6 years ago, when I announced my move to Madrid, the response from friends and family alike was:
“Madrid? Cool. I’ve never been there. I’ve been to Barcelona…”
Many believe that Madrid’s lack of beach is its biggest failing. But it is also its biggest salvation. Shielded from rampaging sand-and-sea tourists and the concrete building boom which hit the coast in the 1970s, Madrid has managed to stay true to its identity, which is Castilian to its core.
Forget Spanish guitars and castanets (that’s Andalucía), forget paella (that’s the Costa Blanca) and please don’t ask for a sangria (I’m yet to find a region claiming responsibility for this).
Instead look for steep, narrow streets lined with pastel-colored buildings casting sharp shadows against a blistering sun. Look for wide paseos and an eclectic medley of late 19th Century architecture. Look for museums jam-packed with Velazquez and Goya. Look for leafy parks, boating lakes and street performers.
And bars. Look for bars.
The bar is the center of every community across Spain. And in Madrid, that is where you’ll find its soul. Whether it is a local joint, complete with fruit machine and football blaring; a shady terraza dishing out tinto de veranos; or a tiny cave serving homemade vermouth, in Madrid, the bar is where it’s at.
SO you have a weekend in Madrid. Let’s get to it.
Of course there are hotels and Airbnbs aplenty, so take your pick. But I recommend staying in my old hood: Lavapies. Despite its central location, and the fact it is rapidly becoming one of Madrid’s trendiest barrios, it is off the main thoroughfare and still largely undiscovered by tourists.
Lavapies is one of Madrid’s oldest barrios, the most multicultural, and has just the right balance of gritty and charming. You will find hipster hangouts, sandwiches the size of your head, and more Indian restaurants than you could dream of. On a hot summer evening the bars of Calle Argumosa spill onto the street, and you can lounge at a outside table sipping cold cañas to your heart’s content.
You may arrive on Friday night, possibly quite late. In any case, head to Melos on Calle Ave María. Fight your way to the bar and order a zapatilla (literal translation is slipper, and it is the most exciting ham and cheese sandwich you will ever eat), a plate of croquetas (arguably the best in Madrid), and a plate of pimientos de padrón for good measure. If you’re still hungry, you can’t really go wrong with some deep-fried morcilla (basically black pudding). A bottle of ice-cold albariño, which you drink out of little porcelain cups, will help with the digestion.
From there I suggest you roam the streets and find what trouble you can get yourself into. I always liked Bodegas Lo Máximo, the dusty charm of Café Barbieri, and any bar on Calle Argumosa that has an empty table outside.
If you’re still raring to go at 2am, the funk and soul DJs of El Juglar will keep you busy until 4. Then, if you still want more, then get thee to Flamenco Candela. Strictly-speaking this breaks the rules – flamenco is an Andaluz thing. But this is an exception. It is also open to 5.30am, so stomp and clap your way into the dawn.
But try and get some sleep. You have a big day tomorrow…
Did I miss anything? Any favorite Lavapies haunts you want to share? Comments below most welcome!