Lhardy is the first Spanish restaurant created in the same way that public catering is conceived today: the fixed price, written menus or separate tables have been norms incorporated by Emilio Lhardy himself into the hospitality trade in the first half of the 19th century. Also, it would only be worth remembering, for the benefit of this thesis, that the social phenomenon of the restaurant was born in France (fifty years before the foundation of Lhardy), when as a result of the Revolution, the nobility fell into disgrace and both cooks and servants had to look for a bourgeois application to his skill.
Around 1847, Queen Elizabeth II herself escaped from the Palace and went to dinner with her ladies-in-waiting at Lhardy. Alfonso XII also attended several times incognito, coinciding in his halls with friends and personalities of Madrid life. The royal accolade to the House was fundamental. The phrase “I have seen the King, he entered Lhardy” was a frequent comment. As famous was the greeting that Frascuelo, the calé bullfighter, addressed to him, when he saw the King enter Lhardy: “Olé por el Rey gitano!”
In 1885 the telephone was incorporated in Lhardy, when in Madrid there were only 49 subscribers, with which many of them began in the habit of reserving tables and ordering at home. The instrument of progress itself also gave rise to the first prank calls: “We know you have pig’s feet, calluses and a boar’s head, but surely you don’t have kidneys…”. After the first muskets, Agustín Lhardy reacts with his proverbial humor: “… and don’t forget that I also have the bones of a saint”.
The first Spanish National Parador, that of Gredos, was inaugurated by Lhardy and had chefs and waiters from the House for a couple of years, thus beginning the hotel prestige of the Network of National Paradors.
In 1885, the tradition of self-serve consommé from the silver samovar was introduced, which was so successful among the ladies of the time. It is appropriate to point out that Lhardy was the first hotel establishment in Madrid to which single ladies were allowed to go. Quite a sign in the history of Spanish women’s liberation.
At the turn of the century, in 1916, the exotic dancer Mata-Hari is arrested as a spy, at the Palace Hotel, shortly after lunch in Lhardy.
Another event that concerns Lhardy is the premiere of the zarzuela-bufa “Tortilla al ron”. The establishment is named in the chorus of a cantabile of the work that had to be repeated by the public, and therefore it acquired great popularity among the people of Madrid at the time.
Anticipating modern gastronomic criticism, the master journalist Mariano de Cavia maintained a daily section in “El Liberal” entitled “Plato del día”, often nourished with references to Lhardy.
He had a close friendship with Agustín Lhardy, with whom he appears disguised as a cook in this famous photograph.
In the middle of the 19th century, only Lhardy was spoken of in Madrid as an unavoidable place for luxury meals, and Pascual Madoz included it in his Geographical Dictionary.
The notable decorator Rafael Guerrero establishes the new physiognomy of Lhardy.
The taste of the Second Empire, endowed with that high bourgeois elegance that now captivates us again, was outlined in the design of the Lhardy façade, built with magnificent mahogany wood from Cuba, as a symbol of what were the Spanish overseas provinces. The interior decoration of the store, with its two facing counters and the mirror in the background, on the opulent console that holds the “bouilloire” and the fine liquor store, remains intact, as it was designed and carried out by Rafael Guerrero. The dining rooms conceived as the Isabelino Room, the White Room and the Japanese Room, preserve the wallpaper coverings of the time: the chimneys, the garnishes and ornaments are cited in the works of Galdós, Mariano de Cavia, Azorín or Ramón Gómez de la Serna.
On the premiere of the opera “Tosca” at the Teatro Real in 1900, Lhardy lent his carved silver candelabra for the performances and served the premiere buffet.
Among the Lhardy dining rooms, the one that keeps the most secrets in the history of Spain is the Japanese room, where all sorts of conspiracies and cabals took place. It was the favorite corner of General Primo de Rivera for reserved meetings of ministers and personalities of the dictatorship and, by contrast, it was here that the appointment of Mr. Niceto Alcalá Zamora as President of the Republic was decided.
But the atmosphere of this exotic room preserves other more frivolous memories, such as that of the seductive couplet singer Consuelo Bello “La Fornarina”, who came to represent the culminating attraction in Madrid in the first quarter of the 20th century, in whose firmament so dazzling stars shone of the lowest genre such as La Goya and La Chelito.
La Fornarina, who had triumphed in a little theater that was also called The Japanese Hall, liked to gather in this dining room in Lhardy with some friends to celebrate her successes.
One of the most curious events of this period was the tribute banquet to Ramón Gómez de la Serna from Madrid, with a double version, one in Lhardy and the other in “El Oro del Rhin”. According to the affinities and rivalries of the organizers, the guests were divided between the two venues on the same day. The chroniclers, comparing the editorial language, spoke of luxury edition (Lhardy) and economic edition (El Oro).
Tribute was also paid to the Italian comedian Ermete Novelli, who performed in our country at the Teatro de la Comedia, triumphing with “Los tamasadores”, a play by Sellés.
