It is always a little nerve racking to start anything, I feel like Iturza is a really good place to start, an honest place. I am almost inclined to say this is where my love for La Rioja was cultivated. My first stint in La Rioja was in late summer 2010. It was love at first sight, with Spain I mean, as let’s be clear Iturza is a acquired taste. I always say there is something magical about spain in the heat of August. The overwhelming almost contagious feeling of summer in the streets.
One of my first memories in Itruza was no different, a hot sunday afternoon, divulging in a very Riojano tradition of vermú, one of my friends who then lived adjacently above Itruza, had opened his old glass doors as we were standing on the street enjoying the last of a hazy summer weekend, we could hear the flamenco music from his apartment. For me, an american girl, my little heart was fluttering, on the oldest street in Logroño, Marques de San Nicolas, or more commonly refered to as Calle Mayor, or just simply, La Mayor. Where the streets are narrow and made of stone, the buildings have seen many years of wear and tear, a street that keeps many secrets.
Iturza is not a bar for the weak hearted, as I said before it is a very acquired taste. At its best it is the epitome of our modern-day hipster dive bar. It is an understatement to say this bar has out dated decor, that once every year or so is freshened up with an even more out dated color of paint. Iturza is not a bar you frequent for its 5 star cusine, It’s the bar you frequent for its 5 star clients. With zero class divider, you never know who you will encounter once you enter. The demographic of this bar is about as random as it gets. When I think of the regular characters, the first who are acquaintances of mine are my lawyer who has been helping me with immigration for nearly a year, a writer, a professional rock climber, an organic wine sales agent, a drunken physicist, a mod demgraphic of punk kids, a gypsie who I swear to god is a twin of snoop dogg, a bunch of older guys that I do not know by name but have clearly been coming here for more years than I have been alive, and have no shame to order a wine at 10 am on a week day. If your someone who can talk to anyone this is a bar for you. This is the place I use to meet my friends before I had a spanish number I knew that I could find one of them hanging around here. It is where you can buy draft beers for a euro, a glass of wine for € 0,70. Iturza for me is where you can always find a passionate conversation, and can always afford to have a drink, or five.
There are two things I go to this bar religiously for – gambas until 3 pm on weekends or bank holidays. Gamba means shrimp in spanish, they have these battered deep-fried shrimp tapas, that come out fresh about every 10 minutes and are to die for. and they do not add insult to the inevitable hangover you are probably nursing from the night before if you are any kind of good riojano, or atleast psuedo riojano at a very modest €1.20 a pop for the tapa.
The other thing, is gazpacho, just thinking about it is making me loath summer and dread the next few months. Unfortunately, gazpacho it is seasonal. It is a cold tomato soup, made with bell peppers, cucumber, olive oil, and a healthy amount of vinegar in iturza – I know if your anything like me before living in spain this does not sound like the most appealing soup/drink, but trust me on this one. I still to this day do not know exactly how they do it in Iturza, but it is the best I have come across by far in Rioja. Iturza re opens at 6 pm after siesta of course and this is always how I make it through the heat of summer in Rioja. The gazpacho in Iturza is served in a chilled glass for only 1€.
Then, there is Jesus. The beloved barman/owner who has worked tirelessly at this place for as long as anyone can remember. If you are a new face he will probably ignore you as long as possible until you either, give up or force him to acknowledge your presence. He has a sign behind the bar that says “clientela selecta” which translates into more or less selected clients. Some how over the time I have been here I have made it into his good graces, he calls me niña, which means little girl, and always makes me smile. I have other friends who are also transplants living in La Rioja, we always joke you know you have learned Spanish when you understand Jesus.
Iturza is located at Marques de San Nicolas 132 opened from Tuesday to Saturday morning and evening, and Sunday from 9-4.
This is a short improvised video made in Iturza, if you have 3 minutes take the time to watch it! These are the selected clinents that if happen to stumble into Iturza you will likly be rubbing shoulders with.