Santa Semana Bar Crawl

Holy Week is a big deal in Málaga, Spain. Learn all about the bizarre celebrations featuring humpbacked and hooded figures in secret brotherhoods.

La Dolorosa (Our Lady of the Sorrows). Resin teardrops, glass eyes and actual clothes add to the realism of the pained expression of the Virgin Mary, featured at Puerta Oscura in Málaga

Tucked away in the narrow Calle Mosquera and situated near the historic Málaga Centro, Taberna Cofrade las Merchanas is a local bar with an unassuming exterior that belies what awaits you inside.

Here, the interior is a quirky tribute to the Santa Semana celebration (Holy Week, which starts on Palm Sunday and concludes on Easter). The bar is filled with holy relics, photos and memorabilia associated with the traditions of Santa Semana. The establishment belongs to the cofradia (brotherhood) and although it was opened in 2011, it has the feel of having existed for decades.

Local belief holds that the bigger the hump, the more pious the man.

Relics pertaining to Santa Semana fill the walls at a bar in Málaga, Spain, owned by one of the Holy Week brotherhoods

Semana Santa traditions in Spain are a serious affair — and Málaga is no exception. They include processions in which an elaborate ceremonial trono paso, literally a throne step or float, is carried by costaleros, or “sack men,” so named for the padded headdresses they wear to support the float. Because they’re hidden beneath a cloth, the trono paso looks like it’s floating through the air.

The platform of the trono paso holds life-size effigies made of wood, wax and wire depicting scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ. There are up to 40 costaleros underneath each trono paso. These men bear the weight of the float on their necks and shoulders. Many are left with a humpback for several days after. Local belief holds that the bigger the hump, the more pious the man, our friend Jo informed us.

The pasos are followed by nazarenos, or penitents, dressed in colorful tunics and conical hoods and masks called capriotes to render the individual unidentifiable — they’re all equal in the eyes of God. Americans might be alarmed at first, confusing the hoods for those of the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK, who also adopted the medieval attire, though in white.

A shelf filled with nazareno figurines at Taberna Cofrade las Merchanas in Málaga. The different colored robes indicate which hermandad (brotherhood) the individual belongs to.

The sound of slow, rhythmic drum beats traditionally heard during the procession provide the soundtrack in the bar, which is a stop on the pilgrimage circuit during Holy Week — and serves up good tapas year-round.


RELATED: In Seville, the jubilant Feria de Abril begins two weeks after Semana Santa, while in Málaga, it’s typically held in August.


Taberna Cofrade las Merchanas

Calle Mosquera, 5


The Devil’s in the Details

After visiting the Soho district, a street art mecca, our friends Jo and José led us to the café/bar Puerta Oscura, or the Dark Door.

Upon entering, the dimly lit interior resembles a Baroque-period salon: pale powder blue walls, ornamental plaster embellishments and cut crystal chandeliers accompanied by furnishings upholstered in a burgundy and gold stripe.

The main room of the café serves as an exhibition space for museum-quality polychromed devotional sculptures, and at the time of our visit last spring was featuring the work of Ramón Cuenca Santos.

The intricate process to create the sculptures includes clay and polychromed cedar.

Jesús Cautivo (Bound Jesus), a life-size (and amazingly lifelike) seated Christ with wrists wrapped in real gold-colored rope.

It was fascinating to see the prototype sculpture first conceived in clay and subsequently polychromed cedar. These expertly handcarved and painted sculptures appear as if they might just move when you’re not looking.  

We ordered coffee and perched on stools while classical music played, and Wally and I took photos of the sculptures.

The process of creating these lifelike sculptures is truly amazing:

Puerta Oscura

Calle Molina Lario, 5

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

What subjects appealed most to our readers? Qatar, a love den in Delhi, jinns, wellness, tapas, guacamole, a Peruvian vampire, a Fès restaurant and Trump. Lots of Trump.

It must be love.

As we reviewed our best-performing posts of our inaugural year, we noticed that you share our same diverse interests. You appreciate our quirky sensibilities (like our post on a garden filled with amorous couples finding release in a repressed society).

