Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London, No 813 – Wrestle in tapas bars.
Is this what the Spanish Civil War was like? Chunks of tortilla hurtle through the air; a manzanilla glass shatters on the wall; a plate of padrón peppers explodes above our heads; a volley of patatas bravas splatters a vivid red dash of sauce across the wall mirror, and a very angry man from Madrid points at his trousers.
Ill will and violent passions have been unleashed in the tapas bar. Yet only minutes ago the very angry man wasn’t angry at all. Short, stout and wearing cream slacks, he was happily telling the waitress just how good the mussels in tomato sauce were, almost as good as the ones in Madrid. Around him, peace and good feeling reigned in an establishment which, although small and busy, functioned well as long everyone drank their sherry and ate their morcilla without waving their arms around or hopping madly.
However, this is London, and it’s Christmas, the time of year when thousands of the capital’s office workers celebrate the birth of our Saviour by taking 12 months’ worth of seething resentment, bad feeling and sexual tension, and, at the company’s expense, mix them with inappropriate amounts of alcohol. As a result, perfectly nice people who would usually be more than happy to pass you the salt cellar or point out that your jacket had fallen from the back of your chair become ravening beasts intent on violence and mayhem.
One such beast emerged from the tapas bar toilet. It was now evening, but he had clearly been on the premises all afternoon, abandoned hours ago when the rest of the accounts department decided that what was absolutely required after a very long Spanish lunch was five pints of Stella in the pub around the corner.
The time apart from his fellow number-crunchers had not been kind to him. His shirt, unbuttoned almost to his navel, bore the mark of the various sweetmeats and savouries he had encountered earlier in the day. Instead of standing at the bar, he weaved around, knocking people’s arms, sending splashes of sherry on to other people’s jackets, and slopping Spanish lager over women’s feet.
The stout Spaniard in cream slacks had been first to comment on this, looking up and saying, ‘The British, so uncivilised.’ A fair point, I thought, though at least we don’t throw donkeys out of windmills in this country (or is that the Dutch?).
Then the man in the unbuttoned shirt stumbled into a sober, smartly dressed man and his partner who suddenly had wetter feet than she had planned for by this point in the evening. The smartly dressed man turned and said, ‘Excuse me, would you mind not knocking into me?’ ‘What?’ offered the man in the unbuttoned shirt. ‘You keep bumping in to me,’ the smart man insisted firmly but politely. ‘I want you to stop.’ The first man, outraged that his freedom to dampen women’s feet should be challenged, pushed the second man in the chest. The second man’s glass of rioja shot up into the air where it revolved and then delivered its contents onto the pale cream slacks of the stout Spaniard.
For a moment the well-built Madrileño considered the deep scarlet stain that was spreading across his trousers. Then he let out a bellow and pushed the smart, sober man over. The smart, sober man got up and threw a plate of padrón peppers at the stout Spaniard. Soon the air was filled with projectiles until, with nothing left to throw, the two men reached for each other’s throat and fell, struggling, to the floor where they thrashed around desperately. ‘’Kin hell!’ gasps the man in the unbuttoned shirt, as we look down at the spectacle below. ‘I know,’ I agree. ‘Disgraceful.’
Also not recommended: the wrong side of a slap up dinner
Invariably unwise to throw fists in an establishment where the staff may have had access to martial arts training. If you must, make very clear early on that you’re on their side.
Très dangereux! Several sets of sharpened cutlery, a fearful array of wine and water glasses, and baton-shaped bread: only the fearless or foolish walk into a French fine dining venue intent on a dust-up.
The cheap and cheerful route to A&E. In a pizzeria the food itself is an offensive weapon, and there’s a reason the staff dispense pepper from cudgels.
It’s where Londoners take their hangovers, so bad feeling aplenty. Hot stewed tea’s your main worry, but look out for flying fried slices when it all goes off.