Who needs a concierge when you have a food-loving chambermaid? It was thanks to a friendly Colombian chambermaid at The Principal in Madrid — we fell into conversation when she helped me out with a converter plug for my computer — that I discovered Celso y Manolo, a friendly and lively tapas bar just two blocks from the hotel.
Run by the Zamora brothers, who speak English from having worked in NYC in the ’90s, it’s a real neighborhood insider’s place, with a fascinating history. It serves excellent tapas, accepts reservations and has an English menu, which takes the stress out of ordering for a non-Spanish-speaking guest. And it’s the kind of address where you always end up chatting with someone, including, on my recent visit, a curator from the Prado Museum and a retired cop who had lived in Los Angeles for 10 years after having married an American. Back home, I often think longingly of the bocadillo of fried shrimp with aioli served here, but it’s the happy atmosphere and great conversation that I miss most of all.