But you’re interested in politics, too — from what it’s like to live in a Middle Eastern country to the global effects of our controversial new president.

You also appreciate good food, whether it’s a recipe you’re looking for or restaurant suggestions on your travels.

Finally, you’re interested in folklore, be it the jinns of Islam or a fat-sucking vampire you sure don’t want to run into along the Inca Trail.


What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?


Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.


Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.


Yoga on the Mexican beach, hikes to Machu Picchu, Pilates in Morocco — the best health tourism adventures.


Famous for its empanadas and other tapas treats, this neighborhood bar has many a story to tell.


Spoiler alert: From Europe to Asia to Latin America, the outlook isn’t very optimistic.


Es la verdad. Wally’s famous guacamole never fails to please. Just make sure you get a molcajete.


Is there any country that’s pleased with the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election? (Besides Russia, that is.)


Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.


A magical, secret spot with great Moroccan food, friendly servers, quirky décor and kitty companions.

Where to See DFace, Obey (aka Shepard Fairey), Boa Mistura and Other Street Art in Málaga

Soho Malaga has become a mural and graffiti hotspot.

One of the many colorful murals you’ll find roaming around Soho, as part of the MAUS initiative

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the storied Heredia District, Málaga’s former 19th century bourgeois enclave, has emerged reborn.

It’s no secret that Wally and I both love graffiti and murals, so when our friends Jo and José proposed a visit to the Barrio de las Artes, the epicenter of Málaga’s street art scene, we both said yes.

Street artists from around the world have been invited to contribute and transform the district into an open-air gallery.

Wally and Jo pose in front of street art

Duke takes his turn as well. Photo ops galore in Soho

Mighty MAUS

Located south of the main Alameda thoroughfare, the triangular-shaped quarter has rebranded itself as the Soho district. This was made possible through a public arts initiative that goes by the acronym MAUS (Málaga Arte Urbano Soho), turning the surrounding streets and buildings into canvases.

If you see vermin tumbling from the sky, you’re in the right place. It’s a street mural by Roa, who paints animals native to the local environment — like, um, rats

The first large-scale work we encountered was an expressive black and white mural created by Belgian street artist Roa depicting wiry haired rats tumbling down the curving façade of a multistory building at the eastern end of Calle Casa de Campo.

Devote an hour or so to explore (and photograph) the street art scene in Málaga

Since we had recently indulged in a big lunch, José proposed that the four of us check out the rooftop terrace bar of the Hotel Soho Bahía. When we arrived, we found that it was closed. Perhaps an extension of the previous Labor Day holiday, perhaps not — who can say, as businesses seem to run on a different timetable in Spain.

The bold multistory mural on the exterior of the Hotel Soho Bahía, La Danse de Venus et du Marin by Remed and Okuda, is a combination of vibrant colors and shapes

Street artists from around the world have been invited by Fernando Francés, the director of the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) to contribute and transform the district into an open-air gallery. Admission to the museum is free, and it’s located next to the Guadalmedina River near the city center in a building that was previously a warehouse used for Málaga’s wholesale markets.

El poder de la imaginacton: The Soho district shows the power of the imagination in action

We didn’t have time to stop inside but had fun posing with the letters (choose one that corresponds to your initials) by a mural by Boa Mistura that reads, “El poder de la imaginacion nos hace infinitos” (The power of the imagination makes us infinite).

D is for Duke

O boy, it’s Wally!

Two of the most high-profile works loom larger than life on the façade of the Colegio García Lorca directly behind the museum — seven stories high to be exact.

Vibrant murals by D*Face and Obey loom above the art museum

To the right is Paz y Libertad (Peace and Liberty) by Shepard Fairey aka Obey. For those of you who may not be familiar with Fairey, he’s the artist responsible for creating the iconic “Hope” image depicting then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Opposite Fairey’s piece is a mural by Dean Stockton aka D*Face: a tongue-in-cheek pop art-inspired piece that declares, “I’ll put an end to those flying D*Dogs if it’s the last thing I ever do!!!” I love that the fighter pilot has one red eye and one blue.

