Madrid, guaranteed to encounter a bar within a hop, skip and a jump.
If, like me, you’re lucky enough to call Madrid home, then you’ll already be aware that Madrid has more options on the bar front than you can shake a stick at. However, in a city that boasts more bars per square mile than any other European capital, the feeling of infinite options can actually become somewhat overwhelming. Fret not; I’ve done the hard work so that you can simply enjoy the tinto de verano and terraza culture, without being glued to a guidebook, or indeed your iPhone. Whilst this isn’t a definitive list, it’s a great starting point that encapsulates everything from swish, stylish cocktail bars with a view, to a slightly more rough and ready vibe that your bank balance will probably thank you for.
La Via Lactea
Make no mistake, our first recommendation is nothing short of a Madrid institution. La Via Lactea is downright infamous within the city, largely due to it being at the epicentre of the Movida Madrilena way back in the 80s. On this note, the décor has remained unchanged and as such, it’s managed to retain a certain faded charm. The regulars are a mixed bag thanks to the slightly alternative punk/rocky tunes and the presence of a large pool table where people tend to pose, rather than play. The drinks are cheap (at least if you steer clear of spirits), and on any given Saturday it’ll be packed to the rafters with happy hipsters. Not one to be missed if you like a bit of eye candy with your tipple of choice.
Spaniards are fiercely proud of their gastronomy, and rightly so. This is a nation that can boldly claim to have a plethora of well-deserved Michelin stars. However, not all of their cuisine is budget busting, and neither does it need to be consumed whilst sat down over white linen tablecloths. One of the most understated pleasures when it comes to the Spanish way of life is devouring an oozy slab of tortilla de patata, that’s chased down with an ice cold beer, preferably a Mahou in this city. Pez Tortilla has taken this simple concept and taken it up a notch. Their range of tortillas changes weekly (order the parmesan, basil and sundried tomato option, you won’t regret it) and the array of craft beers that are on offer are equally impressive. Get there early by Spanish standards, as post 8pm you have more chance of resisting the lure of a Zara sale, than jostling for a space at the bar.
Café de la Luz
Picture the cosiest, snuggest, most forgivingly well-lit living room (the kind that gives you an Instagram filter type glow) and you’ve envisaged Café de la Luz. Upon entering, it’s like stepping into someone’s casa and instantly feeling at home. The interior is the definition of shabby chic with a mix of well-worn sofas and cute little nooks; making it the perfect place to bunker down with a large glass of Rioja and a good book – should the weather be anything less than perfect. It doesn’t hurt that the staff are some of the friendliest folk in the city, who will always try to squeeze you in and offer up a free little snack while you wait for a spot. A hidden gem, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Gran Via (Madrid’s answer to Oxford street), Café de la Luz is the perfect post shopping pit stop, or the ideal place to warm up before painting the town red.
So gin and tonics are a thing these days right? Seemingly they’re up there with Hunter boots at a festival, and Raybans at the beach. Gone are the days where it’s acceptable to be served up a G&T with an insipid looking slice of lemon, in a glass that’s the size of a thimble. Gins are basically now a work of art, and there’s nowhere better to enjoy one than at Macera where they craft their own in-house version of this popular spirit. Resembling a Williamsberg-esque warehouse, all exposed brick and makeshift artwork, Macera has rapidly become a perennial favourite within the barrio of Malasana, and it’s the ideal spot to see and be seen. It doesn’t hurt that the gins served in giant Copa De Balons (that’s a huge glass filled with ice between you and me) come in at a measly 7 euros. At that price, it’d be rude not to indulge.
