Nightlife in the Spanish capital is the stuff of legend – this place really knows how to live, and drink. As Ernest Hemingway wrote of the city in the 1930s: ‘Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.
Café Comercial proudly fights progress with leather seats, abundant marble and old-style waiters. Dating back to 1887, it is the largest of the Justicia Horario barrio’s old cafés and has changed little since then, although the clientele now includes just about anyone, from writers on their laptops to old men playing chess (00 34 91 521 56 55; Glorieta de Bilbao 7; beers from £1.70).
Cervecería Alemana is renowned for its cold, frothy beers and a wider selection of Spanish beers than is the norm. It’s fine inside, but snaffle a table outside in the plaza on a summer evening and you won’t be giving it up without a fight. This was one of Hemingway’s haunts, and neither the wood-lined bar nor the bow-tied waiters have changed much since his day (00 34 91 429 70 33; Plaza de Santa Ana 6; beers from £2.20).
The founder landmark Madrid bar Museo Chicote is said to have invented more than a hundred cocktails, which the likes of Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra enjoyed at one time or another. It’s still frequented by film stars and top socialites, and is at its best after midnight, when a lounge atmosphere takes over, and some of the city’s best DJs do their stuff (Gran Vía 12; closed Sun, various days in summer; cocktails from £8).
Gaudeamus Café is something else. Light, fresh décor, with Pop Art-style posters of Audrey Hepburn and James Bond, a large terrace with rooftop views, and the stunning backdrop of a ruined church, where the café sits. It’s almost incidental that it also serves great drinks and snacks. The terrace gets busy on summer evenings (4th fl, Calle del Tribulete 14; closed Sun; beers from £1.80).
We could go on for hours about long-standing Delic, but we’ll reduce it to its most basic elements: nursing an exceptional mojito or three on a balmy evening at its outdoor tables on one of Madrid’s prettiest plazas is one of life’s pleasures. Due to local licensing laws, the outdoor tables close two hours before the bar itself, whereafter the intimate interior is almost as good (Costanilla de San Andrés 14; mojitos £6.30).
Situated on the top floor of the ME Madrid hotel and high above the Plaza de Santa Ana, sybaritic The Roof offers some terrific views overlooking the rooftops of the city. It’s a place for sophisticates where non-guests are also welcome, with bedded chill-out areas and a classy but lounge-y vibe (Plaza de Santa Ana 14; open daily May–Sep, then selected days; cocktails from £8).
One of the most atmospheric tabernas of Madrid, Casa Alberto has been around since 1827. The secrets to its staying power are vermouth (vermut) on tap, excellent tapas without the frilly innovations that have come to characterise the cuisine, and fine sit-down meals (Calle de las Huertas 18; closed Mon, Sun in summer; glasses of vermouth from £1.60).
You could come for the tapas, but we recommend Taberna Tempranillo for its huge wine selection, with many sold by the glass. It’s not a late-night place, but it’s always packed in the early evening and on Sunday afternoons. Its fluted columns and floor-to-ceiling wine rack add a traditional charm (00 34 91 364 15 32; Calle de la Cava Baja 38; glasses of wine from £2.60)
La Venencia is exactly how sherry bars should be: old world, drinks poured straight from the dusty wooden barrels, and none of the frenetic activity for which the barrio of Huertas is famous. La Venencia is a neighbourhood classic, with fine sherry from Sanlúcar and manzanilla from Jeréz, accompanied by a small selection of Andalucían-style tapas (00 34 91 429 73 13; Calle de Echegaray 7; glasses of sherry from £2.90).
Where to stay
Flat 5 Madrid has a fresh, clean-lined look with bright colours, flatscreen TVs, free wi-fi and flower boxes on the window sills. It’s located in the Chueca neighbourhood (Calle de San Bernardo 55; from £55).
Hotel Quatro Puerta del Sol is all minimalist design, with a red, white and black colour scheme, tall ceilings and huge windows that let the sunlight flood in. Some of the rooms have their own terraces (Calle de Sevilla 4; from £100).
Hotel Ritz is the grand old lady of Madrid. Situated in one of the city’s most lavish buildings, close to the Buen Retiro park, its classic style and impeccable service are second to none. Not surprisingly, it’s the hotel of choice for kings, presidents and celebrities, and rooms are priced accordingly (Plaza de la Lealtad 5; from £200).
Madrid-Barajas airport is around 10 miles northeast of the city, and is served by Air Europa, BA, easyJet, Iberia and Ryanair from airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol (from £80). The Abono Transportes Turísticos pass allows unlimited travel on public transport, including the Metro, bus and regional trains (two-day passes £10). If using taxis, make sure that the meter is running before you set off.
The article 'Mini guide to Madrid’s nightlife' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.