The art-focused transformation of Málaga’s Soho district elevates the medium and was a highlight of our visit. The key is to remember to look up. –Duke

And if your street art hunt gets to be too much, just take a nap along the Guadalmedina River like Jo

Mercado de la Merced: Our Favorite Stalls

Eat your way through Malaga’s refined and friendly food hall, which includes 22 fast-casual concepts under one roof.

Dining options galore (and farmers’ market shopping during the day) at the Mercado de la Merced in Málaga, Spain

The Mercado de la Merced is a short stroll from the famous Plaza de la Merced, where a monument erected in honor of General José María de Torrijos and 48 of his men stands. Torrijos was executed by a firing squad on the beach of San Andres by the order of King Ferdinand VII in 1831 after a failed attempt to overthrow the regime. Incidentally, the square also contains Pablo Picasso’s birth home, which is now a museum.

Market Days

A destination within itself, the Mercado de la Merced boasts a variety of eateries preparing and selling delicious regional cuisine in a casual setting. It also has stalls that sell adult beverages, and Jo, Wally and I shared a bottle of El Nomada Rioja from Taninos Vinocateca.

Suffice to say, we returned a second time and probably would have returned a third had time allowed.

Salud to great friends and great food

We sat on colorful bent steel and wood barstools, designed by the innovative studio Design Club. The three of us shared empanadas, wine and mini ebelskiver pancakes.

Suffice to say, we returned a second time and probably would have returned a third had time allowed.

Here are a few of our favorites stalls at the mercado:

Nice gams: The oh-so-delicious Ibérico ham can be aged for over three years!

1. Beher Iberian Ham

This prized artisanal ham from the family-run business Beher is cured for at least 30 to 42 months and is made from black-skinned pure-bred pata negra (black-hoofed) Ibérico pigs so named for the hoof that accompanies each ham.

What makes this distinctive, silky textured meat unique is that the pigs roam freely in dehesas (ancient oak groves), grazing on grass for 18 to 24 months. When the oak trees drop their acorns in early fall, the piggies gorge solely on an acorn-rich diet until they reach their kill weight of 360 pounds.

I always look forward to the luxury of enjoying Iberian ham when we visit Spain, and it's incredible to watch it being expertly hand-carved.


2. Carnes & Cía Grill

One word: empanadas. Carnes & Cía brings the flavors of Argentina to Málaga. The empanadas are filled with meats that have been grilled Argentinian-style over coals, yielding tender morsels of smoky and succulent meat. Did I mention that they are  accompanied with homemade chimichurri sauce?


Mini ebelskiver pancake puffs, a Dutch dessert, from the Pof stall

3. Pof

There’s no denying that I have a sweet tooth and will always say yes to dessert. One of Pof’s specialties is delicious homemade mini ebelskiver pancake puffs, a treat originating from Denmark. Six warm, pillowy puffs are made to order and topped with a dulce de leche sauce, a dusting of powdered sugar and sliced strawberries if you’d like — what’s not to like?

While we were waiting for ours, Jo remarked about the young woman working there who was wearing a floppy white chef hat.

Whipping up another batch of mini pancakes at Pof in the Mercado de la Merced

“How can she wear that on her head and still look cute?” Jo wanted to know.

The young woman reminded me a bit of Anna Paquin. We watched as she whipped up the mini pancakes. There were a few burnt ones sitting in the center of the multi-row concave pan the batter is put into.

“Well, that certainly isn't selling, it,” said the ever-candid Jo.


Who’s in the mood for octopus?

We never made it to the mercado during the day but saw an entire section of stalls that act as a farmers’ market during the day, where you can shop for fresh seafood, fruit, vegetables, meat and more. Wally and I, of course, were delighted with the whimsical designs on the closed stalls — it was fun to guess what lay within.

¡Buen provecho! –Duke


The Gibralfaro: The Most Spectacular Views in Malaga

This ancient fortress is one of the best things to do in Málaga, Spain — and it beats out the Alcazaba.

Be sure to walk the ramparts of the Gibralfaro, the Moorish fortress that looms above Málaga, Spain

Somehow our friends had never experienced it — and it turned out to be one of our favorite parts of Málaga (aside from the delicious food and over-the-top religious iconography, of course).

