Perhaps the greatest dilemma facing a travel writer today is the question of whether or not to give up a truly well kept secret. It’s a tough one. Sure, while we want to share the love and rave about all kinds of great little places – hidden cafes, underground bars, and rooftop clubs that the ordinary Joe would never dream of finding – in doing so, we are essentially ruining what we love so much (it’s a secret!). We’re opening the door to a wave of invaders to come spoil all of the fun.
That being said, sometimes it just feels good to let others in on a few of the places that can make a city truly special.
Of all the cities, in all of the countries, Madrid has more than it’s fair share of incredible bars, restaurants, and cafe’s. Consider for a moment that Madrid is perhaps the most vivacious city in the world – a city where dinner starts late and is less of a sit-down-meal and more of a moveable feast of tapas with a procession of sips and drinks into the morning hours.
It should then come as no surprise when I lay out a list of great places to visit in Madrid and they all revolve around food and drink. While at first glance this list may look a bit basic: a mere dive bar, rooftop restaurant, and university library, when you look a bit closer you’ll notice each is located in a different suburb or barrio of the city. Each location takes you to a well known area of the city and showcases something important. (Perhaps even uncovering something you didn’t know existed)
The true test of any guide’s recommendation can be measured once you’ve finished. When it’s all said and done, what is your understanding of the city? Did you visit different segments of the city, see different types of people, living at varying socio-economic levels?
The point is this – any city will tend to look the same through a guise of dimly lit restaurants and resort hotel rooms. Istanbul, New York, and Buenos Aires are all big cities which feel the same inside a Ritz (one imagines because one has not stayed at Le Ritz) but take a stroll and follow a well designed guide, and you´re sure to come away experiencing a kaleidoscope of colors, sights, and cultures, through a unique lens which only that city can offer.
To experience a bit of everything in Madrid you should try and seek out these 5 spots:
1.) El Palentino
A true madrileño dive bar – on the weekend this bar is packed as the smoky smell of bacon and thin steaks on the grill fills the bar and mixes with the raucous laughter and clinking of glasses for a brindis or cheers. Here, elderly bar men quickly pour the incredibly cheap classics like gin & tonic and rum & coke for 3€ to the delight of all.
El Palentino. Calle Pez, 12, 28004 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Noviciado.
2.) Bar Pontepez
Pontepez is set just around the corner from the Palentino and is a warm and welcoming little hole-in-the-wall bar. There’s a loyal hoard of customers who pile in again and again for the small plates of spanish fare with a clever twist. The vibe here is one you won’t find anywhere else – it’s almost as if a gastro bar and a dive bar had a baby – with dishes like potatoes, mushrooms, and a fried egg with truffle oil or the crunchy chicken: a plate of chicken slices soaked in coconut milk, curry powder, and then covered in Corn Flakes and fried up. Come by on a weekend for a good time – the food is unique and whipped up by the grunting chef in the back while the bartender smiles and cranks up the eclectic music.
Bar Pontepez. Calle Pez, 8 28004 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Noviciado.
3.) Bar Pittu
Set in the upscale and shopper’s-dream suburb called Salamanca (not to be confused with the famous town two hours from Madrid), this bar has an elegant bar feel straight from the north of Spain. The speciality is their basque pintxos or small tapas of bread with brillant toppings like: smoked salmon, cream, and blackberries, or a skewer of grilled mushroom, caramalized onions, and cripsy jamón ibérico.
Bar Pittu. Calle de Claudio Coello, 30 28001 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Serrrano.
4.) Gau & Cafe
Maybe Madrid’s best kept secret, this hip terrace bar and restaurant sits on top of the local university library and is plopped right in the middle of the lively, bohemian barrio of Lavapiés. Look for the ruins of the escuela pías and you’ll find it has been converted into a sophisticated library and bookstore (the restaurant is on the top floor).
Gau & Cafe. Calle Tributelete, 14 4ª planta 28012 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Lavapiés.
5.) Mercado San Antón
Ok this one’s no secret at all! Madrid boasts two world class markets, the Mercado de San Antón and the Mercado de San Miguel which showcase some of the cities incredible food, produce, desserts, olive oils, and wines. While you should peak into both, visiting the San Antón market will mean you’ve strolled the lively district of Chueca – the cities gay neighborhood and home to some of the best bars and restaurants. The market has three floors – the first is a standard market, the second a bevy of restaurants and wine bars, and on the top floor you’ll find the luxurious open air terrace, perfect for a drink in the sun.
Mercado de San Antón. Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24 28004 Madrid, Spain. Near metro Chueca.