Lo Casal

Photo by Hudin

All are welcome and it seems that few refuse the invitation. This is the unwritten sign above the door to Lo Casal, the local bar/restaurant/civic center at the entrance to the village of Capçanes in the county of Priorat.

At some point throughout the day and usually in to the early night, every single one of the village’s 405 residents pass by Lo Casal. When the weather is good from April to October most sit to “make the vermut” or eat a full meal in the small square just across the street. The big TV inside ensures broadcasts and drinking beers when Barça plays Milan or Madrid.

Even the village’s lone 94 year-old Franquista–an anachronistic remnant of another century–will call down to check on his grandson and if needed, he’ll take a stroll there to find him when he doesn’t answer the phone. He prefers to watch his TV at home though.

The phone will often ring behind bar with those looking for others. The mobile reception is randomly blocked by the geography of the Capçanes with a staunch middle finger raised towards the 21st century.

This is no Michelin recommended dining experience. The furnishings are basic. The bar is simple, effective, and well worn with the passing of what must be millions of bottles of both Estrella-Damm from the tap and Moritz from the bottle. An occasional speck of grease marks the spot of a previous feast on their homemade croquettes or the ever-popular McBolet burger which is usually out of stock by the start of dinner.

Both the red and white wines on offer are chilled and are the basic, but satisfying bulk wines from the cooperative celler that abuts the train station at the start of the village. Sit there long enough and you’ll see what seems like half the village clocking out from Celler de Capçanes and taking the short stroll from pressing grapes to sipping beer.

Photo by HudinThe children of the village typically run around the tables throwing unripe lychee fruit from a tree that hovers above the outdoor sitting. The cigarettes are unfiltered, but almost never Marlboro, Camel, or something else industrial. Capçanes residents prefer to roll their own and let the soft tobacco smoke scatter on whatever wind is blowing that day.

Conversations tend not to drift towards macroeconomics and focus around the beer, cigarettes, and the wine they’ve made that day. It flows along in Catalan with the low front-of-the-mouth mumble so definitive of the Tarragona Province accent. There is only the sharp cry from time to time as a parent yells at one of their children to get out of the street because a car is coming. Speed bumps were installed some time back and it’s advised you drive past the bar at less than 20km if you plan to pass any time in Capçanes in a welcome way.

There is indeed another bar in the village, up at the church square, but the secondary home to most down at the start of the village is the virtual center of life, despite a temporary defection to the other when Lo Casal was traumatically closed over a weekend for repairs. And there the residents sit, day after day in a life that those from the cities pay good money to find in weekend getaways packages deemed “authentic” and “truly pastoral”. All are welcome and it seems that few refuse the invitation.