Gastrobar Hotel Saratoga, Palma. | Hotel Saratoga


The restaurant review on January 23 was about the ground floor restaurant of the Hotel Saratoga in Paseo Mallorca 6 (there’s another one of the seventh floor with panoramic views towards Bellver Castle and the mountains) which has the appropriate name of Gastrobar Saratoga.

A friend had never come across the ‘gastrobar’ word before and has since noticed there are other places in Palma that call themselves gastrobars. He was wondering how a gastrobar differs from an ordinary restaurant — if there is a difference.

The gastrobar is a Spanish invention and is a cousin of the English ‘gastropub’. And although they are related, they were created for quite distinct reasons.

The gastropub was first on the scene in 1991 when David Eyre and Mike Belben used the word for The Eagle in London. It’s a traditional pub but serving up-market food instead of the usual pub grub.

The idea clicked with the public and soon there were gastropubs everywhere and a new dining concept was born: top quality food served in a traditional English pub. And, of course, at higher prices than pub grub.

Spain’s gastrobar had a different conception. The economic crisis that started in 2008 (which is still with us and looks like getting worse than ever because of Brexit and Covid-19) hit everyone, including those on high salaries.

Spain’s most expensive restaurants (especially those with Michelin stars) were among the first businesses to feel the draught. They were also the first to react.

These restaurants, some of them in luxury hotels, quickly saw they needed outlets with much more economical prices that would bring in quick cash to cover overheads.

Many of them opened eateries next door or on the floor above and served tapas and other small plates with prices that were considerably lower than in their luxury restaurants.

Someone called these places gastrobars and the first cities to have them were Madrid and Barcelona. These gastrobars aimed to serve good food but at prices designed for a recession.

Palma’s first authentic gastrobar was Las Jotas, which was part of the Hotel UR Palacio Avenida, cross from the Plaza España. It opened at the beginning of 2010 and followed the by then established formula of good food at reasonable prices.

But although the food was interesting, the prices right, the location marvellous and culinary standards high, Las Jotas didn’t click with the public.

Neither did the hotel’s main restaurant. At one stage they did an extensive and expensive makeover and put in one of the island’s most celebrated Majorcan chefs, but the main restaurant never got into top gear — partly because prices were too high.

The huge area at street level that was the hotel’s luxury entrance, reception area, and the restaurant, is now a well known fashion store.

Instead of that once swanky entrance and reception area, the hotel now has a tiny entrance round the corner, more suitable for a little ‘pensión’ than an up-market urban hotel. That’s what the 2008 financial crisis did — and things could get much worse over the coming months.

The other places my friend has seen in Palma with the gastrobar name are not real gastrobars according to the original conception described above.

They belong to wannabe restaurant owners jumping on a bandwagon and hoping a trendy name will take them along the road to success. But it’s not going to be an easy journey for them.

Gastrobar is misused word but not as much as ‘castellano’ which almost everyone uses to mean ‘español’, the language spoken in Spain by Spaniards.

Every English-speaking person I know thinks Spanish people speak ‘castellano’. That’s not such a terrible faux pas because the vast majority of Spaniards also think they speak ‘castellano’.

The indisputable fact is that the language Spaniards speak is ‘español’, a tongue that has its origins in ‘castellano’, the Romantic dialect of Old Castile. What used to be called ‘castellano’ no longer exists except as a variety of ‘español’ still found in Old Castile.

The old ‘castellano’ language had its origins in Cantabria and was eventually spoken throughout the Castilian meseta by about the middle of the 10th century. It replaced other dialects in the region, such as those of Asturias and León.

The tongue of Old Castile became the basis of the language that is now spoken in Spain as well as in most of South and Central America: ‘español’ with its high percentage of words that are not of ‘castellano’ origin.

A list of words in español that are not of ‘castellano’ origin would contain contributions made by the people of Galicia, Andalusia, Extremadura, Baleares, La Rioja, Canaries, Asturias, País Vasco, Catalonia, Murcia, the Philippines, Valencia and, especially, Latin America.

Both ‘español’ and ‘castellano’ are nowadays two quite different languages. If a 13th century Castilian went into a time-warp black hole and suddenly appeared in today’s central Madrid, it would take him a considerable time to understand today’s ‘español’.

But if a contemporary Spaniard were to be whizzed back to the Old Castile of the 13th century, he would quickly become familiar with the ‘castellano’ of those days.

That’s because ‘español’ has its roots in so many different languages and dialects that it is now completely distinct from its main component, which is ‘castellano’.

Just by looking at and listening to the South and Central American words that have become part of ‘español’ is enough to show that calling this language ‘castellano’ simply doesn’t make sense.

The difference between the ‘español’ of Spain and that of Latin America is even more striking than in English spoken in Britain and the United States: the same words can have different meanings and there are hundreds of common words and phrases that are quite alien to those on the other continent.

Well-educated Spaniards also fall into the trap of mixing up the two languages: they frequently say they speak ‘castellano’. I hear it all the time and read it in newspapers and magazines.

Even in El País, Spain’s most erudite daily newspaper, I often see staff journalists and other writers using ‘castellano’ when referring to today’s Spanish language.

When Majorcan newspapers are writing about the use of Catalán (which is all the time) they always refer to Spanish as ‘castellano’ and never ‘español’. But that’s mainly because Cataláns have a great dislike for anything ‘español’. The mere sight of the word ‘español’ is a turn-off for them. It’s all about politics, not linguistics.

Spanish (‘español’) is one of the world’s great languages. Some 500 million people worldwide speak it and it has a superb literature. Some years ago international academics named Don Quijote as the world’s greatest literary work.

So let’s give the language its due by calling it ‘español’ or Spanish. Castellano is almost a dead language.