The bar that once was a church: A traveler's tale in Toledo, Spain
The bar that once was a church.
It's cold inside like I remember as a child. I haven't been in a church since high school or special occasions. This church is special though. We're in Toledo, Spain and this iglesia is now a bar and art gallery. It's story is interesting and somewhat unclear. A few locals told us it was a full fledged church many moons ago until it became abandoned. As part of its community revival, kids used it as a space to learn. Then one day, they were allowed a cafetera, a coffee maker to offer something warm to its patrons. To Spaniards, this turned into a cafeteria, a makeshift coffee shop. Once gathered drinking coffee and hosting art on the walls, it naturally segued to hosting DJs and live music, a more lively form of artistic expression. And now, it's a bar by day and club by night.
Like a lot of the country's history, I'm learning details aren't very important. Spaniards don't care much for them. What matters is it's a place you can go to cool off from the blazing hot sun and have a glass of wine or beer.
My steps echo as I walk inside, just as I remember. Once my body, warm from the dry desert heat, meets the cold, dark moisture inside the church a ripple of goosebumps runs up my legs and arms. It's nothing a glass of wine can't remedy.
The magnificent structure feels casual, under the radar. There aren't many tourists here marveling at it, nor is anyone surprised we can have a cold brewsky while staring at the golden structure that once held the sacraments. Maybe it's a cheap thrill for a once private school girl, but the former Catholic in me feels like I'm doing something a little bit risky. And I like it.
At the front of the church is a stage. I imagine it was once an alter and somewhere in its transformative years it was converted to a platform better served for the performing arts. We climb up and sit. Here, I put down my wine, my sweetheart his beer, and we stare at the empty basilica. I'm not sure if it's my past, but there's still something that feels sacred about this place. Perhaps it's muscle memory, but it's all coming back to me. I feel absorbed by the quiet and go into a trancelike state of thanking someone for everything in my life. Who I'm thanking is unclear, but I can't shake the familiar feeling that this is a prayer.
We pay our bill and our respects, intuitively I look for the holy water to dip my fingers in. It's the reflexive behavior of a small child who was taught to do this every week for more than a decade. The Toledan sun meets my eyes with bright prickles and suddenly I'm back in the real world where churches and my past immediately get tucked away in the closed drawers of my memories. We walk and the bright light becomes normal again, the chatter of people walking and laughing replaces the silence and the bar that was once a church begins to feel like a dream.