THE UNSINKABLE FLAMENCO TABLAO “CASA PATAS” DROWNS IN THE PANDEMIC

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With huge loses under current circumstances, Martín Guerrero said: “Reabrir
sería un suicidio. Una debacle. Nadar a contracorriente para acabar
ahogándonos.” (To reopen [Casa Patas] would be suicidal.  A
debacle. To swim against the current only
to end up drowning.)

 

 

by Muriel Feiner
Photos: M. Feiner unless otherwise stated

The announcement that Casa Patas was closing down as a result of the Pandemic caused a great deal of commotion in the written and social media.

Martín Guerrero: “I have no choice but to shut down. There’s no income. How can I pay my twenty-four employees?”

Martín Guerrero and his family are the owners of one of the most authentic and popular flamenco salas in Madrid, which was founded by Martín’s father in 1974. Martín explained: Eighty percent of our revenue comes from tourists and so if they can’t or don’t dare to travel to Spain in the near future, I have no choice but to shut down. So far, I’ve adopted an ‘ERTE’ for my employees, but if there’s no income, what do I do? How can I pay for my twenty-four employees, including myself?

Located in a building dating back to 1870, which formerly belonged to the popular Cristalerías Álvarez, Casa Patas had to undergo a major renovation, during which the current owners did their best to preserve the essentials of the décor and the ambience.

The week’s show at Patas, starting on March 9, promised to be great. It was headed up by the Maestra del Baile Flamenco, La Truco. But COVID-19 brought down the curtain on the tablao even before the week was out.

It was opened first as a typical Spanish tavern, where people crowded around the bar for beers, glasses of wine and vermouth, while snacking on plates of ham, cheese and cold cuts. Martín laments: Who knows when this Spanish custom will be able to return once again after the pandemic.

His father eventually added a kitchen to serve lunch and dinner and then, in 1990, the Flamenco arrived which Martín defines as Casa Patas’s true DNA. A complete show of singing, dancing and guitar playing was offered in the cozy tablao in the back of the restaurant: I hate the term ‘guiri’ [colloquial Spanish for foreign tourist], says Martin, and although most of our clientele comes from abroad, that does not mean that they are not capable of appreciating the passion and enthusiasm of Flamenco song and dance in the same way we do.

Casa Patas’s goals are twofold: To present an authentic and quality spectacle for a diversified audience, while providing an opportunity for beginners and newcomers so that they can gain experience and make a name for themselves in the business. The owner remembers when Rosalía debuted here: She was literally an unknown who sang before an audience of only 30 people but soon after her first album was released, she filled the WiZink Center with 25,000 fans. Diego El Cigala also began humbly in Patas, but soon after, with his first LP, he became an icon in the industry.

The list of artists who took their first steps in the world of Flamenco in Casa Patas is very long, but we can name a few: Enrique Morente and his daughter Estrella, José Mercé, Niña Pastori, El Guito, Israel Galván, Pepe Habichuela, Juan Habichuela, La Faraona, Farruquito, Manuel Liñán, La Farruca, Lole and Manuel, Sara Baras La Barbería del Sur, Lola Greco, Ramón ‘El Portugués’, Javier Latorre, Jorge Pardo, Tomatito, La Moneta.

Announcement on Casa Patas’ Facebook of the reopening of the  Patas Foundation once Phase 2 of the lockdown de-escalation was on, which in Madrid began on the 8th of June.

In 2000, the Casa Patas Conservatory Foundation was created, a non-profit organization, occupying the top floor of the building, whose aim is: “To provide flamenco with an extensive infrastructure for its growth and understanding.” The Foundation offers classes in Flamenco singing, dancing, guitar and percussion, to professionals, amateurs, children and foreigners, the latter through the Cervantes Institute and other foreign institutions and universities in order to promote the art of Flamenco abroad.

The Foundation’s García Lorca Sala is ideal for performances of cante jondo, as it boasts perfect acoustics and the singers do not require a microphone or amplifier. In this way, the artist’s voice reaches the spectators with all its depth and purity.

Casa Patas receives the Enrique Maya award.

For the moment, the Foundation is not in danger, but the future of Casa Patas is. In 2009, the Community of Madrid had granted them the “Enrique Maya” award in recognition of their contribution to the development and dissemination of Flamenco art, which the UNESCO declared part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on November 16, 2010. With this award, the Community government wanted to recognize the continued work carried out by “Patas” on behalf of gypsy integration.

Portrait of the founder of Casa Patas: Martín Guerrero is moved remembering his father and how proud he would have been of what the place had come to mean to the Flamenco world.

Martín is moved when he looks at a beautiful portrait of his father, Enrique, painted by gypsy artist Antonio Maya: I am very sorry to have to close a business that my father created with a great deal of enthusiasm and whose history would have made him very proud today.

[P.D. After the announcement of the closure of Casa Patas, other tablaos flamencos followed suit: The Corral de la Morería, Villa Rosa and El Café de Chinitas. This is indeed a tragedy for the world of Flamenco, for tourism and for Spain! Hopefully, something can still be done to salvage these emblematic cultural establishments.]


Images
Patas Foundation announcement and La Truco show, Casa Patas Facebook, Fair use
Enrique Maya Award, Casa Patas wbsite, Fair use
The New York Times’ November 2000 article,  “NIGHT MOVES OF ALL KINDS: MADRID; WITH SO MANY SPOTS TO CHOOSE, THERE’S ONE THAT REALLY STOMPS,” pdf, Casa Patas website, Fair use