Jo and José had been to the Alcazaba before, but hadn’t gotten around to exploring the Gibralfaro yet. After joining us there on an afternoon hike, it has become one of the places they’ll now take everyone who visits them in Málaga.

You can walk the entire perimeter of the fortress — affording the best views in the entire city.

The Málaga Cathedral stands proud as the buildings of the city center encroach upon it

The defensive wall of the Gibralfaro

When was the Gibralfaro built?

The castillo was built in 929 CE, commissioned by Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Cordoba, reports andalucia.com.

The structure was enlarged by Yusef I, Sultan of Granada, at the beginning of the 14th century, after realizing that Málaga’s other Moorish castle, the Alcazaba, was too vulnerable to cannonfire, according to visit-andalucia.com. The sultan also added the wall that connects the two fortresses.

How'd the Gibralfaro get its name?

Because it was built on the site of a former Phoenician enclosure and lighthouse, it was given a name that's derived from an Arabic and a Greek word: Gebel-Faro: Rock of the Lighthouse.

Wally jumps for joy during a visit to the Gibralfaro

How was the Gibralfaro designed?

It was considered the most impregnable fortress on the Iberian Peninsula for a time, according to the Ayuntamiento de Málaga. It has two lines of zigzagging walls and eight towers.

The coolest part is that you can walk the entire perimeter of the fortress — affording the best views in the entire city. You can look down upon the Plaza de la Merced, where Picasso was born, the cathedral, the coast and the bullring.

You can look down upon the Plaza de la Merced, famous for being the birthplace of Pablo Picasso

When I was researching our trip, I kept coming across pictures of the bullring taken from above. (Of course at the time, I was sure it was a remarkably well-preserved Roman colosseum. That turned out to be bull, ha ha.) I wanted to be sure to capture the same dramatic view. Well, I needn’t have worried. You, too, can capture this glorious scene from the ramparts of the Gibralfaro fortress.

The fortress affords fantastic views, including the iconic bullring of Málaga

Was the Gibralfaro part of any famous battles?

Not a battle per se, but a siege conducted by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, which ended only when hunger forced the Malagueños to surrender.

Afterwards Ferdinand occupied the site, while his queen took up residence in the town.

Interesting historic fact: This was the first conflict in which gunpowder was used by both sides.

You can even see down to the harborfront. That colorful glass box is the entrance to the Centre Pompidou Málaga

Any advice for exploring the Gibralfaro?

If you only have time for one of these historic sites, hit the Gibralfaro. The views are worth it.

And wear sensible shoes. As the Young Adventress points out, it’s a bit of a hike to the top, and then you’ll be walking around the periphery walls without any real shelter from the sun.

But! The good news is that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — or at least a nice tinto de verano or cold beer at Terrazita, the small outdoor bar. –Wally

A Perfect Afternoon in Málaga Centro

What to do in Malaga? Hit these three sites: the Malaga Cathedral, a hidden abbey and a shop filled with amazing local ceramics.

One of the highlights of Málaga Centro is its impressive cathedral

There’s no shortage of centuries-old landmarks in the historic Málaga Centro — the entire city center is an open-air museum of sorts, dotted with monuments, restaurants, cafés and shops.

When we found ourselves leisurely wandering through the Moorish-inspired cobblestone streets of Málaga Centro one afternoon with our friend and guide Jo, she did not disappoint, sharing a few of her favorite spots with us.

Here is our short list of three sights worth checking out (the food and drink stops will follow shortly in other posts). From iconic landmarks like the Catedral de Málaga to hidden gems like the Santa Ana Abbey, these are all within a short walking distance of each other.


The quiet Santa Ana Abbey was a fun discovery

The quiet Santa Ana Abbey was a fun discovery

Stop 1: Santa Ana Abbey

Tucked into a narrow alleyway in Málaga, we stumbled upon the Santa Ana Abbey. More commonly known as the Cistercian Abbey, the vibrant coral-hued façade contains an 18th century statue of Santa Ana.