1862 Dry Bar
Bars in Spain, and particularly within the modern metropolis that is Madrid, can have a tendency to fall into one of two distinct camps; the ones with the unmistakeable glow of strip lighting and scattered napkins (often frequented by a more aging population) and those that serve drinks in a jam jar, you know the sort. This is what makes Dry Bar 1862 so unique: it can’t be shoehorned into either camp. A staggeringly chic cocktail bar that’s perched on the always-popular Calle Pez, it may look discreet from the roadside, but once inside, you could easily be transported into the prohibition-era bars that are more likely to be found stateside. The affable owner, Alberto is a fountain of knowledge on the cocktail front. In other words, what he doesn’t know about all things shaken and stirred isn’t worth knowing.
Ana La Santa
Being on holiday is always the perfect opportunity to splurge. You’ve escaped the humdrum of daily life and it’s time to live it up – even if it’s just for the weekend. Ana La Santa isn’t necessarily the kind of bar/restaurant that you’d be hanging out at day in, day out, but it’s definitely somewhere to escape reality and see how the other half live. Situated in what is one of the most beautiful plazas in all of Madrid, Ana La Santa is without doubt the chicest (and next best thing) that’s akin to a Gastropub from back home. Picture a roaring fire (during the winter of course), squidgy sofas, easy on the eye staff and the kind of simple style that is more often found in Scandi-land and you’d be on the right page.
Toque de Sal
Calle Ponzano is currently enjoying quite the resurgence. Once uber popular, both locals and tourists began to neglect its appeal in favour of the La Latina neighbourhood. However, it’s back – the Spanish have even gone as far as to create a verb to describe drinking on the renowned street, ‘ponzaning’. It’s a rambling road that stretches as far as the eye can see, and it positively groans with bars that are scattered its entire length. It’s nigh on impossible to select just one option from such generous offerings as they’re all tempting in their own individual ways. But Toque de Sal is always a pleasure and never a chore to visit. With its glamorous Art Deco interior that heralds back to yesteryear, coupled with its intimate dining room tucked away at the back, it’s the ideal place to enjoy a couple of pre-dinner drinks or just stay right through and be rolled home post desert.
A pretty bar, frequented by prettier peeps.
Anticafe is tucked away in a part of the city where the danger of falling into a tourist trap is always present. This is what makes Anticafe, for want of a better expression, such a diamond in the rough. Settled on a side street, close to the Sol and Plaza Major, this little watering hole comes alive after siesta time and is always full to the brim with locals who’ve made the pilgrimage from hipper neighbourhoods such as Malasana or Lavapies. Often boasting live DJs, Anticafe is a cheap and cheerful place to enjoy the occasional lock in when the pull of a bar is stronger than your bed. It’s not difficult to while away hours here on a tenner. Never a bad thing when you’ve blown the budget at Ana La Santa the previous evening.
Where to begin with the Madrid classic that is El Palentino? In some circles it’s not just considered a bar in Madrid, it is THE Madrid bar. In terms of city landmarks, it’s almost as iconic as the Puerta de Alcala but with none of the tourists. There’s no disputing that it is a dive bar, albeit an extremely authentic Spanish one that’s been woven right into the community where it’s cocooned. There are no bells and whistles on show here, just fluorescent strip lights and a metal topped bar that’s been there since time began. But look a little closer and you get the sense that it captures the spirit of the city – joyful, fun loving and with a complete lack of pretention. Word has it that the prices haven’t changed since Spain joined the Euro, so to say that it’s cheap would be a slight understatement. The atmosphere is always buzzing and no trip to Madrid would be complete without you darkening its door.
Another classic Madrid spot which is perhaps as timeless as the little black dress – if a clothing comparison were to be made. Enjoying a cold glass of vermouth at midday is undoubtedly one of Madrid’s most deeply rooted traditions, but this drinks renewed popularity owes a lot to Casa Camacho, which is located smack bang in the heart of Malasana. Each month this dinky little bar serves up roughly 2,500 litres of the stuff – however it becomes a very potent mix and certainly not for the faint hearted when it’s mixed with gin and soda, as it often is here. This unique potion is a cocktail popularised during the 1980s with the older locals, which explains its name, yayo, a Spanish slang term for grandfather. Drink them freely at your peril. Sink more than a couple and you’ll soon be reaching for the Ibuprofen quicker than you can say Ole!
