Perhaps no art form is more strongly associated with Spain than flamenco. The powerfully seductive, rhythmic music of the flamenco player, matched by the vigorously impassioned movements of the flamenco dancer, beguiles tourists and native Spaniards alike.
Its origins steeped in mystery, its complexities and subtleties widely misunderstood, flamenco nevertheless continues to gain fans around the world and to be performed in an increasing number of venues outside of its native land.
It is natural that when tourists visit Spain, many of them are keen to take in at least one flamenco show. Therein lies a problem, though. The true aficianado of flamenco will tell you that the art has been degraded to such an extent that most of what is “on show” in Spain–even in flamenco’s native Anadalucia–is far from authentic.
Even the distorted, touristy version of flamenco viewed by most tourists can be entertaining. If you have never seen flamenco performed live before, and having fun is more important to you than cultural enlightenment, don’t worry about questions of authenticity. Follow your fellow tourists and enjoy yourself.
The primary modern-day setting for flamenco, both the authentic variety and the less so, is the tablao. These are clubs where you can see a show and also have dinner and a drink if you want. Tablaos may be found almost everywhere in Spain, having developed out of the so-called singing cafes popular in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although it’s not a guarantee, to find authentic flamenco in Spain you would do well to avoid the places where the other tourists are going. This means you will need to ask locals, such as hotel staff, where you should go to experience the real thing.
The following are recommendations of a few flamenco venues you might want to check out on your visit to Spain. Although they differ greatly from one another in atmosphere, entry cost, and quality of amenities such as food, you can be reasonably sure that any one of these will provide you with an authentic flamenco experience.
Cafe de Chinitas, near Plaza Santo Domingo. You can have dinner while you watch the performance or opt for just a drink. Catering to tourists as well as locals, the shows are extravagant but the flamenco is real.
El Corral de La Moreria, in the Las Brisas area. Now more than 50 years old, it has earned a worldwide reputation for showcasing the best flamenco artists in Spain.
Torres Bermeja, in Calle Mesoneros Romanos just off the Gran Via. Often less crowded than the two above, this tablao offers quality flamenco performances in a setting that some may find more relaxing.
Tablao Flamenco Cordobes, in the city center near the southern end of Las Ramblas. This club has been going strong since 1970, garnering international prestige for its flamenco presentations. Performances take place upstairs and dinner is available.
Tarantos, at Plaza Reial 17. One of the oldest tablaos in Barcelona, Tarantos has a reputation for presenting only the best flamenco artists. Be sure to check their schedule before going, though, because they alternate flamenco nights with evenings devoted to jazz or other types of music.
Casa de la Memoria, Barrio de Santa Cruz area. No food or drink here; instead, this club delivers flamenco in its purest form. The dance setting is a lovely Andalucian style patio in an 18th-century palace. There’s an entry fee of about 12 euros, and the the two nighttime performances sell out fast. Therefore you should go to the club during the day to buy your tickets in advance.
La Carboneria, in a narrow back street called Calle Levies, and marked by a red door without signs (you’ll definitely need to ask directions). This is a bar-type place offering flamenco shows and no cover charge; food and drink are available at reasonable prices.
Casa Anselma, in the Triana area of Seville. When you come to Casa Anselma, be prepared for flamenco that breaks out spontaneously and is often unrehearsed. But don’t worry, this is the good stuff–the owner, Anselma, is a highly acclaimed flamenco performer in her own right. Things really get going around midnight. There’s no cover charge; Anselma and the performers make their money from the sale of drinks.
Pub Flamenco Albero y Arte, Calle Vicente Ibanez. Although most people think that flamenco means the dance, the name refers properly the musical style. Here’s one venue where the focus is on the music; you’ll find singing and guitar playing but usually no dancing. It’s authentic, though, even if on the odd side–performances take place in a mock bullring.
These recommendations for places where you can enjoy authentic flamenco in Spain are just a smattering of the choice that awaits you. If you find yourself in a city not mentioned above, and want to seek out a satisfying flamenco show, just ask around. The locals will know.