’ birthed?
MARC: Lets go back a bit, I’ve had it since 1994 and it started because when I arrived in Valencia there wasn’t very much going in the way of literary café bars. The idea of a space where you could have a quiet cup of tea or a cocktail and do something slightly more elegant and relaxed and chic and laid back like read a book or write a letter. Because in those days we had friends that were human beings, we had conversations!
Anyway, I wanted to bring back the conversation because Valencia was a party city and I’d grown up studying Spanish and was very much a fan of the generation of ‘98.
I had two friends at the time who were very good at decoration and had wise and talented hands. So, we thought we could do it together the three of us. And it’s the two of us now, my partner is in charge of decoration and I’m more conceptual, I guess.
So that’s how the café started, a little bit of an oasis, something a bit different. My job has been to survive 28 years of ups and downs and still keep the café relevant and at the forefront of what I consider interesting bar society.
24/7 VALENCIA: What is the décor inspired by?
MARC: I think you’d be better off talking to my business partner, Manual Castillo, who is very much the artist behind this. We wanted the retro, the past. The whole idea of the café is that it will last forever, it has been and is and will be. So, the inspiration is very much classical but it’s very eclectic. There are ‘winks’ to a bit of art nouveau, a bit of Gaudi, a bit of the Valencian tradition, a bit of baroque … quite a lot actually! And a bit of plain old kitsch, we just throw it in. Manuel has a very good eye for balance. Everything you see we’ve done ourselves or done with friends. We built the floor, there was no floor. So, this is very much our ‘baby’.
24/7 VALENCIA: How does the café change from day to night?
MARC: The café does have very many different faces. There’s the morning sunshine, cake, tea, breakfast, reading, planning my day. And then the evenings, it gets darker, and we love a bit of fun … a little bit of ‘naughty’. We’re very up for the theme party, the one-cocktail-too- many, the hair bun that slips, the chance … the intuition of magic, the promise of some forbidden fruit, these are the things that we live for.
I have tried over the years to cultivate a healthy respect for all human aspects, all that we carry in human nature, it’s not only the intellectual or the elegance, you have to have a sense of humour, you have to be willing to let your hair down, occasionally make a little bit of a fool of yourself. There’s pain in life and we try to offer a space where you can come and forget your pain. I know that sounds terribly pretentious, but we’ve tried to do this in a very quiet way and to have somewhere where you can be ‘you’. You can come into the café and yes, the streets might not be as friendly, maybe even hostile, but here you should be able to find a space where you can you pull out a persona that you’ve always wanted to try. The fun of the café is that you never know what might happen. Depending on the hour of the day and the day itself. For example, at the moment, we are looking to have a photoshoot with pole dancing and are possibly talking about a burlesque performance.
24/7 VALENCIA: Does the café attract a lot of tourists?
MARC: Well, I’d say tourism is quite a new phenomenon in Valenica, it started around 2015 but the café opened in 1994 so for 21 years we’ve been here with our Valencian customers, and I like the think that we can still be a Valencian classic but I’d also like to think that we are a discovery for the foreigner. That this is a chance to savour a little bit of Valencia, not only in the ‘Agua de Valencia’ but in the decoration, the ambience. When we had the catastrophe of Covid, we re-opened and there was absolutely no tourism. We were confined to our local community, and it was wonderful. It was touching to see that we were full and that we have friends in Valencia as this is what we have been working for, to be part of the community. It’s never just a one-way street, it’s always two-way. We get so much but we have been given so much, I am where I am, and the café is where it is because of these wonderful people. Customers who’ve come and sung for us or they’ve brought their energy with them or their interesting conversations and their interesting lives. So yeah, I would say we have a large number of tourists, in the last two years especially but our base and our heart is very much local.
On regulars: The quite lovely thing is when someone says that they’ve finally found a place where they are comfortable. On the other hand, we’ve become very popular of late, so we have these queues in the afternoons and on the weekends and there’s not always a table for some of our regulars, but I think people are happy for our success, these things come and go. I’ve had customers that have become part of the decoration, they’ve come here almost every weekend for fifteen years. When you’ve been around for so long as well, it is also normal that people pick up new habits and take on new responsibilities so they can no longer continue to do what they used to do. We get older.
24/7 VALENCIA: What makes the ‘Agua de Valencia’ here special?
MARC: You can do what you want in terms of the base, but I would recommend a vodka base with some kind of white liqueur or white, orange-flavoured liqueur is what we used to use. We’ve been doing this for years and have tried different variations, listened to people’s reactions. We mix our orange juice 50/50, so it’s not pure freshly squeezed which helps us maintain a stable flavour because oranges are in and out of season.
