Taking their name from Spain’s favourite sweet pastry, habitually eaten in the early hours after a night out, a group of friends set up Churros con Chocolate in a small bar in the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona back in 2011. 'Barcelona has always had an edgy LGBTQIA+ scene that was very mixed up in atmospheres and styles of music but not all of it in the same big party', says Luis Alcalá (he/him), who founded the night with Puy Ruiz de Alda (AKA DJ Chica Barata) (she/her) and Manuel Ponce (he/him).
At the same time Barcelonian families gather for mass on a Sunday, revellers of Churros con Chocolate start to dress up to celebrate LGBTQIA+ freedoms in all their unbridled glory. 'Our inspiration was those small bars and pubs with cabaret-style drag shows but also the Sunday day scene in Madrid', says Alcalá.
Outgrowing their original home, they moved to the famous old concert venue Sala Apolo on Avinguda del Paral·lel, whose cabaret halls had been a bohemian haven during the Franco era. 'Apolo was an old theatre with two floors, and it allowed us to grow and make a bigger family for the so-called "churreros”', says Alcalá. 'How we presented the party, from the decorations to the performances, was all very camp and homemade. That was the key to our appeal.'
Whether cabaret from the legendary queen of Paral·lel Merche Mar, a drag show by Vanity Milan, or the most fabulous costume on one of the churreros, their party ethos is one of collective creativity. 'From the very beginning we invited the crowd to be the party with us and we are very proud of this', says Alcalá.
‘Our motto is “anything goes”.’
Musically, Churros con Chocolate revels in the unexpected, where burlesque pop clashes with techno and a Kylie Minogue chart-topper sneaks in beside the camp rock of Mojinos Escozíos. 'Our motto is “anything goes”', says Alejandro Asencio (he/him) who co-hosts and programmes Churros con Chocolate while also running London’s Lady Olé parties. 'Surprise is something that is in our DNA and that will always guide us. That is what our people love.'
Churros con Chocolate also host regular parties in Madrid and Valencia, leaving a legacy on nightlife across Spain. 'I think to have taken the party from a small gathering of friends to these big cross-cultural events that everyone in the community can partake in is something to be very proud of', says Asencio.
If you are lucky enough to be in town for one of their monthly parties, make sure you arrive early so you can grab a plate of churros before they run out.
You’ve found a welcoming home at Sala Apolo but what are the main barriers to creating such spaces in Spain/Barcelona today?
Luis: The venues and owners have a dynamic that is often difficult to break into. This can be a huge barrier for new ideas. In cities like Barcelona, Madrid or Valencia it is easier, but in secondary cities and capitals of smaller provinces, those dynamics are less flexible, more fixed to the past, and therefore more difficult to overcome.
Alejandro: The good thing right now is the governments, both in Spain and locally in Cataluña, are on the left and quite aligned with each other. They are undertaking lots of new feminist and LGBTQIA+ policies never seen before. Finally, we seem to have more visibility and protection.
How have you seen LGBTQIA+ nightlife change in Barcelona since you started and what role have you played in that?
Luis: We have moved on from just being a gay ghetto. The boom in parties and festivals on Sundays has also helped this change and it is no longer hidden at night. Everything changes a bit when it is still daylight – it’s a different vibe. We’ve gone from closed venues on Sundays to it being the best day to go out and party.
Alejandro: The afternoon thing is important, as it no longer feels like as an LGBTQIA+ person you just go out at night when you are hidden. You go out by day and you help normalise things and change people’s mentalities. They will see the drag queens in the bars beforehand and queuing up to get in. That’s half of the battle won for sure.
Even before the pandemic, venues and spaces were being lost to development at a rapid rate. What should be done to address this?
Luis: In the case of Spain, I believe that the club scene and nightlife should be given proper cultural status. For example, a theatre or club space shouldn’t be allowed to be an office or supermarket. If we are protected as a cultural and respectful scene, not as ‘nightlife’ or the horrible term ‘night leisure’, they are less likely to close.
Alejandro: During the pandemic Berlin approved a law that says that clubs are cultural spaces, and that a DJ, for example, is an artist, so they can have access to subsidy as many others do. We should be taken seriously in the same way.
Do you see any rays of hope with regard to venues?
