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Madrilenos flock to traditional terrazas

Sitting out the crisis: Spaniards may be stuck at home this summer, but they aren’t staying indoors.

Madrilenos enjoy the warm summer night temperatures socializing in terrazas, or outdoor bars. The economic crisis is preventing many from traveling for vacation this year, but they still pack terrazas every night. (Michael Moffett/GlobalPost)

MADRID — Terrazas, or outdoor bars, in Spain fill squares and line sidewalks one after another in the summer. Some cater to the thirsty all day with umbrellas and a constant mist, while others fill up as daytime temperatures — often above 100 degrees Farenheit — cool into night. Traffic congestion and noise in the streets don't deter patrons, nor does the economic crisis that has left many Madrilenos with no place else to go this vacation season.

“Spaniards need this. Getting together with friends to have a drink and chat is as important as getting up in the morning to go to work. It’s a way of life, regardless of the crisis,” explained Maria Jose Espinosa, 42, sitting at an outdoor cafe in a Madrid square, with her friend Alicia Huerta.

Walking the Madrid streets on a summer night, one would never imagine there is an economic crisis — outdoor cafes are so packed that people stand over full tables, waiting for one to clear. Spain’s 18-percent unemployment rate, which is the highest in the European Union, is motivating Madrid residents to shorten their holiday trips or to simply stay put, but they aren’t about to give up their terrazas. “To give up our custom of having a beer with friends, there has to be a catastrophe,” Espinosa said. Her friend Alicia Huerta, 44, agrees. She said she is not going on holiday this year because of the crisis, but she enjoys the terrazas at least four nights a week. “There are so many people in Madrid this summer. Last year there was only one terraza in this square, and it was never full in August. This year there are two more, and it’s difficult to get a seat,” she said.

Madrid terraza-owners are counting precisely on people like Espinosa and Huerta to help them through a difficult year. Antonio Cosmen is a member of the board of directors at La Vina, a Madrid business association of bars and restaurants. He reported that sales in the sector have decreased an average of 9 percent so far this year.

August is the traditional vacation month in Spain, and not so long ago it was difficult to find an open restaurant and bar in Madrid. That is changing, as it is becomes more common for employees to spread out their vacation time over the course of the summer. This year, the economic crisis is prompting bar and restaurant owners to stay open for the entire month. “Many have not closed for holidays. It’s impossible,” Cosmen said.