Okay, now that school’s officially over (I finished my last final on Tuesday), I can talk about what you’ve all been really wanting to find out: nightlife in Madrid. Though we’ve been studying a lot and traveling, we’ve still had time to take advantage of the bar and club scene that Madrid is well known for. As with most of Europe, Madrid also has a very different alcohol culture from the United States, so drinking during the day is pretty common and almost everywhere sells alcohol, including places like Taco Bell! (They have no translation for “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” because there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a beer during their mid-morning snack at around 10:00… they typically don’t drink to excess, so see nothing wrong with it.) Couple all of that with a laid-back leisurely culture known for its midday breaks and siestas, and Madrid is certainly a cool place to enjoy some downtime and leisure, even if it’s just chilling out in a bar or café.
The most important thing to know about Madrid nightlife is that it really is nightlife. Bars, which usually are more laid back and serve food, stay open until about 01:00 to 02:00 and clubs or discotecas stay open until around 06:00. Things in general don’t start picking up until after midnight, and it’s a little scary how used to that we’re becoming. The metro is closed daily from 01:30 until 06:00, so a lot of people choose to skip the late night búho buses and just stay out until the metro reopens. A quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway that often finds its way into tourist pages about Madrid explains that “nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night”, and that’s generally pretty true. Though I’ve never stayed out until the Metro reopens because it hasn’t been worth it since I can walk or take a quick bus ride home, I’ve definitely had a few nights where I returned at 05:30.
Though we try to change it up a little bit and try new areas, we do have our favorite places. For our last hurrah last Saturday night, we did one of our favorite itineraries: El Tigre at around 22:00, then Gris at 23:00, and finally Kapital at around 00:45 to get the deal.
El Tigre is definitely a must-do when in Madrid and one of our favorites, but make sure that you don’t go there on a full stomach. It’s a chain of three restaurants, all within a block of each other on Calles Hortaleza and Infantas in Chueca. For only 6€, you get a huge beer, sangria, or mojito, and seemingly endless tapas, including jamón, paella, chicken wings, croquetas, and more. Go with a big group and you’ll end up with plates and drinks covering your tables and you’ll definitely not be able to finish everything. It’s a little gross when you think about the fact that they must reuse all of the uneaten food to keep costs down and that their version of clearing the table is taking the plates away and knocking the trash on the floor… but it’s definitely a fun, different experience that we love.
From there we usually head to Gris, which is only one street away, and is one of our favorite shot bars that has a lot of interesting combinations, all for either 1€ or 1,50€, depending on what time you go. After a little bit of chilling with the alternative crowd there, we walk down the Paseo del Prado to Kapital, Madrid’s famous 7-story nightclub in the Atocha area. Each floor has a different music theme, so hypothetically you can never get bored. It’s definitely a little on the expensive side, with 16€ getting you entrance and two drinks, but only if you have a special code. Even still, we have had a few good nights there and it’s crazy how busy it stays until late at night.
We spent a lot of the first few weeks in the same places like Cien Montaditos, a really cheap cervecería chain all over Madrid that sells 100 different types of small sandwiches and has special deals on Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays. However, we also like to hang out around the different neighborhoods. Madrid has one of the highest densities of bars and clubs in Europe, so we really haven’t been everywhere and couldn’t possible, but here’s a few of the neighborhoods we like to hang out in.
Sol/Gran Vía: The Puerta del Sol is the central meeting point of Madrid and the heart of the city; with it being the point of kilometer zero, it’s also the center of the entirety of Spain. Though it’s definitely more touristy, you can still have a good time here. When we were in this area, Dubliners and Independance Club were definitely our main go-to’s. Dubliners is an Irish pub that’s full of Americans and British people, and also gets quite a few Spaniards looking to practice their English and meet foreigners. We didn’t like going there all the time because of how touristy it was, but it was a good backup plan that was usually pretty cheap and we met some cool people from. On Monday nights at the beginning of the semester you could find us at salsa lessons at the Independance Club very close to Dubliners and Sol. After a few hours of salsa lessons to get groups mingling, the venue turned into a pretty busy club that’s one of the only things to do on Monday nights, hence the event’s name F*cking Mondays. Many of us didn’t have class until late Tuesday, so this was usually a fun place to go and experience a little bit of the dance culture, even though they had the occasionally beer pong tournament that really got the Spaniards excited. (Apparently they had only seen it on the movies before?)
