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In Bilbao there are not residents, there are txikiteros. Txikiteros are names given to those who drink txikitos, small glasses of wine served in the bars.


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Txikiteros, Wine and Legend

Everything in Bilbao has a story, a rumour or a legend. Today we are going to discover the Txikiteros, a figure that over the years took over the Casco Viejo and then disappeared, although not completely, as they are gradually returning to fill the Siete Calles.

Let's find out who they are, why they are known as such and, most importantly, how you can become one on your trip to Bilbao.


Who are the Txikiteros?

The simplest definition, although at the same time it raises new questions, is to say that Txikiteros are those who drink txikitos. We have already warned you, but if you want to be a real Txikitero you need to know how to use all the terms in their vocabulary.

Let's go in order, what is a txikito? It is a unit of measurement for wine drinkers in Bilbao, who used to drink wine in the Old Town using a special glass called a Txikito glass.

The glass weighs just over 600 grams, is small, wide, and with a large part of the base filled with glass, so the amount of wine poured is small. If we were to transfer pintxos to the world of drinks, this would be their equivalent.

Well, if you want to be a real txikitero, you don't go with your friends, but with your group, la cuadrilla, and don't say you're going to have a few txikitos, you go for a pote or poteo. 


Txikitos glass

Let's delve a little deeper into the main tool of a Txikitero, his Txikito glass. Its appearance was not as you might imagine, there was no one who created it specifically for this purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These peculiar characteristics are due to the fact that it was designed to carry lanterns. Look at the change from lighting up the streets to lighting up your cheeks after the fourth sip.

It all goes back to Queen Victoria Eugenia's visit to the town in 1920 to witness the Regattas. For this occasion, they decided to place hundreds of lanterns to better illuminate the streets. Once the queen left, what could they do with so many containers? The best answer is always in a bottle of wine.


The Txikiteros' approval

Despite its bulky size and small capacity, the txikiteros gladly accepted their new tool, apparently for several curious reasons.

The first of these is precisely the apparent small amount of wine that the glass can hold. Being so small, they ensured that each Txikitero received exactly the same amount.

Moreover, this allowed them to take many drinks in different places, tasting the wine here and there. And be careful when you drink so many sips, because it can quickly go to your head and more than one of them ended up drowning their sorrows in la Ría.

Another reason for the good reception is that they claim that, due to its particular characteristics, the glass is easier to hold, something that is appreciated after several sips, and that makes any wine good, that is to say, better tasting no matter how low quality it may be. Those were other times, nowadays it is impossible to find low quality wine in la Villa.


Txikiteros´ Day

Celebrated for the first time in 1964, the 11th of October is the day of the Txikiteros, or the "Txikitero Eguna", although it is not considered a public holiday, if you want to see a unique atmosphere in the Siete Calles, this is the best day.

What are you going to find? It's like taking a trip back in time, although in reality, it is part of our present. Groups of Txikiteros de pote with their glasses of txikitos in hand, txapela on their heads, singing bilbainadas in chorus in honour of the Amatxu de Begoña.

From what you have just read, I am sure that you have been able to understand most of the specific vocabulary of Bilbao, because little by little you are becoming a Txikitero.

The "cuadrillas" stroll through the Casco Viejo, or the Seven Streets, from bar to bar, drinking wine in honour of the patron saint of Bilbao and Bizkaia, the Virgin of Begoña, whose day is the following day, the 12th October, and make offerings to her on the corner of Calle Santa María and Calle Pelota.

Why there? This is very important; on the ground you will find a tile with a star that shows the only point in the Old Quarter from where you can see the Basilica of Begoña, specifically its tower.

Right on that corner is the "hucha txikitera", txikitera piggy bank. In it, groups of txikiteros have left loose coins throughout the year and on 11 October it is opened and all the money is donated to associations and charities.


Curiosities of the Txikiteros

We have to thank the parish priest of the Cathedral of Santiago de Bilbao, Don Epi, who was a proud Txikitero, for the creation of a specific day. He was the one who established it and we have him to thank for the fact that such a tradition is as alive as the first day.

If you are drinking with your group and you notice that the wine is starting to get to you, ask for an 'huevo txikitero'. It is a hard-boiled egg that is said to help you cope with the wine sickness as well as possible. In some bars, they invite the egg when you order your glass of Txikito to keep you going on the route.

Finally, we have mentioned that the 11th is the day of the Txikiteros, although the following day is the big day of the patron saint, the Virgin of Begoña. If your name is Begoña and you are in Bilbao during your day, don't forget to stop by Café Lago, because they will treat you to a coffee and a slice of cake for sharing your name with the patron saint.


Txikiteros nowadays

Txikito glasses are souvenir objects, as they belong to the recent history of the city. However, there seems to be a growing awakening in txikitera culture, and the cuadrillas seem to be making a comeback, and many bars in the Casco Viejo are even serving in their txikito glasses again. The Txikiteros are more alive than ever.