by Emily Millett
Populated by a dynamically passionate and exuberant people who never seem to need an excuse to indulge in recreational hedonism, Madrid is varied and rewarding when it comes to pursuits of decadence. Eating delicious tapas, drinking fine wines and general flamboyant merrymaking are all encouraged and happily facilitated at the multitude of bars and restaurants found in the city.
Although Madrid’s historical fame as capital of culture is still evident in the elegance of the architecture and richness of the art collections, the city’s sophisticated side also makes way for a wave of raw creativity and a burgeoning reputation as an urban hub of contemporary arts.
All of these elements rub off on each other to create an electrically charged city, fizzing away with an energy and vibrancy that complements authentic local tradition. Here are a handful of local artistic, gastronomic and entertainment treasures that will test the limits of your senses in Madrid.
Every so often you stumble upon a place that makes you want time to stand still so you can take in every sight, sound and smell on offer. Gaudeamus (or GauCafe as it is also referred to by locals) has that effect. Gaudeamus is perched atop a partially renovated ruined cathedral, and the seating terrace overlooks the terracotta-tiled rooftops of Madrid’s lively Lavapiés district. By day umbrellas shade diners from the sun, but the best time to visit is at dusk, when it's getting dark and the candles are lit. The food is as tasty as the menu is varied, but try the couscous salads or traditional Spanish eggs with ham.
It takes a couple of seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dim lighting inside the empty gray concrete hall of La Tabacalera. While the surroundings don’t instantly instill confidence as a gallery, it is that very refined and austere nakedness that makes the space so poignantly moody, full of character and perfect for the loaded contemporary exhibitions that are curated here. Originally a tobacco factory, the building was abandoned and left derelict before being turned into the self-managed social center for arts and culture that it is today. Even if the plethora of diverse art, music and collaborative community events held here don’t tickle your fancy, the building alone—in all its crumbling glory—is worth a visit.
Charlotta—the bubbly owner of Lotta Vintage—puts her vintage spotting talents to good use, whittling her shop’s collection down to the crème de la crème of timeless style. Although wildly popular among Madrid’s fashion professionals, who browse the store for stand-out designer pieces, Lotta Vintage’s humble little storefront on Calle Hernan Cortes is easy to miss. If in doubt, keep your eyes peeled for the cute little canine guard dog watching the door.
Mercado De San Anton
The concept for Mercado De San Anton is very smart: think boutique food market, but replace the maze of outdoor stalls with an indoor, multilevel arrangement where each vendor has a dedicated space organized according to their epicurean offering. The market is a food enthusiast's haven with rich smells and sights of chorizo, fresh fish, Spanish village cheeses and homemade breads. And the cherry on the proverbial cake of gastronomic delights? The top floor of the market has a huge wrap-around terrace bar which serves the best mojitos in town to an animated crowd of loud and proud Madrilenos from the nearby Chueca district.
La Musa Latina
Among the many pleasure-seeking activities that the Spaniards seem to have a collective national proficiency for, the art of eating tapas is one that's been truly perfected in Madrid. Lunch at La Musa Latina is proof. Not only is the place achingly hip, but the tapas are little plates of gastronomic perfection, bombarding the palate with new and delicious flavors. Try the Montadito de Pulpo (octopus sandwich) or the tender jabalí con ali-oli de miel y sobrasada (wild boar cooked in the oven with honey). La Musa’s reputation precedes it and lunchtime can be busy, but it’s well worth the wait.
Delic Café and Delicatessen
Delic is quite simply the best place in Madrid to indulge in a door-stop sized wedge of cake, with your postprandial Cafécito. The place ticks all the right boxes: great food, interesting interior—with garden furniture and random atmosphere inducing antiques—and comfortingly decent prices. Delic’s local popularity is boosted by the fact that it is located in a quaint little sun-dappled square in the Latin Quarter. Try the infamous carrot cake; it’s so good that bars across the city order in delivery for late night drinkers looking to soak up the excess Cava.