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.