From urbane bars to foot-stomping flamenco, Guy Wilkinson experiences the sizzling nightlife of Spain’s capital.
Madrid's nightlife is positively fizzing. But where to start? A city so rich in culture can make deciding where to begin like trying to fathom why people are laughing during an Adam Sandler movie – utterly bewildering. The following suggestions may assist with the former, even if the latter will doubtless remain a mystery.
What: Kick things off with tapas with a twist
Where: Estado Puro
Putting an innovative spin on traditional tapas, renowned Madrid chef Paco Roncero serves up anything from oysters cooked in tartar or Galician octopus with potato foam, to more customary offerings such as Iberian ham croquettes. Part of the NH Paseo del Prado Hotel, Estado Puro is right in the hub of the tourist district, but thankfully the cheese factor is limited to the cooking. The food isfar less pretentious than it sounds, while the interior design has all the cool factor of Marlon Brando in his pomp, with a low, curved ceiling facing a superbly kitsch mural on the far wall.
What: Head for a cocktail
Where: Dry (Gran Melia Felix Madrid)
Madrid may well be gripped by an intense gin and tonic fever but few cocktail bars have gained the esteemed reputation of Dry, located inside the plush Gran Melia Fenix Hotel. The bar is the brainchild of legendary mixologist Javier de las Muelas, whose vision was simply to combine the finest quality product with the highest level of service. Spearheaded by three of the top cocktail barmen in Madrid, Dry has a heavy emphasis on innovation and trend setting; new cocktails are created each year with a view to leaving copycat mixologists floundering in their martinis.
What: Catch a flamenco show
Where: El Corral de la Moreria
Hands down the best place in Madrid to witness passionate, authentic flamenco, El Corral de la Moreria has gained international fame for attracting Spain's most talented performers. Founded in 1956, it has retained an intimate, historic feel with simple furnishings facing a basic wooden stage up front. Two shows take place each evening. There's the option to have dinner at the earlier sitting, but with so many other dining options, it's really all about the spellbinding action on stage.
What: Hit the Malasana district
Where: Plaza del Dos de Mayo
In the late '70s and early '80s the Malasana barrio was the centre of the Movida countercultural movement following the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Hipster jibes aside, the cool factor remains. It's the perfect place to people-watch or simply wander the labyrinth of galleries, boutique shops, bars and restaurants. Even though it's a partying hub, many of the venues have a more low-key, authentic feel. For bona fide tapas in an unpretentious setting, head to El Pez Gordo (the fat fish), a family-run joint with a loyal following. Take your cue from the locals – push, be forthright with your ordering and above all else, keep smiling. Located Calle del Pez, 6.
What: Refuel the cocktail buzz
Where: Rooftop Bar Hotel Urban/ Hotel Me
For a brief reprieve from the bustle of the streets, ride the glass elevator up the central atrium of the modish, art deco Hotel Urban. Along with an extensive cocktail list, the rooftop bar offers panoramic views across Madrid's old city skyline to the west and Retiro Park to the east. The adjacent poolside bar has a calming atmosphere that ramps up later in the night. Alternatively, to see how the other half live, try The Roof bar at Hotel Me. A favourite with celebrities and "beautiful people", the VIP lounge costs a cool $4000 (or thereabouts) to reserve, though mere mortals can soak up the views, sip an over-priced cocktail and cast spiteful glances towards the DJ as he collects yet another stunning girl's phone number.
What: Enjoy a late night graze
Where: Mercado San Miguel
It may well be situated just a short stroll from the Plaza Mayor in the centre of Madrid, but this historic market is anything but a tourist trap. The original incarnation opened back in 1916 but fell into disrepair at the turn of the 21st century, crumbling beneath the weight of competition from soulless supermarket chains. Happily, it was later renovated, re-opening in 2009 to great acclaim. It's now an unbeatable spot for a late-night graze. Dozens of stalls sell anything from paella to caviar; there are dedicated wine merchants and even a sherry bar. Sheltered beneath an iron and wood roof, it's an aesthetically pleasing set-up, ideal for showcasing your alcohol-induced foreign language prowess with an unsuspecting stranger.
(Opening hours 10am-midnight Sun-Wed; 10am-2am Thurs-Sat)
What: Late night/early morning churros
Where: San Gines
There's a long-standing and undeniably glorious tradition in Madrid after a night on the turps: churros and hot chocolate. Situated in the heart of the old town, west of Puerta del Sol, celebrated chocolateria San Gines has been serving this magical combination to grateful, bloodshot-eyed patrons since the late 1800s. Famed as much for its slick vintage interiors – wood panelling, marble table tops and green velvet seats abound – it's loved mostly for the dark, rich, traditional-style chocolate. Served in a coffee cup alongside fresh, crispy churros, don't be surprised if you have a Meg Ryan dinner moment.
Singapore Airlines operates regular flights from Sydney to Barcelona via Singapore and Milan with ongoing connections to Madrid. see singaporeair.com
The Ritz Madrid, Plaza de la Lealtad 5, , is in the heart of Madrid's "Golden Triangle". Rooms from $375 a night. See ritzmadrid.com
SEE + DO
For a personalised guide to the best of Madrid, including authentic tapas bars, see insidersmadrid.com.
The writer was a guest of Spain Tourism, Hotel Ritz Madrid and Singapore Airlines.