Hector Santiago fell in love with Spain the first time he visited about 15 years ago. Since then, he’s been trying to recreate the energy of the buzzing city centers he encountered there. He craves the feel of the packed restaurants and bars with patrons standing around high-top tables, sharing pintxos and tapas. That’s what he hopes to bring to Ponce City Market with the opening of a tapas bar called La Metro, slated to take over the former Biltong Bar space in May or June. (In case you missed it in the holiday rush, Biltong Bar shuttered on December 31.)
“There’s a building in the middle of Madrid, called the Metropolis, that I love. At Ponce, we are right in the center of it all,” Santiago says. “La Metro is about that joy of life you see in Spain—that socialization.”
He stresses that La Metro will be a completely new concept. It will not replicate the Cuban sandwiches he sells at El Super Pan in Ponce City Market and the Battery or the Juarez-style burritos he makes at El Burro Pollo at the Collective at Coda in Tech Square. Nor will it mimic Pura Vida, Santiago’s long-running Inman Park tapas restaurant that closed in 2012. “La Metro is going to be fun,” he says. “We’re not trying to redo what we did before. That’s my biggest fear that people think I’m doing Pura Vida again. I’m moving on and doing new things. There’s so much to cook out there.”
Unlike his other concepts that focus on pork dishes, La Metro will have a heavy vegetable- and seafood- presence. Expect tinned seafood and cured and aged fish like sturgeon and salmon. Pintxos, or one-to-two-bite snacks, will be held together by a toothpick. Traditional small plates will include croquetas, endive with grilled mushrooms and anchovies, and patatas bravas (angry potatoes). Larger offerings, called raciones, may include canelones (stuffed pasta rolls), paella, lamb, and bocadillos (sandwiches).
The restaurant will be counter service with full service available for those sitting at the bar in the evening. For lunch, Santiago envisions a display case where guests can go down the line and build a tray with single portions of various items. Dinner offerings will be made to order with a larger menu.
“We’re going to keep it very Spanish,” he says. “I want it to feel like it’s been there forever.”
He’s renovating the space to add a kitchen—ideally with space for four seats for chef’s dinners, he says—and lightening up the restaurant with shades of green, burgundy, and pink. There will be Spanish tiles, metal, glass, and tall banquettes with marble tables for an Old-World feel.
At the bar, cava, vermouth, Brandy de Jerez, and sherry will take center stage, as well as Spanish wines and ciders (plus some from Portugal and the U.S.). Cocktails will lean Spanish with a negroni made with amaro, vermouth, and rum, and a daiquiri comprised of rum and Amontillado sherry. Beer will be primarily local.