Tradition Retires


Emeterio Serrano and his time capsule serve their final glass

The cozy interior of Casa Eme buzzes with an energy as potent as the smell of garlic that hangs in the air. Customers swarm around the bar counter, chatting and laughing as Cruzcampo flows from the tap. The clamor is only broken when a deep voice sings out that an order is up. “Order for table four. Table four.” The final “o” in the word “four” lingers, as the voice finds the perfect note. It’s as if God himself is announcing the arrival of garlic shrimp and cod sandwiches.

The voice doesn’t belong to God. It belongs to Emeterio Serrano, the cashier, bartender, head chef, and owner of the establishment. He’s been behind the counter for almost thirty years, and although he’s been operating on his own the whole time, his legend has outgrown the tiled walls of the little bar on Puerta del Osario Street.

“And how are the kids?” he asks, handing change to a customer. The woman smiles and tells Eme about her sons. She recounts how much they’re growing and how they’re doing in school, in the way you might tell a cousin at a family reunion. While he seems like a genuinely affable man, his propensity for conversation is part of the business approach in hospitality.

“At the bar, you’ve got to put a good face on. You go to other places and the waiters have such a sour face… You always have to treat your clients properly and leave your problems at home.”

Emeterio Serrano with two of his customers / ALEXANDER HAGER

Even with his hands full as the bar’s lone employee, he takes the time to chat with everyone who walks in the door. It’s a steady mix of tourists, having their first “tortilla al whisky” and regulars who look like they might’ve been coming there since Eme’s first day in business.

The many visitors who bring different languages and inexperienced palettes to Casa Eme are submerged in the essence of Seville that unfailingly permeates the bar thanks to Eme, a native of Seville through and through, who’s made sure that his love for traditions is a defining trait of his business. “I’m a devoted participant of our Semana Santa. I’ve always liked its religious images.”

The many depictions of the Virgin Mary and of Christ staring back from the walls would have to agree. Dozens of hand-painted religious figures compete for space with old pictures of Eme and notable visitors. A figurine of a Nazareno peeks out through his hood, standing guard over bottles of red wine in the corner.

Detail of the decoration at Casa Eme / ALEXANDER HAGER

And there’s no better soundtrack for a place like this than Eme’s favorite music; the regal sounds of traditional Semana Santa marches fill the bar on some days, while the upbeat strumming of Flamenco guitar has a turn on the CD player on others.

Eme’s recipe for success is a simple one. His bar is defined by his personality. And as integral as the restaurant’s decorations are, it’s characterized by his pride in quality. “I offer good quality. My bar is not like so many others that open today, which are all the same. I serve a pork sirloin with whisky sauce that you won’t find anywhere else. I don’t have a huge offer, just four or five good tapas. That’s all I need.”

For a man who says he’s just trying to make a living, he’s found substantial success. The bar has cemented itself as a fixture of the neighborhood, but it’s also attracted customers from all over the city and the world. It’s even taken on a life of its own on the internet, with reviews and anecdotes painting the bar as a cultural visit as much as a place to eat tapas.

But if you ask Eme, that’s not the result of a strategic marketing effort, it’s just a happy coincidence. “If you type ‘Bar Casa Eme’ in Google, everything that’s there has been uploaded by other people, not me.”

Casa Eme is just as successful as it ever was. It’s full of customers, and the online reviews rave about the food, the ambience, and Eme himself. But in five months, the bar will be shutting its doors for good. Eme has plans to retire, and his bar will be walking off into the sunset alongside him. “I’ll sell the whole house. That’s what I’m considering now, because my kids don’t want a bar.” He’ll be turning 65 soon, and he says that it’s time to move on. After a long career behind the bar counter, he’s decided that he’d like to go out on top, but he echoes the concerns of his customers, saying that he fears the city might lose something. Sure, there are other bars, but the crowds speak volumes. Whatever it is, that magic touch, they just don’t have the same draw as Casa Eme.

“People don’t want me to retire. When everyone tells you that it’s such a pity I must retire, there must be a good reason for it.”

So, in a city where bars are a dime-a-dozen, what makes Casa Eme so popular?

The kitchen is comprised of a single stove with one pan. The interior of the restaurant isn’t much bigger than a bedroom. But, something about this bar keeps people coming back. Perhaps it’s the delicious “solomillo al whisky.” Perhaps it’s the location right near Seville’s famous historic district. But most likely, it’s the magnetic man behind the counter.

“The bar is yours. When the last day arrives, that’ll be it. There are no people for this anymore. These are Seville’s traditional bars and there aren’t many left now,” explains a resigned Eme. “The city loses because it loses its charm with the loss of thess familiar little hubs. These are not McDonald’s or Burger King, multinational chains or a franchise.”

Exterior of Casa Eme / ALEXANDER HAGER

Some of the city’s bars lack particular individual character. Some try to invent, replicate, and commercialize the tradition and authenticity that makes Casa Eme stand out. Others experiment in creativity, pairing a simple glass of beer, with elaborate and inventive dishes, trying to create something new and flashy that will draw attention. Eme’s little corner of Seville draws a crowd because of just the opposite. His authenticity isn’t invented. It’s authentic because hasn’t changed since he first opened up shop in 1991.

The wood-framed depictions of Semana Santa images on the walls, the 12-item menu, the traditional music drifting out from an old CD player in the corner, and especially the smiling man in a sweater vest pouring the drinks, they all represent something that can’t be replicated. In this 15-square-meter time capsule, Eme serves up more than just beer. He serves tradition, for just 1.50€ a glass.