In the plaza there is an old tapas bar. It sits on the corner, and those walking too fast properly would never notice it. It's the lunch time buzz, and it's a frenzy as always in San Sebastian, Spain. The tourists pile into the McDonald's and the other fancy restaurants along the way, while those in the know can be found in Bar Gorriti.
The locals come in to order their usual, while the satellite radio blasts the greatest hits from every era and culture. The overtones of Spanish and Basque are culturally sound harmonies to the seemingly chaotic scene. Bottles of basque wine flow as the bar man holds the bottle in the air and pours it without looking. It may not seem like it, but he notices everything and everyone, even the short old abuela who would normally be lost among such a crowd. She shuffles in behind commotion, and as soon as he sees her face, he hands her some tapas and a small glass of wine.
Two distinct and very different characters enter. A tall 62 year old German named Hermann, with peppered hair, and his almost as tall 27 year old Texan with an afro and Netherlands soccer jersey. We don't look the part, but after several visits to Bar Gorriti we have become a part. Perhaps, we've come here 8 times in the last two years, but by the way we're greeted you'd think we had done it for 8 years.
'Moreno!” yells the barman, Xabi. “Good to see you! Don't eat all my food today, ok? The others have to eat too!”
“I can't promise anything,” I respond with a smile and handshake.
Hermann and I come to San Sebastian uniquely for visiting Bar Gorriti. When they weather's perfect there is almost no excuse not to take the 40 minute drive from Biarritz, France. The tapas are copious and varied. Seafood, chickens, spices, eggs, chroizo, peppers, are everywhere, combined in a seemingly endless array of combinations. However, it's not just the gourmet filling we anticipate. It's the service. It doesn't matter if it's 1 or 10 times, whenever we step through those doors it's like we never left. We feel it in the handshakes, the jokes.
“I love that,” begins Hermann, as he starts to give the same speech he does every time we're here. “It doesn't matter how many times I come here they always know me. You can talk the people, and they already know who you are, and what you want. I love that. Otro vino blanco, por favor. “
Xabi winks, and takes a new glass. He lifts the bottle into the air and tilts it until the wine falls cleanly into the vessel. He's too busy winking to admire his perfect pour.
“That's service,” says Hermann.
With as many as 25 patrons packed into the small space it can be difficult to keep track of who has what, but Bar Gorriti has a unique system. They stack coins to count how many tapas people have taken. 50 cents for the big ones and 20 for the smaller ones. It's only necessary to show them what you've taken and they'll add it to the stack. We order 4 more grilled chicken and jalapenos on a stick. 4 more coins.
A few glasses and several tapas later. We're done. We wipe our hands and mouths with the paper towels and through them on the floor, as is customary. In any other restaurant it would seem like a dirty disgrace, but here it seems almost disrespectful to not through trash on the floor. It's the culture. It's the pace. I love it.
We step outside into the Basque sunlight. Our stomachs full. We take a small promenade through the old streets to walk off the food and to see the port. If only we could walk forever.
"You think it's time?" asks Hermann.
"Yeah. I'm gonna take a nap."