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“Madrid me mata”, an unsettling slogan adopted during the city’s 1980s countercultural movement, refers to the crazy and somewhat self-destructive nature of life in the Spanish capital.  Step onto the streets around 3-4 a.m. on any given day, and it’s clear that over three decades later Madrid continues to have its wicked way with tourists and residents alike.

The problem with a translation of this motto into English is that “Madrid is killing me” fails to capture the paradoxical relationship between the city and the decline of man.  Madrid is a city of contradictions: it’s beautiful yet run-down; it’s steeped in tradition yet impressively innovative; it’s incredibly laid-back yet mercilessly fast-paced.

Death by Madrid is not a painful or undesirable experience.  Rather than a swift assassination, it is a passion crime leading from a volatile romance that leaves you exhausted, excited, and at all costs wanting more.  Without any further ado, here’s our love letter to the city:

TO STAY

Hotel Room Mate Óscar“Do you want to sleep with me?” asks Hotel Room Mate Óscar in large white laters plastered above it’s entrance in the heart of Chueca.  With minimalist rooms and one of the most popular rooftop terrace bars in Madrid complete with an all-day all-night pool; I’d take Oscar up on that offer if I were you.  Rooms from €86.

Eric Vokel Boutique ApartmentsFirst Barcelona and now Madrid, Copenhagen born architect Eric Vokel is working his magic across Spain, designing suites that match Nordic elegance with affordable prices.  If you’re stopping by Madrid for more than a weekend, check into one of these self-catering rooms in the heart of Malasaña and get exploring.  Suites from €105.

Pratik Metropol“For those who know how to travel” – a clean and minimalist design hotel housed within a majestic marble and pale stone building on the iconic Gran Vía.  Who said you can’t do boutique on a budget?  Rooms from €50.

TO EAT

Mama FramboiseA slice of Paris in the middle of Madrid, Mama’s is normally packed, but if you’re lucky enough to nab a window seat on one of the antique armchairs, there can be no better start to your day.  Artisan coffee is served in mismatched, oversized cups; the perfect accompaniment to a morning spent trawling the daily press.   For those without a sweet tooth (we challenge you not to be tempted by the rows of macaroons, tarts, and puff pastries), a delectable savoury crêpe menu should fit the bill nicely.

Martinez Gin BarGin bar my name; brunch hotspot by beautiful coincidence.  Martinez is all about bagels at the weekends and their NYC brunch at just €9.50 includes an impressive selection of fillings for New York’s favourite carbohydrate, from salmon and cream cheese, to salmorejo and prosciutto ham.  Each choice comes accompanied with a tea or coffee, a fresh orange juice, and a slice of cake.

MaricastañaBrunch here entails the single most sensational selection of food and all for only €15: fresh baked bread drizzled with olive oil and Spanish tomatoes; Serrano ham accompanied with slices of brie and cranberry sauce; perfectly scrambled eggs with a side of crispy bacon; a pot of natural yoghurt with chopped fresh fruit; a fresh orange juice; a soy milk latte and the all important Bloody Mary shot.

LUNCH

Olivia te cuidaOlivia looks after you very well indeed.  This newly opened local is laid out like a home kitchen, with customers sitting side-by-side at large vintage tables to enjoy wholesome and completely delicious eco-food.  For just €9, you can choose three courses from a menu divided into salads, grains, vegetables and meats.  My favourite combination begins with a salad of spinach, courgette, bean sprouts, figs and pumpkin seats; followed by roasted aubergine, pomegranate seeds, goat’s cheese, artichoke leaves and pine nuts and finishes with soy-glazed free-range chicken and shitake mushrooms.  The dream.

MothaMotha’s friendly staff and their homemade lemonade make this lunchtime local stand out from the rest. The pastrami bagel and veggie burger are both fail-safe options or if you’re looking for something a little lighter, rest assured that the salmorejo and patatas bravas are some of the best in the city.

HarinaHarina’s bright, light and open-plan interior will catch your eye even before the sandwiches do. In a country where the hours between 2-4pm are considered sacred, it’s near impossible to find lunch on the go.  Harina is an exception, serving delicious homemade empanadas, tortillas, quiches and baguettes that can be taken away and enjoyed in nearby Retiro Park.

DINNER

Zombie BarMenus in Madrid cater to the carnivore, and burger is the word at Zombie Bar; the best burger in town, I might add.  On Calle Pez, Zombie is more than aware of its trendy location, and in fact relishes in kitsch with a life size statue of Ronald McDonald, comic book menus and drinks served in jam jars.  The Mexican burger smothered in guacamole and the goat’s cheese/caramelised onion creations both disserve a shout-out.  Be sure to leave room for a brownie.

PanamericanaIt seems the penchant for Peruvian food has stretched further than London.  This tiny local is easily missed but once found, unforgettable.  Fresher than fresh ceviche, Bloody Mary langoustine and Mayan pork are served up by an all-Peruvian staff  -some of the most attentive around.   Become a regular and you’ll be treated to complementary Pisco Sours.

ClaritaClarita’s understated urban décor draws crowds of young creatives to its tables night after night.  The menu isn’t the cheapest in the city, but keep an eye out online as offers often appear on Groupon and the Spanish equivalent, El Tenedor.  For just €25, I managed to bag a 3-course meal for two that included Vietnamese rolls, barbecued octopus, crème brûlée and a bottle of Rioja.

Tapas

Although the neighbourhood of La Latina is traditionally famous for Spain’s favourite nibbles, Los Olvidados is the starting point for Malasana’s newly established tapas crawl; cheaper, less touristy and arguably more tasty than the original.  For €1, pick up a beer (caña), a mini hamburger and a map to plot your route around the narrow streets.  Viatnamese spring rolls, salmorejo and croquettes are likely to be on the agenda.