A statue of Jesus in a niche at Santa Ana Abbey

This could be Santa Ana herself…or it might be Mary

The abbey comprises a sole nave and includes works by celebrated Spanish Baroque sculptor Pedro de Mena and his daughters, Andrea and Claudia, both of whom were Cistercian nuns. De Mena dedicated his life's work to producing sculptures depicting religious imagery, just as his father had done before him.

Off to the right of the sanctuary is a small candlelit nave

Originally from Granada, de Mena had a studio in the nearby Calle de los Alfligidos, and by his request was interred and buried at the entrance. According to local lore, the artist’s wish was “that he should lay in a place where his remains could be trodden on by the faithful because of his humble person.”


While shopping at Alfajar, Duke and Wally ended up buying this ceramic handcrafted dove, a symbol connected to Picasso, who loved to paint them

Stop 2: Alfajar

You’re bound to find something at Alfajar, a boutique shop specializing in high-quality contemporary handmade ceramics created by local artists.

The store is located within the historic Zea-Salvateria Palace, a Baroque-period structure built in the late 17th century. The building was originally host to the City Council of Málaga during the reign of Isabel ll and subsequently home to the post office for many years after.

The fanciful signed pieces are displayed on open shelving among the white walls and high ceilings of the former estate. Inspired by the heritage of regional pottery craft, the shop’s philosophy is to celebrate these divergent influences and breathe originality into the medium.

Wally and I knew we had to take one home, but it was difficult to make a decision, as each piece was unexpected and unique. The colors employed are the result of metallic oxide glazes that are only revealed once the piece has been kiln-fired and cooled. We finally decided upon a ceramic dove on a wooden stand — emblematic of hometown hero Picasso — and a horse in the Nazari style. These pieces were quite affordable, and the shopkeeper took great care in wrapping our purchases.


The single tower gives the cathedral a lopsided feel — and earned it the nickname la Manquita, the One-Armed Lady

Stop 3: Catedral de Málaga

It’s time to go for Baroque (amongst other styles)! Across from Alfajar is the Catedral de Málaga, the main church of the city. Built on the foundations of a former mosque, the cathedral façade is Baroque, the floor plan Gothic and its interior Renaissance. This mishmash of styles is due to the fact that construction took more than three centuries to complete.

Apparently the original plan of its architect, Diego de Siloe had two towers. However, the second is incomplete and earned the structure the nickname la Manquita, the One-Armed Lady.

Jo and Wally on the front steps of the Malaga Cathedral

Jo and Wally on the front steps of the Malaga Cathedral

A plaque located at the base of the tower states that funds raised by the parish were sent to aid colonists who had fled Great Britain to gain their independence — although there is evidence that the money actually went to fund emergency public works in the province.

The cathedral gardens are worth exploring

We were unable to enter the cathedral proper that day (get there before 5 p.m.), but followed a wedding party smoking cigarettes in the side garden before the ceremony in the Church of El Sagrario, an ancillary chapel on the property filled with impressive religious artworks. We popped into the church only briefly, not up for actually crashing the wedding (as Wally pointed out, Catholic mass takes way too long).

We decided not to crash the wedding at the Church of El Sagrario after all

Returning the following day, we were able to see the cathedral’s interior. The space is majestic, with ribbed vaulted ceilings, an impressive 18th century pipe organ and finely carved statues of the saints by de Mena. 

Photography was not permitted, as a service was taking place, and I got yelled at by one of the guards who were watching us closely, and quickly put my camera away. (Wally, however, is more fearless than me and was able to sneak in a shot.) Don’t dare try taking interior photos if you don’t want to get scolded. 

Wally took this one shot of the interior of the Málaga Cathedral, before the guards gestured violently at him

If you don’t make it inside, don’t feel too badly — the exterior courtyard and gardens are worth exploring. I’m not sure if the no-photography policy was only when services are taking place, but you can always wander around the over-the-top Church of the Holy Martyrs instead. They let you take as many photos as you want. You can see ours here. –Duke



Exploring the Alcazaba, Malaga

Looking for things to do in Málaga? There just happens to be a Roman Theatre and Moorish fortress right in the city center.

The Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress, and the Roman Theatre are right in the centro of Málaga, Spain

Walking the pedestrian-friendly city center of Málaga you’ll discover historic architecture, shops, restaurants and cafés with outdoor seating. Cars are restricted or prohibited in certain areas. You’ll also find the ruins of a Roman theater and one of Málaga’s most important landmarks: the Alcazaba, a Moorish hilltop fortress.

The Moorish citadel was strategically located on the summit of a hill to defend Málaga from invading pirates.

The eastern side offers panoramic views of the city and port below.

While shopping and eating your way through Málaga’s city center, be sure to visit the Alcazaba

A Day at the Theatre

Wally, our friend Jo and I had sat across from the Roman Theatre on our first afternoon in Málaga, when we dined on the terrace at El Pimpi. After a short walk from the sun-drenched city port the following day, the three of us arrived at the impressive ruins, finally able to stop and marvel at the fortress looming above.

A cat preens itself within the ruins of a Roman Theatre beneath the Alcazaba fortress

The remarkably intact ruins of what’s known as the Roman Theatre located beneath the Alcazaba were unearthed in 1951 during an exploratory excavation. The area was originally intended for a formal garden for the Archive and Library Palace — since demolished in the mid-’90s.

Jo and Wally get ready to explore the Alcazaba

The semicircular theater, nearly the size of a football field, measures 203 feet across and was erected during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Its purpose was to provide a place for the public to see dramatic spectacles, including comedies, tragedies and orations. Jo told us it’s still used as a performance space.

Adventure and beauty await a stroll through this ancient fortress

The tiered design enhanced the acoustics, and tarps could be drawn overhead to provide cover from extreme sunlight or rain. The theater also included an exit passage known as a vomitorium, which derives from the Latin verb vomere, “to spew forth.”

During Islamic rule, elements from the theater, including columns and capitals were incorporated into the building of the Alcazaba. Its name derives from the Arabic al-kasbah, a fortified citadel.

The Puerta de las Columnas, or the Gate of the Columns, was built using Roman marble columns to hold up the Moorish horseshoe arches

A Tour of the Fortress

A cobblestone footpath to the right of the Roman Theatre ambles upward amid lush greenery and Arabian jasmine. We got into the site for free, as it happened to be Spain’s Labor Day.

We passed through the Puerta de las Columnas, later named the Torre del Cristo (Tower of Christ), when it served as a chapel. The twists and turns of the passage beyond were designed to impede the progress of a potential invasion.

Duke and Jo admire the view from the hilltop citadel. You can see the lighthouse in the distance

Encircled by fortified ramparts, the formidable Alcazaba fortress overlooks of the port below. It was no mistake that the Moorish citadel was strategically located on the summit of a hill in the center of the city, as its original intent was to defend the city from invading pirates.

The Alcazaba offers a picture-perfect view of the pastel-colored city and port below

During the 11th century, these fortifications were strengthened, and a palace was added by the Sultan of Granada, Badis Al-Ziri. The structure was renovated to such a degree that some historians of the time credited the sultan as the original architect.

The reflecting pool in the Nasrid Palace area of the Alcazaba

Inside the citadel there are two palaces, one of the Nazari period and another from the Taifa period. The inner enclosure is reached through the Puerta de los Cuartos de Granada (Gate of the Granada Quarters), which acts as the defense to the western side of the palace. On the eastern side is the Torre del Homenaje (Tribute Tower) which offers panoramic views of the city and port below.

Notice the detailing atop this column at the Alcazaba

Don’t forget to look up: The tilework on the ceiling is impressive, if faded, in parts

Inside the tower is an exhibit containing reproductions of traditional Nazari pottery. The pieces do not have their ornamental coating in order to focus the attention on their typology and production techniques.

After the reconquest in 1487 by Ferdinand and Isabella the Alcazaba fell into decay — restoration work didn’t occur until the 1930s and continues today. At one point, the crumbling structures were used as shelter by Málaga’s homeless.