Luis: The pandemic made us sceptical about the future. Although we have recovered, we got a real fright, and this will always remain with us. What has been shown is that clubs and dance floors have to be full, with people sweating and dancing together, as staff and promoters work to make everything safe.
Alejandro: Of course there is a risk of losing venues but I think our community has always been ahead of the game. We’ve always created spaces that weren’t there before so why shouldn’t we continue to do so. There might not be as many clubs as there were before but we’ll find other spaces to gather.
‘Transphobia and homophobia are not movements from the past, we are still fighting this battle today.’
From transphobia to homophobia, the LGBTQIA+ club scene has faced tremendous battles. What are the main things it faces today?
Luis: Transphobia and homophobia are not movements from the past, we are still fighting this battle today. In fact, hate crime has increased in recent years as extreme-right politics have risen and their discourse has started to appear freely on social media and campaigns alike. This normalisation is extremely dangerous and it poses a real threat for all minorities facing a backlash towards any freedoms achieved until now.
Alejandro: Not all enemies are external. We also face inner battles related to ageism, body politics and mental health issues.
The Spanish government just passed the new Ley Trans (Trans Law). What else would you like to see them do?
Alejandro: We would love to see them develop mechanisms that protect these laws, especially under the current polarised political climate, where governments change frequently. We must secure that any progressive step forward in social politics remains untouched in the future.
You’ve also been involved in the No Callem initiative. Could you tell us about that?
Alejandro: No Callem is Catalan for ‘We won’t keep quiet’. It is an LGBTQIA+ and feminist initiative from Barcelona City Council designed specifically for the city’s nightlife industry. The protocol is aimed at training everyone at the workplace so that gender/sexual violence situations can be detected, prevented and dealt with if they do happen. It focuses on the support and protection of the victim as well as informing them of their legal right to exercise prosecution against the offender.
Can you tell us a little about Punt Lila and what its aims are?
Luis: Punt Lila (the purple point) is framed within the No Callem protocol. It’s the initiative that Observatori contra l'Homofòbia (Observatory against Homophobia), alongside Club Apolo, took by placing a permanent information and help desk point at every event they host, so professionally trained personnel can be at hand.
How important is it for brands like COS to be connecting with the LGBTQIA+ community?
Luis: Very important. Just raising funds for the LGBTQIA+ community is never enough. We have always been very conscious about this fact, not only with Churros con Chocolate but by undertaking other charity projects with other promoters. We always try to share our success with NGOs, local associations and other communities to help their projects come to light. Brands like COS that are more well known and can reach around the world work as a sort of a link between us all.
What was the inspiration behind the T-shirt design?
Luis: The designs on our T-shirts reflect the club posters, which illustrate our strong roots in divas, dress-up and our flamboyant guests.
QUICKFIRE Q+A WITH LUIS ALCALÁ
What has been your favourite Churros party?
‘Our 6th Anniversary in 2017 where a human tower (Castellers) was raised inside Apolo, an artistic expression of Catalan culture.’
Who would you most like to perform at Churros?
‘We’d love to see Lady Gaga singing with Rosalía. Or Raffaella Carrá, a muse and diva for our community. Several attempts were made to get her before she sadly passed away but she will always be with us.’
What is your favourite Barcelona bar?
‘Bar La Federica in Poble Sec.’
Which Spanish director would you get to make the Churros film?
‘Without a doubt, Pedro Almodóvar. Churros has always been very Almodóvarian. The characters, the colours, the details, the script, kind of surreal, that old-fashioned Spanish touch. ‘
Words by Andy Thomas
Portrait by Wai Lin Tse
Archive imagery courtesy of Churros con Chocolate
Discover the COS Pride 2023 limited-edition T-shirt capsule collection, featuring four exclusive designs from four of the most iconic queer club experiences in the world. 100% of the profits from the sales of each piece will be donated to LGBTQIA+ charities including Not a Phase, Margate Pride, Observatori Contra l’Homofòbia, London Friend & Kaleidoscope Trust.
As part of our celebrations for Pride 2023, Churros con Chocolate has curated a playlist exclusively for COS Sounds.
PRIDE 2023: SINK THE PINK
PRIDE 2023: HOUSE OF YES
PRIDE 2023: HORSE MEAT DISCO