There are a few other big clubs in this area that we only went to once or twice and we didn’t really love, like Joy, Palace, and Moondance. They usually get pretty busy, depending on the night, and sometimes have good deals for international students, but we were generally a little disappointed. We really had to bring the party for it to be any fun. 😉 A little further down towards Plaza Mayor and on Calle Montera off of the Gran Vía there is the Mercado de San Miguel and a few chill cafés and restaurants with outside seating that are perfect for enjoying a sunny day.
Huertas/Plaza de Santa Ana: We only went to this area a few times, but it’s pretty popular among the young crowd. Centered around Calle de las Huertas, the bars in the barrio de las Letras are pretty fun and cheap and a favorite of my friend’s host sister, Cris. The nearby Plaza de Santa Ana also has lots of interesting bars and is the home to a few bars on the Ernest Hemingway bar crawl.
La Latina: Known for the popular Sunday flea market El Rastro, La Latina is pretty popular among locals, especially in the middle of the afternoon as El Rastro finishes up. They go to the nearby bars and even chill in the public areas outside, such as a local skate park that has live music on Sundays. It’s fun to just wander around the tapas places and bars in that area on other days too, and we always remember the neighborhood from a fun party we had at one of our friends’ apartments one night.
Alonso Martínez/Tribunal: These areas are very central, located right between Malasaña and Chueca and north of the Gran Vía and Sol. There are tons of bars and clubs in this area, including some late night food places. Pequeños placeres, a cheap bar that fills up pretty quickly, and T Club are pretty popular, but our favorite was definitely Space Monkey. It’s a tiny place that’s halfway between a bar and a club with some pretty cheap drinks, a good atmosphere and dance floor, and some interesting music. One of the rooms plays dance/top-40 type music, while the other one plays an interesting variety of songs you don’t typically hear going out, like classic rock, wedding songs like “Shout”, and fun older songs that you don’t really know how to dance to, but it’s fun trying to figure it out. Like Malasaña, it’s just a fun area to bar hop in.
Chueca: Home to two of our favorites, El Tigre and Gris, Chueca might be the gay neighborhood, but it’s certainly welcoming to people of every background and also full of cool places to go. The very liberal and young area, full of saunas, gyms, tattoo parlors, and underwear stores that may double as sex shops, is pretty fun to just walk around in. We also loved the American diner bar Tommy Mel’s that had alcoholic milkshakes. We went to a few bars in the area, but one of the most fun things is to just sit at the cafés in the Plaza de Chueca with some tapas and a bottle of wine. The nearby Calle de Fuencarral and its side streets are also perfect for this, given the fact that Fuencarral is a big pedestrian shopping street with a few good cafés and restaurants. One of our favorite brunch places, La Tita Rivera, is also on one of the side streets, as is a really good ice cream place. 🙂
Malasaña: Centered around the Plaza del Dos de Mayo, Malasaña is the more alternative and edgier neighborhood. It doesn’t really have officially set boundaries and doesn’t have its own Metro station, but you can usually tell when you’re there. It’s interesting and fun to go barhopping in this area, but the crowd is definitely a little older, which I guess isn’t surprising considering Malasaña was known as the center of la movida madrileña after Franco, so it has a very old history. Our favorite places were Tupperware and Madklyn, but the bars are all definitely very interesting and unique, so it’s fun to explore.
We’ve had a lot of fun over the last few months trying to experience all the bars, cafés, and clubs that Madrid has to offer, and we’ll definitely miss it next semester. We learned how much the group you’re with matters and how some of the best nights can be chilling in a bar with a good group of people talking. The laid back and casual approach to alcohol and social settings is definitely different from the United States, so it’ll be weird to go back home. Despite the fact that most of my friends should be 21 next semester, it’ll be weird to get carded considering we haven’t gotten asked for ID here because of the 18 drink age. We’re preparing ourselves for the reverse culture shock, especially the fact that our friends will find it totally strange that we find partying until 05:00 completely normal!