Going underground: La Bicicletería

photo: Interior of La Bicicletería / IKAIKA KELI’IHO’OMALU

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THE PLACE IS NOT EASY TO FIND. You wouldn’t know it was there due to its exterior appearance. Honestly, you need to know the right people, or be amazingly talented at following directions. Hidden on a dark corner off of Calle Feria, the entrance is nothing but two heavy metal doors that show a few decades of wear and tear with a laminated card taped on either side, upon which the words “Toca al Timbre” (“Ring the Bell”) are printed in plain black lettering. Above is an unilluminated crimson sign bearing the name of this pseudoclandestine establishment: La Bicicletería.

WITHIN THIRTY-SECONDS you meet one of the three doormen, who will quickly hustle you in with nothing but a word or two, depending on what time you arrive and how big of a group you are with. Your luck depends on who is working that night. If you happen to meet José then you may have a bit more trouble if you arrive “late” (02:00). José has a slightly skittish yet prompt way of going about his job. If you are rejected he will say in an abrupt yet courteous tone, “Lo siento tío, ya no entran más” (“sorry dude, no more room”), and that will be that. Normally, however, this isn’t the case, and with a kind word and a cigarette José will make room for you. Everything aside, the main thing to know is that all of the doormen are very hospitable, somewhat humble, and remember faces. Be good to them and they will be good to you, it’s simple.

ENTER THOSE DOORS and you access a world you would never have guessed existed behind them. Cluttered together on about ten small tables, of every shape and size, that line the four art covered walls of the downstairs you find people of every age and background. The small size of the bar, which is about the size of a garage, is one that forces everyone together but in a harmonious sense. One night you could sit next to a hippy that has the whole get-up: beads in his dreadlocks and a funky odor wearing a tie-die bathrobe. Maybe you sit next to a Rasta straight from Africa to whom you could contribute the funny smelling smoke in the air. Or, you might just be sitting next to a Branch Manager who works for Santander Bank and is tired of the “normal establishment.” What is always entertaining to see is this mix of individuals squashed together, having a sane conversation and carrying on the night in jubilation. La Bici is an anomaly. People from all walks of life are able to come together in harmony, shedding the majority of societal restrictions to just be him or herself or whoever or even whatever they want to be for that matter.

MIKE, A TWENTY-SOMETHING-YEAR-OLD Bici regular, is an Expat from Brooklyn who came to Seville six years ago to teach English and escape his life in the U.S. but decided to stay after, discovering how much he enjoyed the country. Working from the mid-morning until late into the evening, Mike comes to La Bici to relax and let the long classes and sounds of berserk adolescent students melt away. You can catch Mike at least 2-4 times a week in La Bici chatting it up with his fellow English teacher, Peter, from London, or breaking down the place in dance flurry.

ELENA, A LOCAL SPANISH YOUTH who works three jobs, similarly comes to La Bici for its unique and relaxing atmosphere and the sense of calm it provides her. Although two of her three jobs are at night she visits La Bici when she doesn’t have to bartend or promote shows at the well-established Kafka or Cosmos discotheques of Seville. You can normally find her 2-3 times during the week, hanging out with her Rasta friends or politely telling off old men, while having a conversation with an artist or one of the doormen and sipping on a beer.

EMILIO, FROM ITALY, decided to leave his native Milan to travel Europe on bike and, as he put it, found La Bici to be “a ‘free’ space where he could come and be himself.” During his time as a resident worker at a local hostel near La Plaza del Museo, Emilio would take his free evenings to spend time with his friends and have a drink or three with co-workers and friends alike. Emilio is someone you can always count on to be at La Bici perhaps 5-7 times a month, enjoying the music and having random conversations with strangers, a common practice at La Bici.

AS ONE OF LA BICI’S CO-OWNERS PUTS IT, “It’s a refuge.” It’s a place for those who are accepted and similarly unaccepted by society to come together in a sense of “auto-controlled chaos.” La Bici is owned and operated by two brothers from Mendoza, Argentina, Andrés and David Quiroga, who established La Bici in 2009 after buying and converting the space from a Bicycle repair shop into a “bar.”

WHAT FEW PEOPLE KNOW about La Bici is that the brothers had originally established it as a private social club, where a club card was needed to enter. They attribute this move as a simple method of justifying regulated entry at late hours of the night and avoid the overly inebriated crowds. Normally, however, you can simply enter without a member’s card as long as you are well behaved at the door and are with one of two other people.

“WE DON’T DO ANYTHING IF WE DON’T LIKE IT; if we would not want to go there as customers,” explains Andrés.

ANDRÉS AND HIS BROTHER DECIDED to preserve La Bici’s essence as a bicycle shop. Entering La Bici you will notice assorted bike parts: wheels, chains, pedals, handle bars, and even a full bike hanging from the ceiling among the many other assorted objects and art pieces of La Bici.

LA BICI IS A CULMINATION of everything the brothers have done up until now. They have owned and operated many other establishments, including a café and bar in New York City, and three other in Spain, one in Cádiz and two in Seville, up until La Bici was opened. “La Bici is a reflection of our childhood, of all our past ventures, travels, and experiences,” clarifies Andrés. This was the motivation behind the abstract art, eclectic musical choices (spanning from Bossa Nova, Swing, 80’s ballads, and Hard Core Hip Hop) to the recycled furniture, peculiar employees and inherently unique atmosphere that is La Bici. “Es un poquito de todo”/“It’s a little bit of everything,” says Andrés with a satisfied smile. Under this one roof on any given night you can listen to Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Naughty by Natures “OPP,” Astrud Gilberto’s “Girl from Ipanema”, and watch live theatre with a crowd of people you thought you would never get along with. Summed up in a few words, La Bici is a phenomena; the establishment has an ambience as thick as the smoke that fills it every night. La Bici is a safe place,

a kind place, a peaceful place, a cosy place. Is La Bici a bar? One could argue La Bici is just a bar, but, after being there for the first time, one already knows that the only thing that says bar or normality about La Bicicletería is the Tinto de Verano and the Alhambra beer.