"Santos is a beacon in the night for the drinker." This is how Alberto Villarroel (Madrid, 47 years old) imagines his bar. He, intimidating cheer, shaved and tattooed like a Hells Angel. Santos and Desamparados, a den whose torch attracts to the south of Huertas a clan devoted to the hard drink and the rhythms of the afterlife. A bar that would fit in the Malasaña noventera. No smell of joint or whiskey-cola in tube glass.
"It is a rock bar with a gothic aesthetic that is out of the ordinary in the Madrid of cocktails". It was like that in 2018 when he decided to open it after years of callus in 1862 Dry Bar, out of pure ego and for "thinking you have something to say". And he is still like this, faithful to his insolent soul, allergic to fashions and pleitesias, fitter than ever. The four legs of this dark creature, winner of the Bars and Drinks award from the Madrid Academy of Gastronomy, are the cult of rock n' roll, a resounding presence, delicate service and, of course, drink. The cocktail could be summed up in one idea: attitude.
In the city's most agitated neighborhood, Santos turns five. And Alberto, who also runs Vendittas around the corner, thought of taking his rebellion one step beyond the border. Outside Las Letras he found the solution to his evolutionary need in an old workshop on Calle Madera converted into an experimental beverage venue in the hands of a former bar colleague. Miguel Ángel Jiménez (Madrid, 35 years old), a meteoric bartender (from Belmondo to ocean liners such as Ramses), left the industry somewhat jaded and set up a company in a pandemic from which to explore new bar scenarios, at his own pace and reaffirming his artistic pulse.
With Libé we wanted to open other paths outside the exploitation of daily operations", explains Jiménez, co-founder with Javier Detry and Marta Benzal. "We project the best of ourselves in consulting and private experiences to inspire responsible and sustainable consumption. We want to take the bar out as happened with gastronomy."
Libé Unique Cocktails is already a reference for brands and professionals looking for advice, training and product development. M29, the physical headquarters of the project, is not a bar but the antithesis of Santos y Desamparados: flasks and surgical light in front of crucifixes and penumbras, laboratory machinery in front of heretical altars. The spark of an alliance between Santos and Libé, between Alberto and Miguelito, as he is known among the cocktail family, arose to turn the anniversary into the fourth menu of the bar: Lustro y Aparte.
Villarroel (seated) and Miguel Ángel Jiménez (from Libé), in Santos and Desamparados.
"Turning five means being in a valley period and you have to cool down," Villarroel analyzes. "Even if you're billing, it's time to change." And the change is to remain Saints. Radically. "Our luck is to have a diverse audience. It shocks me to see octogenarians at a table listening to Nine Inch Nails. The concept I wanted was that of shared solitude. There are people who go to take pictures and people who go to drink because Madrid is very helpless depending on what drinks. The cocktail bars that are a focus are working on taking the garden and wine to the cocktail and positioning themselves in the 50 Best Bars. But in none of you can take a Vieux Carré with this music." The Cult, The Cramps or Social Distortion at moderate volume.
In Santos, theVieux Carré or a floral Gimlet that nails the cordial of the disappeared Lima Rose's are the heart of the menu, along with more Beasts: classics enhanced with the best raw material and some touch of Libé for the occasion. Case of a Bamboo redistilled with plantain, genius born to be iconic. There is also a section dedicated to the Saints, hits of the house that have been paying the salaries of the team, such as the Yellow Dragon, with Tequila 1800 infused with yellow pepper, grapefruit, passion fruit and apricot foam. But it is the R+D part where Libé crystallizes its full potential. A Gibson with orange blossom honey and onion, a caipirinha of raspberries, pomegranate and ice cider, a highball of Chivas Mizunara with pickle of ginger, tea and lotus root... From a festive Manhattan baptized as Pearty & Bullsh*t, to the requested Cobblestone, which remotely departs from vintage Algonquin.
A place like M29 can sound like Adrià mixing potions in test tubes. But the use of technology is somewhat more invisible. "What we contribute is what has been learned over the years," says Miguel Ángel. "The machinery serves to reach where with tradition you cannot. It doesn't seem to take to make a manual orgeat with almond milk." An ideology of respect for the product and the small producer. "With this alliance we achieve brutal flavors with few very primary ingredients that contribute a lot. I believe more in simple cocktails, regardless of the balance. A cocktail can be unbalanced and good. Classic cocktails have edges."
But Alberto here seems to feel out of his fish tank. "What makes a professional different is the knowledge of raw materials. With Libé we grow in profitability and standardization. I'm not interested in a flavor that in two months is off the market. A cocktail bar is not a fish market." His eyes light up as he describes how his colleague has been able to translate his sometimes crazy desires. Although more than translating flavors from the literalness of an onion, Jiménez interprets them as he learned from his teachers with a work of molecular affinity behind. "What we do has to do with gastronomy. But talking about liquid cooking is disgusting." He will be more discreet than his partner, but he does not cut himself either. In Santos these other nuances are now introduced attached to global trends. Also the low graduation without gastronomic petulance. Being a bar frequented by gourmets accustomed to warming their throats with the best refreshed dry martinis in the city.
One of the cocktails on the menu of Santos and Desamparados.
This Five and Others, with Santos and Libé hand in hand, is a test in continuous development. A bar raw in its brutal honesty, with applause from the sector. And a project that continues to sow from curiosity. Both oblivious to posturing. "The more pouring and contests there are, the more we move away," says Alberto. "That's why the industry sees that we are cool. If we all do the same thing and nobody shakes this will be boring. Our recognition is to be true to ourselves, the absence of theatricality. There are people with an enormous capacity to generate trends like the Villalón or Diego Cabrera but behind there is another without charisma who gets on the bandwagon and makes boring cocktails ". They clamor for the pale rum of Granada and the Canarian liqueurs, for leaving complexes and for claiming the excellence of the patriotic service. But they see the boom in Spanish cocktails at a distance: "The industry looks at us because here they drink a lot and very cheaply. I understand that the brand right now is Madrid."
Alberto already visualizes the tenth anniversary: "It no longer makes sense to crack halfway. We will tear down the walls and burn the bar so that later it will be said: I was in Santos."
Saints and Forsaken: Costanilla de los Desamparados, 4.
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