Melo’s Bar – Home of the Zapatilla

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Bar Melo's in Lavapies, Madrid

Madrid claims to have more eating establishments per capita than anywhere in the world, and even in the depths of a brutal crisis, new places are popping up on every corner.  Given this kind of competition, the long-term success of a place like Melo’s Bar is all the more amazing, and in my ten years of eating here, never once has it failed to fill up.

Bar Melo's in Lavapies, Madrid

So what’s so special about Melo’s?  It offers little in the way of decoration, design, or neatness.  There is nothing about it that would grab your attention as you passed it on the street.  Perhaps this simplicity is its secret.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, applies perfectly here.

Ramón opened the bar back in 1979 and has changed little since then, not even the name.  “Is Melo your last name?” I asked.  “No no,” he laughs.  “Cafe Melo’s Bar was the name of the previous place.  I just left the sign up.”

Tetilla cheese, croquetas, and green peppers at Bar Melo's in Lavapies, Madrid

Ramón opens roughly five hours a day, five days a week.  It may sound like an easy life until you realize how much prep is required for just three people to handle the crowds that descend on Melo’s each night, ordering Galician regional dishes from a picture menu that probably hasn’t changed since 1979.

Menu at Melo's Bar in Lavapies, Madrid

Photos of the food, you ask?  Don’t guidebooks dismiss places like these?  And if photos are bad, aren’t old photos worse?  Melo’s is a good reminder that you’re often rewarded for putting the book away and following the crowds…

A typical crowd at Bar Melo's in Lavapies, Madrid

If the above image frightens you, then get here when they open and you’ll be fine.  Otherwise, Melo’s becomes an experience in high-density dining.  You’ll stand while eating, in a reduced space that requires balancing skills you didn’t know you had.

But this is part of the fun!  The bar’s energy is infectious, and the warmth that Madrileños are known for shines in places like this, with constant apologies for a shoulder here, an elbow there.  Meanwhile, the lucky ones who line the bar happily pass back plates when orders are ready, like sending on crowd-surfers at a rock concert.  With the right people, Melo’s is one of the most enjoyable experiences in Madrid.

Ramon and Azucena at Bar Melo's in Lavapies, Madrid

As for the menu at Melo’s, Ramón follows a standard formula that has struck gold in countless Spanish establishments.  Like many of the Rastro area bars, he offers a handful of tasty items, yet draws in crowds with one item overall, one thing that can’t be found anywhere else in Madrid…La Zapatilla.  Translated directly, zapatillas are those comfortable slip-ons we all wear around the house, the beloved slippers.

Visiting friends have labeled the zapatilla a gourmet grilled cheese.  The sandwich is a multi-layered monster of thick Galician bread, lacón (shoulder meat from white pigs born and reared in Galicia), and tetilla (a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from northern Galicia, named after its breast-like shape).  The items are grilled separately before being stacked and served.

Zapatilla sandwich at Bar Melo's in Lavapies, Madrid

When interviewing Ramón for the post, I’d anticipated a juicy story of the zapatilla‘s origin, something involving an ancient recipe or embarrassing family anecdote, but perhaps that was expecting too much.  “I just made it up one day,” he said.  “The ingredients go well together.”

Although he may be a man of few words, Ramón’s prodigious memory is something to behold.  After I introduced myself, he said, “Yes, I remember you.  You were here a week ago and ordered a zapatilla, a portion of croquetas, a half portion of pimientos and 6 beers.”  I shouldn’t have been surprised, as this is a nightly performance.  Like almost all eateries in Madrid (bars included), you don’t pay til you’re ready to leave.  As you signal for the check, Ramón will take one glance, then rattle off your entire order without looking at his notes.  One day I might whisk him off to Vegas and bet the farm.

Padron Peppers at Melo's Bar in Lavapies, MadridCroqueta at Bar Melo's in Lavapies, Madrid

While the zapatilla is divine, don’t miss out on the fried pimientos de Padrón, or some of Madrid’s best homemade croquetas with chopped bits of lacón inside.  As one of Spain’s most famous fried foods, practically every restaurant offers croquetas, but far too many have settled for the factory-produced, uniform examples whose filling could double as silly putty.

Eating one of Melo’s croquetas is a whole different experience, like breaking open a Cadbury Creme Egg and catching the contents as they ooze out.  The mini empanadillas and morcilla blood sausage are tasty bites as well.

Ribeiro wine at Melo's Bar in Lavapies, Madrid

Last but not least, a drink is in order to go with all that food.  Amstel beer is on tap, but a more Galician way to wash things down would be the undemanding Ribeiro house wine.  It’s sold only by the bottle and served with white ceramic bowls that encourage larger than normal sips.  In fact, a bit of liquid courage is just the ticket for that last bite of zapatilla, the piece that Spaniards call “el de la vergüenza” – the piece everyone wants to eat, but are too polite to do so.

Last bite of Zapatilla at Melo's Bar in Lavapies, Madrid

What about you?  Have you been to Melo’s before?  What was your experience like?

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Cafe Melo’s Bar calle Ave María 44.  Open 5 days a week, Tuesday – Saturday, from 8pm til 1:30am.  Order at the bar.  Metro Lavapiés (Line #3)

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Looking for things to do in Madrid?  Get to know the city more in depth with a Historic Madrid Walking Tour, Gastronomic Madrid Tapas Tour, Madrid Wine Tasting, or take a wine tour of the Ribera del Duero region.

 

Last update: February 22, 2016

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9 Responses to Melo’s Bar – Home of the Zapatilla

  1. I’m never too polite to eat la de la vergüenza, although I always ask. :)

  2. Erkut OZEN says:

    This is very nice!.. Especially Zapatillas.. mm.. İ will be in madrid next week and I think i will be go Melo’s.. Thanks..

    • Nygil says:

      Hi Erkut!

      Glad you liked the article. The Zapatilla could possibly be the best sandwich in Madrid :-) Definitely stop by when you’re in town next week! Take care!

  3. Rozanne Fretz says:

    Hi there
    Is Melos definitely closed now?
    Thanks

    • Nygil says:

      Hello Rozanne!

      I hope not! However, I haven’t been in a few months and couldn’t tell you for sure. Did you try to go and they were closed? I’ll give them a call this week during opening hours and hopefully get a definite answer for you.

      All the best,
      Nygil

    • Nygil says:

      Hi again Rozanne!

      Good news! Melo’s is going to open back up soon! They’re taking a small break due to certain family events, but Azucena, Ramon’s daughter, assured me that they’ll open back up within the next month and a half.

  4. The last time I was at Lavapies, February or March I think, it was open – and jampacked. Why don’t they just accommodate patrons throughout the day? I’m sure people will keep on flowing to have a taste of their zapatilla. I will try to be there tonight, on a friday (good luck!), to finally experience that delicious and sandwich; otherwise, it will always be just a dream.

    • Nygil says:

      Yes indeed, it is always packed, but that’s part of the charm. They could open during the day and probably have enough business to justify it, but then again, I don’t blame them in the least for wanting to have more time at home during the day if they’re doing well enough at night. Plus, they spend most of the day prepping, without which they wouldn’t be able to handle the evening crush.

      I hope you were able to make it in!

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