So, this is how we do it, and we’ve heard of people trying different alcohols and I hear some people are using gin, some people are using whiskey … all sorts of things. But we believe in not having a hangover, we believe that it should be a drink that slips down, you think it’s harmless and it’s actually very dangerous, and hence fun! The next day you’re supposed to be fine. These customers have come back weekend after weekend for years to drink ‘Agua de Valencia’ and it shows good drink not only in taste but in quality and in effects. So that’s been my guarantee.
24/7 VALENCIA: Can you tell us a bit more about the new ‘Licor Café de las Horas’?
MARC: And now, what is the big change? The big innovation? Well, for years I’ve been playing around and wanting to bring out my own liqueur. So, I finally took a leap of faith, and I am now producing my own ‘liquor base’ to make ‘Agua de Valencia’. I’ve taken the idea of the vodka and the orange liqueurs, and we are now making our own. It is orange flavours, but I’ve played around with it so it’s not only the fruit itself, it’s a bit of dried peel going in there, there are other citric fruits, one of which is mandarin. I’ve taken it one step further and I’ve added some herb so it’s very aromatic. The idea is that this ‘Agua de Valencia’ is very unique … well, we’ve always had unique ‘Agua de Valencia’ here…but the idea now is that you can actually take it home! I’m hoping it will be the ideal gift, the memory of Valencia instead of a tile or a magnet. You can give this experience of the ‘Agua de Valencia’ because one bottle of liqueur would give you about four litres of ‘Agua de Valencia’. So, you know I can just see this as a Christmas gift.
I’ve also simplified the making of the cocktail because it’s a ‘1,2,3’. It’s ‘Licor Café de las Horas’, orange juice and cava and when we say cava, we mean any bubbly. It allows you to play around with finding your own flavours. Still, just in case, the experience of ‘Agua de Valencia’ in Café de las Horas is always unique so we’re not substituting we’re just giving you something to take home!
On the design of the bottle: At the back you have instructions and it’s ‘1,2,3’ … easy peasy! I’ve used the flowers …peonies, a bit of orange blossom and some oranges floating around and the whole idea is to get that light and summery feel … very Mediterranean and at the same time very ‘Cafe de las Horas’. I’m very happy with the design. Also, the letters are a nod to the beautiful gold writing of ‘The Books of Hours’ (which is part of the inspiration behind the name, ‘Cafe de las Horas’.) It is reminiscent of the writing in those books … but legible!
24/7 VALENCIA: Aside from ‘Agua de Valencia’, what is the product that people come here for?
MARC: The café has an amazingly long menu. We do lots of coffees, cocktails and teas. Really it depends on the time of day because I’ll come here in the morning, and I’ll have my tea and my ‘tostada’ and then in the afternoon we have a good selection of teas, but I also do cocktails with tea … so pretending I’m having tea but I’m actually having a bit of frivolity there … that’s very ‘Cafe de las Horas’. Our chilled milky rose tea is also very popular. On the cocktail list we love our flavours, we love our spice, so we do a good ‘Wasabi Margarita’ … we like our margaritas … we also do an ‘Absinthe Margarita’. We do a damn good ‘Old Fashioned! We love playing with flavours and it really is a place where we give a personal touch to our drinks. I would say the cocktails and the ‘Agua de Valencia’ are definitely right now the most popular things, but it shifts every now and then.
24/7 VALENCIA: What do you want for the future of ‘Café de las Horas’?
MARC: Okay, let’s go back again before I even speak about the future. The present is the past’s future. And when we started this café, I remember saying to my partners at the time, with that youthful, hopeful enthusiasm, “Can you imagine if we are still open in five years’ time?”
So, I thought, in 1994 that being open in 1999 would be ‘wow!’ … I guess with that we can conclude I’m not very ambitious! And then I remember saying that the dream was to be open 20 years later and to have become a classic in Valencia … and I think I can say that we have done that. At least we are open, and many people know we’re here. I think we’ve been faithful to our values; we’ve been creative in our survival, and we’ve been fortunate in those who have accompanied us.
So, the future? I am hoping that the future will be a continuity of what we have lived so far, that the journey continues to be pleasurable, interesting and enriching … because it has been extremely enriching. What I have learnt working here, the people I’ve met working here, what I have done … what I have become capable of doing, because of my work and thanks to my work, thanks to this experience, has made me a lucky person, a fortunate person.
Report by Shemaiah Rose
Article copyright 24/7 Valencia
‘Café de las Horas’ photos copyright Shemaiah Rose/ ’24/7 Valencia’
‘CAFÉ DE LAS HORAS’
Opening Hours: Every day from 10:00h to 01:30h
Address: Carrer del Comte d’Almodóvar, 1, 46003 València, Valencia
Tel: 963 91 73 36