Whether you just arrived in Madrid or have been living here for years, whether you’re a generational Madrileño or an ex-pat, you need to know the secret spots of the capital for drinking, eating, and everything in between. And since every Madrid-lover fiercely guards his list, I figured I’d give you a break and let you in on some of my secrets.
While Madrid boasts some of the highest number of bars per capita in the world, there are only a few that have been worth my while – though to be fair, I have yet to discover even a fraction of the entire offering. The few that I love include the “reggae” bar in Lavapiés, where the bartender hailing from Guinea-Bissau makes the best and cheapest “mojitos de amor.” Another favorite of mine is special, not for its drinks, but for its blatant neglect to market itself and the most sympathetic bartender shaking my drinks. The bar in Conde Duque literally has no name (hint: ask for the bar without a name).
For coffee, I spend my weekends curing a resaca with a cappuccino and the daily pastry special at my dear friend Rosa’s shop, although I usually eat more than I drink. Hidden in a tiny space at one of Madrid’s most famous plazas in Malasaña, everything at Rosa’s is made with more than just a bit of love – are you feeling the trend here?
One great and frankly unsurprising aspect of Madrid is that it contains a plethora of Mexican and Chinese food. For simple, authentic, and hella cheap dumplings and the likes, I frequent the hole-in-the-wall underneath Plaza de España. Follow the smell and feel as if you’re transported to China when you dip beneath the streets and are suddenly surrounded by a Chinese travel agency, restaurant, and supermarket.
Like I said, there is a chili-load of Mexican restaurants in this city. My favorites include Maria Bonita Taco Bar in Conde Duque because it’s just so damn perfectly sized and has a very generous owner. Try La Catrina in Malasaña not just for its delicious food, but delightfully macabre decorations and always great music.
- Free spaces
With all that money you’re spending on drinking and eating, you won’t have much left to enjoy any other kind of cultivating activities. I know I don’t. That’s exactly why I appreciate all the free and nearly free spaces Madrid has to offer. La Tabacalera in Embajadores and Patio Maravillas in Malasaña are just a few of the many “occupied” spaces that offer not only cheap food and drinks, but great parties, art, concerts, and lessons of all types, from dance to cooking. I also love Espiritu 23 in Malasaña, a building that has less partying and more productive efforts carried out in its interiors, like Paz Yoga Madrid, and even space you can rent out to teach and interact with others. Though you pay for classes and rooms, they are well worth the small fees and you can simultaneously support the local economy. And don’t forget to check out the number of art houses like Matadero Madrid or La Casa Encendida, as well as the many foundations which display some of the world’s most amazing collections for free (my favorite is the Caixa Forum).
Madrid is a city to see from the sky, or as close to it as you can get. While I recommend finding access to your building’s rooftop and enjoying the view, or lack thereof, from the intimacy of your own home, there are many places in the capital where you can make up for not having one of your own, even if you have to pay a bit for the lift. The Corte Ingles’ mercado-style roof-top, the Gourmet Experience, is a new vantage point in the middle of the city. Climb up the escalators of the Callao store and you’ll find yourself in the midst of Gran Via’s clouds amongst delicious food and drinks. For a more humble undertaking, I usually go to Casa Granada, a clandestine roof-top bar in an unassuming residential building in Tirso de Molina. Spanish, cheap, with people comfortably caged in like pigeons, this bar is a great place to drink a caña while admiring the sunsets the city has to offer.
And finally, the ubiquitous Spanish appetizer. While one can find a great tapa nearly anywhere in the city, or spend weeks, even months discovering the best tapa, there is a way to do both.
De Tapas por Madrid is an annual tapas tour that lasts ten whole days. Last May’s tour included over 100 bars and restaurants, where you could try a caña and a special tapa for 2,40€. There were maps available that covered four main areas, which consisted of the many unique central neighborhoods of Madrid. Speaking of the unique barrios; they also hold their own tapas festivals. Lavapiés, for example, puts on my favorite every October, called TapaPies, where you can dine on tasty snacks from all over the world for only 2€ for a tapa and caña.In order to enjoy all the city has to offer and experience all these gems,there are cheap flights to Madrid everyday!