A walk down the bars of Madrid
A few years ago, around the mid eighties, a group of friends and I went on a mission to identify the bars of Madrid which retained a special soul and authenticity. It was almost an archaeological effort, as the growth of the city and the explosion of modernism during the sixties and seventies caused many of the traditional bars and old taverns in Madrid to be abandoned, converted into hipper establishments or, worse of all, close.
Several of the Madrid bars we included in our list at the time are still in business today even though some of them have undergone significant changes. One of my favorites is La Taberna de Angel Sierra located in la Plaza de Chueca, at Calle Gravina 11. This establishment has withstood the test of time with its extraordinary zinc counter-bar and its old wooden panels. It is a shame that its taps no longer pour the typical Madrid beer Mahou, but Cruzcampo beer from Seville, also not served in the traditional caÃ±a glasses (small glass, of about 10 fluid ounces) from Madrid. Nevertheless, it remains one of my favorites. When you visit always go with the beer and a skewer of tuna with anchovies.
Like most people in my generation, I love beer over wine, so my second recommendation is also an excellent Madrid bar/beerhouse in the Plaza de Jesus 4, at the corner of Lope de Vega Street, near the Prado Museum and the Botanical Gardens. I am talking about La Dolores, a cheerful antique, MadrileÃ±o brewery which still serves authentic Mahou beer excellently drafted. Rounds of beers should be accompanied with good Boquerones en vinagre (pickled white anchovies) and fries. After a few rounds at La Dolores take Calle Huertas and head to Casa Alberto, Calle Huertas 18. One of the oldest taverns in Madrid, founded in 1827, this bar still retains all its charm even after undergoing some renovations, its counter made out of wood and zinc, is a jewel, and the bar itself serves some of the best callos (tripe) in Madrid.
Continue the tour of Madrid bars on to Calle de Echegaray 7 where you will find La Venencia, a sherry bar with a distinct personality. The bartenders pride themselves on being the most unfriendly of all bartenders in Madrid, and I can attest to that. I must warn you that for a fact bartenders in Madrid bars are for the most part very unfriendly and one must learn to live with it! It is only when you join the ranks as a regular that they will greet and serve you with some level of kindness. All that being said this charming establishment should not be overlooked.
Speaking of rude bartenders, I must mention another classic establishment El Cangrejero on Calle Amaniel 25, located close to where the original Mahou factory used to be. The draft beer here, this time Mahou, is excellent, but for many years there would be no customary tapas served along with your drink and if the client did not order any expensive appetizers (shrimp or similar), the treatment was terrible. This establishment is worth visiting if anything to experience what I am talking about.
La Taberna de Antonio Sanchez, a legendary tavern frequented by bullfighting fans, is another favorite destination. It is still in business in the Calle Meson de Paredes 13 between Tirso de Molina and LavapiÃ©s, but it has become more of a bar-museum, with no ambiance and mostly frequented by tourists. There have been other instances of unfortunate transformations, such as that of one of the most famous breweries in Madrid, RiaÃ±o, the true alma mater of the art of pouring Mahou beer. After being closed for a few years it reopened its doors. Even though they managed to keep some of the old charm of the place unfortunately they no longer serve Mahou beer, only Cruzcampo, and management of the bar is atrocious.
It is better to direct your footsteps to ChamberÃ and visit La Nueva, located on the corner of the Calle Arapiles and Calle Magallanes. Ricardo a friendly bartender who told us stories of the people from his small town is no longer there, but the bar is remain as it was, with its elegant bar and wood paneling covering much of the walls. You can sample a tasty chistorra (a type of sausage from the Basque country made out of minced pork or a mixture of mince pork and beef).
Another find is La Ardosa on Calle Colon 13 close to the Gran Via, an example of a bar that has adapted with the times and offers one of the best selections of beer in Madrid and excellent tapas, make sure to try the salmorejo (a creamy soup consisting of tomato and bread).
I highly recommend a visit to the restaurant Madrid bar Casa Paco in Plaza de Puerta Cerrada 11, make sure to order wine, a traditional glass of ValdepeÃ±as. It will be hard to resist, particularly if it is lunch or dinner time, to enter the dining room and to savor their delicious callos (tripe) or mouthwatering steaks. It is a favorite among my American friends. Does not surprise me one bit!
Not far from Casa Paco in Calle Toledo 106, near the door of the same name Puerta de Toledo and close to the legendary stadium Vicente Calderon where the Atletico Madrid makes its fans suffer and rejoice, me being one of them! You must try some snails at el bar De los Caracoles. In my opinion this old tavern underwent an atrocious renovation which totally depersonalized it but they still serve some of the best snails in Madrid. Nearby, in Calle Calatrava 11 you will find La Taberna de Dani, a historic and intimate wine bar that preserves even today much of its charm and where they still serve an excellent cecina (air cured and salty meat) and outstanding jamon (ham).
Speaking of cold cuts I cannot fail to mention Casa Emilio, a tavern with a beautiful tile facade that serves a delicious spicy chorizo de LeÃ³n. It is in the Calle Lopez de Hoyos 98 near the corner of Calle Cartagena, in the neighborhood of Prosperidad.
And here ends, folks, this nostalgic walk through the Madrid bars and taverns that I frequented at the time and still do today, where I cultivated the beloved sport of friendship together with good glasses of beer. If you visit one of them drink a beer to my health....
Do you have a great story about bars in Madrid? Share it!
Do you have a great story about bars in Madrid? Share it!