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Sobrino de Botín: The World’s Oldest Restaurant

Entrance to Sobrino de Botin, the worlds oldest restaurant

Entrance to Sobrino de Botin, the worlds oldest restaurant

Last month, 47 year old pitcher Jamie Moyer set a record by giving up his 506th home run. For those of you who live outside of baseball playing countries, giving up a home run in a bad thing. You’d think that by setting the all time record for giving up home runs would make Jamie Moyer a bad pitcher. He is not. In fact, the record he broke was held by Robin Roberts who is in the baseball Hall of Fame. A truly bad pitcher might give up home runs, but they never wouldn’t be given a chance to give up so many. To set a negative record, you have to be a good player, because only good players are given the opportunity to play long enough to set those sort of records.

It sounds like a paradox, but it stems from the fact that longevity is signal of quality. Jamie Moyer set the home run record because he has been playing major league baseball for 25 years, and you can’t play baseball for 25 years if you suck.

…which brings me to the Restaurante Sobrino de Botín in Madrid, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the oldest restaurant in the world.

The original oven in Botin used to cook their signature dish: suckling pig

The original oven in Botin used to cook their signature dish: suckling pig

Botin has been operating continuously since 1725. Originally opened as Casa Botin by James Botin, it was inherited by his nephew Candido Remis, which changed the name to Sobrino de Botín (nephew of Botin). In that time it has become one of the most famous restaurants in the world, and certainly the most famous in Western Literature.

Botin is in the old part of Madrid which is now the touristy part of Madrid. While you will see your fair share of tourists in Botin, it hasn’t been overrun like many restaurants. While I was there, it actually seemed to be mostly locals who were having lunch. If it can be considered a tourist destination, it is because of the history of the restaurant and the fact that the tourism of Madrid has grown up around it.

In the process of writing this article I had to think about famous restaurants. I couldn’t think of many, if any. Most restaurants do not survive the life of their founder. Famous Hollywood haunts like the Brown Derby no longer exist. El Buli, the Spanish restaurant which has earned the distinction of the best restaurant in the world in recent years, has announced that it is shutting down in 2012. (It may reopen in 2014). Restaurants often live and die on the the basis of what is trendy.

The Hemingway table at Botin, where I had my lunch

The Hemingway table at Botin, where I had lunch

The food Botin serves is not trendy. It serves traditional food, its specialities being roasted suckling pig and roasted lamb. It has basically been serving the same food since it became legal for establishments to serve food in Spain. My lunch at Botin consisted of the suckling pig and Rioja Alta wine. The same meal that Hemingway ate.

It is rumored that the Spanish painter Goya worked at a dishwasher in Botin before gaining fame in the arts. The history of the restaurant, however, is best seen in the many novels in which it has been mentioned. I know of no other restaurant which has received so much attention in literature. Some examples:

“…and I went to have lunch in an excellent restaurant at the end of Plaza Mayor, Botín, which dates back to 1725.” – James Michener, “Iberia”

“…but, in the meantime, I would prefer to dine on suckling pig at Botín than sit and think about the accidents which my friends could suffer.” - Ernest Hemingway, “Death In The Afternoon”

“We lunched upstairs at Botin´s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.” Ernest Hemingway, “The Sun Also Rises”

The cellar dining area of Botin

The cellar dining area of Botin

I had a flight to catch out of Madrid, so I had an early (for Spain) lunch at Botin. Because the restaurant was empty me and my guide were able to eat at Hemingway’s table, which is upstairs in a corner. If you want to eat at the Hemingway table (and if you are going to be there, why not), show up early or make a reservation. It only seats two people so if you have a larger group, you are out of luck. There really isn’t anything special about the table other than the fact it was where Hemingway liked to sit. I have no idea if he actually sat at the actual table and chair which are there today.

If you are going to be in Madrid, consider lunch or dinner at Botin. You can experience traditional food and an historic restaurant. I don’t know if there will be any Hard Rock Cafe’s left in the year 2100, but I have a feeling that Botin will still be around.

  • 27 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Mary says:

    I have been to Madrid often in the last couple of years and had been wanting to try this place. Even though we knew that is a bit of a tourist trap we still enjoyed it. I had the prefix menu which started with the garlic and egg soup. The soup is made from bread that soaks up the juices of the suckling pig. It was a nice taste of the past. Next was the suckling pig and roast potatoes which was very good and filling. The skin was the best part with it’s crispy porky flavor. My wife had the 1/2 roast chicken which was only 11 euro. My meal which included 1/2 bottle of wine and ice cream was 42 euro. All and all it was a great experience into old Madrid
    Mary from Breckenridge Co

  2. Stiftskeller St. Peter, Salzburg, Austria – though you may not count it since it began as part of a monastery, mentioned by a follower of Charlemagne in 802. http://www.stpeter-stiftskeller.at/en/the-restaurant/the-history.html

  3. Matt says:

    Nice place. I’m looking forward to going there sometime soon. I have it on my list. Thanks for sharing.