Take time to stop and smell the roses. An Islamic garden is a place of reflection and a reminder of paradise

The Alcazaba doesn’t offer the views afforded by Málaga’s other fortress, the Gibralfaro, situated even higher above the city. And it’s not on the lavish scale of the Alhambra in Granada. But it does contains similar architectural elements, including horseshoe arches, fountains and Andalusian garden courtyards. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the storied past of Málaga. –Duke

La Tranca: Kick Off a Day of Malaga Tapas at This Local Hangout

Famous for its empanadas and other tapas treats, this neighborhood bar has many a story to tell.

The local haunt La Tranca is full of character — and serves up delicious empanadas

Whenever possible, Wally and I try to visit cities where we have friends. That way you can visit the places they know and love — and you can be more of a traveller than a tourist.

When we stayed with our good friends Jo and José in Málaga, Spain, we started off one day’s excursion with a stopover at one of their favorite local haunts: La Tranca, an Argentinian-owned tapas bar. Which makes sense that they’re famous for their empanadas.

“Only tourists drink sangria,” Jo cut in. “Locals drink tinto de verano instead.”

The name La Tranca has a few interesting translations:

  1. A metal bar or latch to secure something, a deadbolt
  2. A drunken bender
  3. Slang for a penis

Wonder which one they were thinking of when they named the joint.

Carmen Amaya is considered to be one of the best flamenco dancers ever

Even though it was early in the day, the bar was already crowded. Faded photos of faded celebrities covered the walls. A bistro table in the corner opened up, and we pounced. A lithograph on the wall behind us showed Carmen Amaya in a matador-inspired dress. José told us she’s considered by many to have been one of the greatest flamenco dancers who ever lived.

“Carmen Amaya is hail on a windowpane, a swallow’s cry, a black cigar smoked by a dreamer, thunderous applause; when she and her family sweep into town, they cause ugliness, torpor and gloom to evaporate just as a swarm of insects strips the trees of its leaves.” –Jean Cocteau

The walls of La Tranca are covered with memorabilia, many of them album covers. José pointed to one with the image of an artist, Isabel Pantoja, who is serving a two-year sentence for money laundering. She was linked to the Malaya case, a massive real estate and bribery scandal in the nearby oceanfront Spanish city of Marbella. The state court of Málaga convicted Pantoja of helping her boyfriend Julian Muñoz, the former mayor of Marbella, launder funds he embezzled while in office.


Jo, Wally and José enjoy drinks and tapas at one of their favorite bars in Málaga, La Tranca

Empanadas, Beer, Gossip — and the Great Debate Over Sangria vs. Tinto de Verano

We ordered empanadas, and Wally considered getting a sangria.

“Only tourists drink sangria,” Jo cut in. “Locals drink tinto de verano instead.”

The name translates to “red wine of summer” and is an even mix of wine and citrus soda. Wally took her advice.

Meanwhile, over beers, José regaled me with more great stories. He pointed to a black and white photo of a man dressed as a matador. He explained that the man, Latin pop artist Miguel Bosé, wore the costume as a nod to his father, the famous bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín.

Dominguín had a passionate affair with American actress Ava Gardner. The story goes that after the first time he had sex with her, as he was putting on his trousers, Ava asked, “Where are you going?” and he replied, “Out to tell my friends.”

La Tranca is the kind of carefree place where you feel like you’re among friends and you can stay as long as you like without feeling rushed. –Duke

Cafe Central: The 9 Ways to Order Coffee in Malaga

What’s the difference between a solo corto and a mitad? How about a sombra and a nube? We’ll help you learn how to get the perfect cup of coffee in Málaga, Spain.

Wally enjoys a coffee at Café Central in Málaga, Spain. For the record, he’s pretty much a mitad kind of guy

Málaga is notable for its numerous cafés where you can enjoy the unhurried ceremony of savoring a cup in a leisurely way. In Spain it’s not unusual to drink several coffees a day (our kind of country!).

Whether you take your coffee black or with milk, when executed perfectly, the outcome yields a cup exacted to your personal taste.

In 1954, import products, including coffee, were rationed and expensive to obtain. As a result, the owner of Café Central, devised nine different ways to order a customized cup of coffee.

