It has resisted the crisis of the tablaos in the 80s and the lack of customers during the pandemic. We are talking about El Corral de la Morería, the most famous tablao on the planet and the only one with a Michelin Star, the most important gastronomy award in the world.
A son of hotel entrepreneurs and a great flamenco fan, Manuel del Rey, inaugurated El Corral de la Morería on May 25, 1956. The place was (and still is) on Calle Morería, 17, in one of the most traditional neighborhoods of Madrid.
Although in many places you can read or hear that it is the oldest in the Spanish capital, it is not so. In Madrid, if we look at those that still survive dozens of years later, the most traditional is the Tablao 1911, formerly called Villa Rosa.
But what can be said of the Corral de la Morería is that there is no other that beats him to world fame. The New York Times mentions it constantly. In May of this year, he published that this place is the first visit that every tourist must make as soon as they land in Madrid. Neither the Prado Museum nor the Palacio de Oriente.
(Here, the May 2023 New York Times article.)
The same American newspaper put the Corral on the list of the “1000 places you have to see before you die”.
In Spain, the Festival del Cante de las Minas has named it “the best tablao in the world” and, in 2022, it was recognized as the “best restaurant of the year”.
In Spain, the Festival del Cante de las Minas has named it “the best tablao in the world” and, in 2022, it was recognized as the “best restaurant of the year”. Does this space on Calle Morería have a special elf? Let’s find out…
Pastora Imperio avoided its closure
Yes, El Corral de la Morería did not start buoyant. The most urgent thing after acquiring the “corral” by Manuel was to convert that authentic cow corral into a tablao dedicated to good flamenco. This was commissioned by an Italian architect.
Then came the decoration. Arabic touches, Castilian furniture and wrought iron details gave it its own style, not so typical of what would be expected of a tablao. That style continues to star in this business today.
Finally, for the inauguration of that May of 56, Manuel put all the meat on the grill. He hired Porrinas de Badajoz, Salvador El Chaqueta and La Chunga, among other flamenco figures of great fame at that time. As star, Pastora Imperio.
Pastora would end up being fundamental in these principles in which Manuel invested more than he entered. Del Rey asked this great woman with a reputation for generosity to help him by making contacts and with some acting. The dancer was retired, but she did. She was also in charge of a tablao, El Duende, and knew about the difficulties of the business.
Of all the artists who passed through the tablao, there was a special dancer, the one who stole the heart of Manuel Rey.
Blanca Ávila Moreno, La Platera, debuted at the Corral de la Morería in 1964. Soon after, she and Manuel married and Blanca became Blanca del Rey.
Soon after, she and Manuel married and Blanca became Blanca del Rey. Also a choreographer, her original “soleá del mantón” is a contribution to flamenco art.
All went through the Corral de la Morería
And those difficulties were greater in the case of El Corral de la Morería, because Manuel always opted for artists of the highest level (also for new talents). That gamble was key to its success. Even the star artists of other tablaos went to his to see who came on stage.
So this tablao became in record time the epicenter of a golden stage of flamenco. Antonio Gades, Chocolate, Fosforito, Mario Maya, La Cañeta, Serranito and members of the Habichuela family, among many others, worked for a long time or performed in El Corral.
María Albaicín, El Güito, Fernanda and Bernarda Utrera, Manuela Vargas, Lucero Tena, Isabel Pantoja, Lola Greco, Javier Barón, Diego el Cigala, José Mercé, Antonio Canales… The list of artists who were born or have passed through its tables is huge.
The official presentation of Entre dos aguas, by Paco de Lucía, was in Corral de la Morería; the nights of Sabicas’ holidays in the capital during the 80s were spent in the “house” of Manuel Rey.
The contribution of this place to flamenco did not stop there. It is considered fundamental to understand the era of flamenco the recording of 1960 in the same tablao called Una noche en El Corral de la Morería.
Manuel Rey invents the tablao gastro
When it came to bringing in the best artists, there was a lot of competition. Zambra (opened in 1954) was the first modern tablao to appear in Madrid. To mention it was to speak of a temple of pure flamenco. Its prestige was enormous and Manuel Rey’s tablao had in it its greatest competitor.
Of the 60 is Torres Bermejas, where Camarón de la Isla would be more than a decade, the only cantaor who got a full house every night.
El Duende (the one mentioned above that was in the hands of Pastora Imperio) and Las Cuevas de Nemesio would be other contemporary tablaos. How Los Canasteros, by Manolo Caracol himself.
But the letters of El Corral de la Morería were more valuable: Del Rey invented dining in the style of a restaurant while enjoying the show. That is, not a tapas, but a gourmet meal. There was nothing similar and attracted numerous celebrities of the time animated by that atmosphere of glamour as well as tablao.
It was almost natural this evolution of the business towards the gastro. Manuel’s parents had restaurants and he himself had tried exporting paellas. So he applied his knowledge and it didn’t go badly. In 2023, Corral de la Morería is the only tablao with 1 Michelin Star (it won it in 2019) and 2 Repsol Suns, something unimaginable just a decade ago.
Caviar, thermidor lobster or bouillabaisse were the delights that VIPs could take in the early years of the tablao.
Corral de la Morería has two gastronomic spaces: a premium restaurant for four tables (with or without a show), and a tablao restaurant, more informal, near the main stage. The chef is David Garcia.
When the founder of the Corral de la Morería died (2006), Blanca del Rey took the lead with her two sons, today, co-owners. Attentive to trends, they have been redefining their offer to remain that indestructible tablao of Madrid. They also produce flamenco dance shows.