TO DO

Walk Around Lavapiés

Lavapiés is Madrid’s most colourful neighbourhood and is full of and surprises in every corner: shops that sell everything from vintage clothing to Turkish rugs or extravagant spices; walls covered in street art; cultural centres and squares that are never empty, even for a second.  The rise in immigration in this area in the last few decades has made the place an incredible melting pot of cultures and strolling through the streets, enjoying the charm of neighbourhood’s diversity, before stopping for a coffee and cheesecake in La Casa Encendida café is the ideal plan for any weekend.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Often overlooked by tourists itching to get to Goya in El Prado or Picasso in La Reina Sofia, The Thyssen, once the largest private art collection in the world, is well worth a visit.  With impressive modern works by Klee, Kadinsky and Salvador Dali and the current Pissarro exhibition around until September 15th, be sure to make a stop at the lesser known of Madrid’s so-called ‘Golden Triangle.’

Matadero

On the banks of the River Manzanares, Matadero is a huge all-singing, all-dancing cultural space that mixes cinema, music, readings, workshops, dance, art exhibitions and theatre.  The Madrid Fringe began last year as is around until the end of the month so look out for out guide later in the week.  Their terrace café is an extension of Olivia te cuida, and there’s even a seed nursery where you can exchange and salvage any seeds that are becoming endangered; a forward-thinking green initiative from a former slaughterhouse.

Escape from the city…

Madrid is bang in the middle of Spain, making it an ideal starting point for day trips around the region.  Toldeo and The Palace of El Escorial are impressive, but my personal favourite is Segovia with its Roman aqueduct and delicious food against the backdrop of rolling hills.

TO DRINK

Kikekeller

Furniture shop by day, speakeasy bar by night; Kikekeller is place to be on a Saturday night.  With urban décor, mismatched wallpaper and quirky artwork lining the walls, this hotspot is the embodiment of young, Malasaña cool.  Their cocktail menu is extensive, and any bar that serves up platters of freshly picked cherries instead of Bombay mix can most definitely be my friend.

The Patio

The latest instalment from pop-up agency, Better es Mejor, The Patio is the ideal spot for a post-work drink with friends; lounge on one of the brightly coloured chairs and share company with the coolest young Madrileños around.  Be sure to order a sandwich from the menu specially created by Magasand – the magazine library/café that stocks emerging international publications (SUITCASE included, of course).  Cocktails are courtesy of a collaboration with El Viajero, La Latina’s favourite rooftoop bar that has acquired a near-mythical status.

La Venencia

I would never, ever have though myself a Sherry drinker, but this small, dusty near Sol has proven otherwise and I’ll now be keeping Granny company at Christmas.  La Venencia only serve five types of Sherries, sold by the glass or bottle at very cheap prices, and a small selection of tapas.  The olives are the best in town, and the owners’ pet black cat lounges around at all hours on top of the old wooden bar.

El jardin secreto

This unique place is decorated like something in between a fairytale and an exotic garden.  I’m not crazy about the food here, but the cocktails are great and it’s worth a stop by just to soak up the unique and magical atmosphere.

The Passenger

Decked out like a luxury train from a by-gone era with dark wood, polished brass and ‘windows’ (screens filled with flashing scenery beside wooden booths), The Passenger is truly a unique experience.  A coffee bar by day and bar by night, the restaurant serves up masterful brews by

Toma Café  (the best coffee in the city), and then switches to cocktails fuelled by jazz at night.

TO DANCE

Sirocco

Nightlife in Madrid is nowhere near as diverse as in its cosmopolitan rival, Barcelona, but Siroco is probably the most eclectic of all of Madrid’s clubs, playing everything from reggae to acid jazz, deep house to funk and hip hop.  The owners maintain a strong commitment to local music, making it an ideal venue for emerging Spanish artists.

Tupperware

Tupperware – the Spanish genuinely love the stuff.  At lunch time in any university, office or public place, you can’t move for people cracking open their sealed plastic boxes for a snack.  The same level of fanaticism applies to this bar-come-club that is always packed and plays an assorted selection of music in an outrageously kitsch setting.

El Junco

Calle Huertas is famous for jazz bars, but its reputation means that most of them are packed come midnight at a weekend.  Head to Junco in Alonso Martínez instead for a dose of smooth jazz and cocktails.  Stick around long enough after the band leaves and the music takes a turn for swing and eventually hip hop.

TO SHOP

Callejón de Jorge Juan

Branching off from Calle Jorge Juan is an annexe of small fashion boutiques housed in the ground floor units of refurbished 19th Century stately buildings.  Combining the urban chic of Paris plus the bohemian feel of Madrid, this enchanting nook mixes exclusive brands such as Isabel Marant and Pedro García.

Sin Clon Ni Son

This hidden gem clings to the corner of Plaza Dos de Mayo in Malasaña and is a multi-brand boutique that stocks hand-selected pieces from Spanish, Swedish and British brands.  The shop layout on two floors with a a mezzanine and items clinging to the walls is inviting enough for you to pass an hour or two here.

Calle Velarde

On this Malasaña street you’ll find 6-7 vintage shops to keep you occupied for an afternoon in the neighbourhood.  My personal favourites are Magpie, which manages to put some method to the madness of second-hand shopping and La Mona Checa for its quirky exterior.

HOW TO GET AROUND

The centre of Madrid is small, and most places can be reached with a 20-30 minute walk.

The Metro is cheap too – a 10 journey pass costs €12 – but be wary of pickpockets as they are rife in Madrid.

Words by Kate HamiltonFeature image by shutterstock

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1 Comment

  • Tony Carne13 hours ago

    Great local list here. Looks like Los Olvidados is closed however. 🙁

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