  4. That restaurant looks great to be that old. I’d like to go there some day.

  5. I’m shocked that the world’s oldest restaurant is in Madrid! Madrid is such a new city, relative to the history of cities like Delhi, Amman, Beirut, etc. I can’t wait to try this place out!

  6. Woo! I loved the ambiance of the restaurant, I wish to be there somehow. I loved the strange but good look of the dining area where the tables and chairs are also looks weird but seriously I wanna be there soon.

  7. Jori says:

    I was in Madrid in March and for some reason did not have time to make it to Botin, things just kept coming up! Now I just have to go back. I happen to be a student traveler and it’s tough on the wallet however I have found that booking flights and hotels with studentuniverse.com has gotten me to Madrid and other places in Europe for half the price

  8. I think the cellar dining area looks like a cooler place to eat. :-)

  9. Lee says:

    Rue the day the Rangers let go of Moyer.

  10. Tina says:

    oldest restaurant???!! OMG! wow!!!

  11. sonal says:

    WOW, and when I think I’ve been twice in Madrid and never knew about this restaurant. I will definitely check it out next time. Thanks!

  12. Awesome review, I also had no idea the oldest restaurant was in Madrid. I would love to try that out and surely order the suckling pig as well!

  13. Kara says:

    Botin was on my list of restaurants to try during my visit to Madrid this past October and it didn’t disappoint. The no fuss atmosphere and traditional menu maintains its charm… we enjoyed dinner there (with a reservation) – suckling pig and squid in its own ink, a great dining experience.

  14. Thanks for sharing! This is really pure dedication and passion from the owners of the restaurant. I will be making a note of this place when I am in Madrid next Feb.

  15. Lisa says:

    Wow..if walls could talk! It would be great to do a book about old restaurants and their histories..Great post!

  16. Emily says:

    Very cool! It would be interesting to see how many things have changed, technology-wise, in the kitchen over time. I love historic buildings like this with great stories. I just heard that Jean Lafitte’s blacksmith shop is now a bar in New Orleans and I really want to go there when I visit in November (it’s the oldest structure used as a bar in the US).

  17. Julia Dimon says:

    I was just in Madrid a month or two ago, and I can’t believe I missed this place! The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorites, so I’ll definitely have to go and try and get a seat at the Hemingway table.

    I did get to do a tapas tasting tour through Madrid, which was incredible. If you have a moment, please look at my own travel blog, at http://www.traveljunkiejulia.com. I have done extensive traveling, (I’ve traveled around the world four times, across over 80 countries, and through six continents!) and think I can offer some advice on adventures in exciting destinations!

  18. Lara says:

    Nicely written and totally truth! I had lunch at Botin and I enjoy very much the traditional meal they serve. Workers there were also really nice and helpful. Definitely worth trying it!

  19. Luke says:

    Yet another reason to visit Madrid. *frantically scribbles onto the ever-increasing to-do list*

  20. SHABL says:

    Cool update, checked it out when I was in Madrid.

  21. Ant Stone says:

    Interesting post.

    I have no idea what the first two paragraphs have to do with anything; and being a non-American, I also have no idea what they were talking about anyway!

    Nevertheless, Botin looks utterly charming, and thanks to this I’ll be stopping by next time I’m in Madrid.

  22. Botin seems to be attractive,I really curious about the Botin food.When ever I have spare time,I surely visit this point.

  23. Stephanie says:

    I had dinner at Botins when I was in Madrid (I’m a book nerd and I couldn’t pass up the chance to pretend I was in The Sun Also Rises). Totally charming and the suckling pig was good. I always recommend it to anyone visiting Madrid.

  24. Rebecca says:

    La Cote Basque, NYC. I mourn that restaurant. For the food, the staff, the service and the many memories of family trips to New York celebrated there. It was only in business for 45 years, a mere moment compared to Botin. But it was still my favorite hotel in all the world.

    It just goes to show, though. I considered that restaurant a kind of landmark and it had only been around for 45 years. Even the famous 21 Club has only been around since 1930. I know that Europe’s history is so very much longer than America’s. But a restaurant that has been open since the 1700s? That’s just mind boggling. Wow.

  25. Melissa says:

    This is an amazing story. You totally got me with the history aspect and sitting at Ernest Hemingway’s table. If I ever get to Madrid, I will totally check it out. Thanks for sharing!

  26. jen laceda says:

    Interesting fact! Never even expected the oldest resto to be in Madrid. London, maybe…

  27. Laura says:

    WOW, and when I think I’ve been twice in Madrid and never knew about this restaurant. I will definitely check it out next time. Thanks!

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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