Mercado de San Fernando
Madrilenos love a market. They’ve become as synonymous in the city as the locals passion for beautiful game. In recent years, they’ve essentially become the byword for somewhere to eat, drink and be merry in one easy hit. To this end, the city now has a whole host of Mercado’s, with each one differing thanks to its own unique selling point. But if you’re on the hunt for something slightly off the beaten track with a generous helping of local pizazz, Mercado de San Fernando is the market for you. It’s not gentrified, it’s not glamorous and it’s not glossy. What it is though is bustling, authentic and real. Every Sunday, the folk of Madrid pour in and enjoy the simple things in life. Choose between an artisan beer from La Buena Pinta (the amount of choice on show is staggering) or a crisp glass of Albarino to kick start your Sunday session. Worth a mention is the opportunity to people watch. Young and old, the hip and the just plain hippies, drink side by side and to create a buzz that cannot be imitated.
Circulo de Bellas Artes
Put your hand up if you love a rooftop. Put your other hand if you love a rooftop with jaw dropping views. Here at Hostelworld we never say no to a glass of something fizzy from up on high and without doubt, Bellas Artes wins the accolade for the best rooftop in the city. No it’s not going to be the most purse friendly glass of cava that you’ll ever enjoy, but every sip is worth it for the stunning views across the terracotta roofs of Madrid. The vibe is slightly reminiscent of a beach bar that you’re more likely to find in Ibiza, yet it’s all housed in one of the most historical buildings in the Madrid. The emphasis of your trip here may largely be spent perfecting your best selfie shot, but it’s laid back luxe at its best and a vital to-do when it comes to bar hopping in the city that rarely sleeps.
Up on the roof.
Madrid (as you may be starting to pick up on) is choc-a-bloc with cute looking bars, so much so that the myriad of options can prove to be almost paralysing, especially in the era of FOMO. However, should you find yourself strolling around the vintage shops that pepper Calle Verlade, Verbena is the perfect choice, not a case of style over substance, Verbena is the ideal mid-shopping spot for some rest bite or a place to pause when it comes to tapas time. Verbena is the equivalent of a trusty pair of jeans – a comfy option that requires minimal effort. It’s also no bad thing that a round of drinks here costs about as much as a sarnie back in Blighty.
Next up is a venue that requires you to really push the boat out. Arts Club is the kind of place where you could quite easily blow your rent money and spend the remainder of your month existing on noodles and wondering how you’re going to pay the gas bill. But… if you’re looking for a one off treat and an evening of high-octane glamour then this is just the ticket. It is glam. We are talking full on ‘feels like you’re in Sex and the City’ glam – which is a rare find in a city that prides itself on a lack of pretentiousness. It’s the kind of place where you need to splash out on that cocktail, pop on your glad rags and spend some time with the pretty peeps of Madrid. If you skip out on cocktails and opt to split a bottle of vino with a pal, the price tag shouldn’t be too eye watering, but make no mistake, this is basically the antithesis of a night down your local.
La Playa de Lavapies
If you’re a lover of Indian food then Lavapies is a non-negotiable during your visit to Madrid. Much like Brick Lane in London, Lavapies is frequently referred to as one of, if not, the most multicultural of all the Madrid neighbourhoods and it’s probably true. The varied tapestry of its residents is reflected in the diversity of its bars, but La Playa de Lavapies has remained a favourite with the locals whilst many others have tried and failed. As packed and rowdy on a Sunday afternoon as it is on a Friday night, it captures the feeling that permeates the city, the unabashed love of a good time, regardless of whether you need to set that 7am alarm for the following day. As Lavapies still remains what estate agents call ‘up and coming’ prices are pleasingly low meaning that even the most budget conscious traveller can enjoy the good life south of Gran Via.