The legendary Café Central, located in the palm-dotted Plaza de la Constitución, is famous for its unique method for ordering coffee that characterizes Malagueños.

In 1954, import products, including coffee, were rationed and expensive to obtain. As a result, José Prado Crespo, the owner of Café Central, devised a coffee menu adapted to suit the varied tastes of his clientele. That led to nine different ways to order a customized cup of coffee — putting Crespo well ahead of the consistent customer experience one expects from a Starbucks.

From that moment on, the residents of Málaga became accustomed to ordering their coffee exactly the way they wanted.

Inside the café on one of the walls, a tile mosaic created by the famous Málaga ceramic artist Amparo Ruiz de Luna, illustrates the options. The name used for each is based on the ratio of coffee to milk.


If you’re not sure how to order a coffee at Café Central, there’s a helpful picture menu on the back wall

9 Ways to Order Coffee in Málaga

Solo: A short single espresso without milk.

Largo: A double espresso with a little milk.  

Semi Largo: 70% coffee, 30% milk.

Solo Corto: 60% coffee, 40% milk

Mitad: Half coffee, half milk.

Entrecorto: 40% coffee, 60% milk

Corto: Just under half a glass, or “short” on coffee

Nube (“cloud”): 25% coffee, 75% milk

Sombra (“shadow”): 20% more coffee than a nube


Enjoy a customized cup of coffee and people-watch at Café Central’s sidewalk seating, situated on the beautiful Plaza de la Constitución in Málaga

The café has outdoor seating where you can relax and sit with the perfect cup of joe and gaze out upon urban life within the historic square. –Duke

El Pimpi: A Famous Malaga Restaurant in the Courtyard of Antonio Banderas’ Building

A Picasso-inspired mural at the entrance to El Pimpi, a popular Málaga restaurant

Dine alfresco in the heart of Málaga, Spain, at this popular bodega bar, where they roll out the barrel.


The city where the legendary artist Picasso was born is also home to another famous Malagueño: the actor Antonio Banderas.

Upon arriving in Málaga, Wally and I were famished. We told our friend and gracious hostess Jo we wanted tapas, ASAP.

“That’s Antonio’s place,” she said, referring to the entire top floor, which he purchased and renovated a few years ago.

She led us to El Pimpi, where we sat amidst the crowd outside and ordered up plate after plate of tapas.

The tapas at El Pimpi aren’t the best — but the setting makes up for it

Some sources claim that the name comes from a colloquialism ascribed to the young men who worked at the docks doing odd jobs and acted as unofficial tour guides. Another, less politically correct, source claims that these dock workers facilitated the transport of sailors to the local brothels.

At one point, Jo pointed to the expansive six-story building opposite from the terrace of El Pimpi.

“That’s Antonio’s place,” she said, referring to the entire top floor, which he purchased and renovated a few years ago.

Antonio Banderas’ penthouse in his hometown of Málaga, Spain

Appropriately enough, the actor will be portraying Picasso in the French and Spanish language movie 33 Días, opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, who will play Dora Maar, the painter's muse and lover of nearly a decade. The story is based upon the emotional creation of the artist’s great anti-war, mural-sized painting, Guernica.


Kicking off their visit to España: Jo takes Wally and Duke to the local staple, El Pimpi

Barrels of Fun

We were excited to order Alhambra Reserva, which we enjoyed on a previous visit to Granada, Spain. Wally insisted on ordering croquetas. These are bite-sized, lightly breaded and deep-fried mashed potato fritters with diced ham mixed in. We asked Jo if she would like to share them with us and she replied haughtily, “No thank you. They’re disgusting and have a gummy mouthfeel like fried baby food.”

The restaurant proper contains a warren of rooms that were originally the stables of the Palacio de Buenavista. The walls are decorated with framed photographs and historic Feria and bullfighting festival posters. The Barrel Hall is the first room you pass through entering from the terrace and contains enormous wine barrels autographed by famous politicians, artists and, of course, Antonio Banderas. –Duke

No thank you. They’re disgusting and have a gummy mouthfeel like fried baby food.