Heartbreaking news yesterday:
The doors of Madrid’s oldest coffeehouse and bar, Café Comercial, remained firmly shut on Monday, bringing an end to 128 years of activity. The surprise closure was announced via the establishment’s official Facebook page, but no reason was given for the move.
“We don’t know what happened,” said longtime employee Felipe Majano, 60. “They didn’t give us any reasons. All they said was that we’re closing, and that was it.”
I know Felipe very well, and consider him a friend. I’ve spent countless evenings writing in the Café, with Felipe’s calm and ever-welcoming presence a constant there for as long as I can remember.
Coincidentally, I ran into him on the street a couple weeks ago, and we talked for a few minutes about life in general and nothing in particular. He had just clocked out and was going home for lunch, nothing special. He’s one of those people who never seem to be in a rush, listen attentively and nod with their eyes.
In a rare moment of concern, I asked him how he was doing, and whether he feared for his job. The economic crisis that’s been strangling Spain since 2008 has taken many iconic businesses with it and in that time, many excellent professionals have lost their jobs. Their only sin? Being too old in an age where public-facing jobs are all about youth.
Felipe’s response was heartwarming, and telling: “I’ve worked here for 36 years and if I can help it, I’ll stay here until I retire”. Sadly, it was not to be.
Again, this was two weeks ago, and judging from what I saw, he clearly had no idea this was coming. Felipe didn’t deserve this after almost 40 years of service. Neither did Juan, or the rest of the staff. And neither did we, the life-long customers for whom the Comercial was more than a bar: it was part of the fabric of our lives, like an old friend or family member.
Today, the windows of the Café were covered by small heart-shaped notes written by the neighbors of Madrid. Messages like “I never thought you’d leave us”, or a crushingly well-drawn crying eye are clear evidence of a simple truth: the people of Madrid are mourning. We mourn for the loss of this historic place, and we mourn in the knowledge that whatever comes after it, our city will never be the same without the Comercial.
Yesterday we lost a place that celebrated literature, coffee, art and most of all, the human condition. Yesterday we lost a piece of ourselves. And so we mourn.