In 1943, the theatrical impresario Conrado Bianco organized the so-called “end of the century dinner” in the Isabelino hall of Lhardy, an imitation of the one held in 1899, which should be attended dressed in 19th-century clothing and in the that it is agreed not to speak, under a fine of twenty dollars, of any matter of the current century.
The Madrid Philharmonic Society was born in 1901 as a result of a letter written by Agustín Lhardy, the engineer Félix Arteta and the pharmacist Félix Borrell. During a gathering held in Lhardy, and in which they expressed to the personalities of the time their intention to found said society.
In 1903, the First International Congress of Medicine was held at the Teatro Real in Madrid as a tribute to the histologist and Nobel Prize winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal. During it, Lhardy served two meals.
Manuel Rodríguez “Manolete”, one of the most remembered bullfighting myths, was presented with a gala dinner in 1944.
From a table held in Lhardy came the happy idea of founding the CEA film studios (Spanish and American Cinematography). Some of the attendees who decided to join the sound film professionals were Jacinto Benavente, Carlos Arniches, the Álvarez Quintero brothers, Manuel Linares, Pedro Muñoz Seca, Ignacio Luca de Tena, etc.
Baroja and Azorín were splendidly honored by Spanish booksellers at the same agape. Starting in the 1950s, gatherings around characters from Spanish life proliferated, including Enrique Chicote (around scenic art), José María Sacristán (humanistics), Domingo Ortega (bullfighting), Antonio Rodríguez-Moñino (literary), Jiménez Quesada (medical), Pedro Sainz Rodríguez, Julio Camba, José María Alfaro or the Marquis of Desio (eminently gastronomic).
In its most recent history, it is worth highlighting the gatherings of the sixties that brought together eminent scientists of the rank of doctors Marañón, Pozuelo, López-Ibor, Rof Carballo and Jiménez Quesada, among others. Already in the seventies, the Count of the Andes, the Marquis of Desio, Víctor de la Serna, Rafael Ansón and a group of enthusiasts of the pleasures of taste, choose Lhardy to establish the Cofradía de la Buena Mesa.
On January 16th, 1986, everything was planned to celebrate a tribute to Enrique Tierno Galván, a singular character of Spanish culture and historical mayor of the Madrid of the political transition. That same day, Don Tierno died and the tribute had to be cancelled.
After a century and a half of Lhardy’s history, Queen Sofía was the object in her halls of a tribute convened by Agustín Rodríguez Sahagún, Mayor of Madrid, which was attended by Mr. José Prat, historical socialist and president of the Ateneo de Madrid, Gustavo Villapalos, rector of the Complutense University and numerous other academics.
On June 30th, 1992, Lhardy joins the events of the Cultural Capital of Madrid, celebrating an agape attended by more than four hundred personalities from Madrid’s art, letters and journalism. Among other personalities, it is worth mentioning the attendance at the restaurant “with more culture within its walls” (as the press pointed out) to Antonio Buero Vallejo, Francisco Umbral, F. Vizcaíno Casas, J. L. López Aranguren, José M. Alfaro, José Prat, Alberto Schommer, Juan Gyenes, and a very long etcetera.
For three years, the traditional gatherings of the San Isidro Fair were revived in Lhardy, a copy of those led by Antonio Díaz-Cañabate and Domingo Ortega in the 1950s.
In March 2001, the election of the “10 bullfighters of the 20th century” was held, the finalists being: José Gómez Ortega, “Gallito”, Juan Belmonte, Domingo Ortega, Manuel Rodríguez, “Manolete”, Antonio Ordóñez, Pepe Luis Vázquez, Santiago Martín “El Viti”, Antonio Bienvenida, Curro Romero and Paco Camino.
The jury was made up of José L. Suárez-Guanes, Carlos Abella, Ambrosio Aguado, Juan L. Cano, Andrés Fagalde, José L. González, Carlos Ilián, Manuel Molés, Juan Posada, Julio Stuyck, Joaquín Vidal, Javier Villán, Vicente Zabala, Carmen de Esteban.
Lhardy, historical and literary scene of Madrid, of the last two centuries, at the beginning of the 3rd of its existence has undergone a discreet extension, with three rooms that increase its capacity and beauty, within the romantic style of the house. Preserving the evocation atmosphere that miraculously survives in Lhardy, intact after so many years, has been a task of marked sensitivity. These are spaces achieved by old auxiliary surfaces of the same building and others developed on an adjoining floor.I mean that nothing has changed in the intangible field of Lhardy forever.
A respectful decoration has established environments that are difficult to distinguish from the other classic Lhardy dining rooms, with “boiserie” friezes and “fin de siècle” plaster ceiling ornamentation. All the paintings that are presented in these new rooms, except for two by the master Palermo, are originals by Agustín Lhardy, the excellent impressionist owner of this house, a disciple of Haes and as notable a landscape painter as his friends Beruete and Regoyos.
With very good judgment, these dining rooms have been designated with names that recall the musical fondness of Emilio and Agustín Lhardy, consecrating them to Sarasate, Gayarre and Tamberlick, regular patrons of the Romanesque restaurant. This musical nuance, oblivious to other partial suggestions of the protagonists of the story, makes Lhardy’s collections very old.