surinenglish

A tasty treasure in Torremolinos

Pepe (third from left) and his loyal team.
Pepe (third from left) and his loyal team. / Tony Bryant
  • La Campana has been serving wines, Sherries and fresh seafood tapas to locals and tourists since 1957

La Campana, one of the oldest and most popular taverns in Torremolinos, is celebrating its sixtieth birthday next month.

Founded by Narciso Pérez Texeira, the bar was one of a franchise that bore the name of La Campana, which means the bell.

Pérez Texeira, a former Malaga-based bodega, once owned 21 bars in the province of Malaga and two in Madrid and they quickly gained a reputation for outstanding quality.

La Campana opened in Calle de la Cruz in Torremolinos in 1957 and it soon became a popular tavern where locals would congregate over a game of dominoes and a glass of wine.

Torremolinos gained recognition at the start of the tourist boom in the late 1950s, and La Campana became favoured by the hordes of holidaymakers who visited the town.

A glass of red wine cost less than one peseta when Narciso first opened his bar, but probably more appealing to the clients was the huge selection of freshly-caught seafood that was available on a daily basis.

Pepe and Manolo with the fan.

Pepe and Manolo with the fan.

The wines were served from large oak barrels, as they still are today, and the tavern became known for its extensive selection of sweet Malaga wines, Sherries and fragrant liqueurs.

One of its most unusual beverages was called 'sopa', a mixture of gin, mint cordial and celery liqueur, which in 1969 cost two pesetas a glass.

The large wooden beer fridge has been a feature of the bar since it first opened in 1957, when customers would enjoy their Victoria lager, Malaga's most popular at the time, from a bell shaped glass.

Everything that was sold, with the exception of mixers and Victoria beer, was supplied by the Pérez Texeira winery in Malaga, but, like nearly all of the bars, the winery no longer exists.

Today, only four of the bars survive: two in Malaga; one in Torre del Mar and one in Torremolinos, although they are all now privately owned.

La Campana in Torremolinos has changed little over the years and, with the exception of a twelve month period in the early 1970s, it is still located in its original premises in Calle de la Cruz.

In February 1971, the street underwent a complete reconstruction and La Campana was forced to take temporary premises in Calle San Miguel.

The bar's current owner, Pepe Muriel González, left school and immediately went to work as a waiter in La Campana.

Because of his age, Pepe needed to get a 'Tríptico de Menores', (work permit), which had to be signed by his parents, his employer and the Guardia Civil.

"I started working here as soon as I left school, I was 14 at the time, and this is the only job I've ever had," the chirpy 63-year-old told SUR in English.

La Campana, one of the few bars left in the area that still chalks the bill on the counter, has long been a popular meeting point in the town.

One of the nice things about this old institution, for it is worthy of such a label, is the simplicity of the way in which it is run. Much of the old Andalusian ambience can still be found here, and it's favoured by some of the town's most celebrated characters.

Twelve oak barrels, containing some of the most famous wines of the province, line the eight-metre-long bar. The interior is decorated with old photographs and newspaper cuttings depicting the history of Torremolinos, and the distinctive livery of Pepe's beloved Malaga FC.

However, one of Pepe's most cherished possessions was given to him by one of his customers.

On clearing out his mother's apartment after her death in 2005, one of Pepe's long-time friends came across a small paper fan.

This fan was made in 1969 and was used in a promotional campaign to advertise the Pérez Texeira bodegas during the feria. It is inscribed with the addresses of each of the 23 La Campana bars, and today it takes pride of place on the wall of the bar.

"This was an incredible find and I'm sure it will be the only one in existence. It is a little piece of history and I am so grateful that Manolo decided to donate it to the bar," Pepe says with a look of glee.

Today, almost fifty years on, Pepe is as passionate about La Campana as ever, although now he is the proud owner of the bar.

Pepe bought the business with a fellow workmate called Paco in July 1998. Paco retired ten years ago and Pepe now runs the establishment with his son, José María, and daughter, Elena.

There are also two long-serving employees - Antonio, who has been preparing the seafood tapas for the last 30 years, and his assistant, Jorge, who has worked there for twelve years.

Pepe's children have recently convinced their father to take a day off from the bar, and so on a Tuesday, José and Elena take charge of the business.

Pepe hopes to hand the business over to his children when he retires, but what will he do with his time after serving locals and tourists for best part of his life?

"It will be strange, for sure, but one of my hobbies is renovating old motorcycles, and I'm sure my wife will find plenty for me to do," Pepe says with a huge smile.