Avoid: Eating and drinking in the Plaza Mayor

5 October, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 5

by Ben Curtis

The unwise eating in the Plaza Mayor!

The view might be pretty special, but the food served up on the terraces of the Plaza Mayor is far from it… It’s ridiculously expensive, low-quality, and loveless. Save your money and check out some of the great places for lunch near the Plaza Mayor, or wander five minutes down the road to the wonderful tapas bars in La Latina instead!

Where would you advise others to avoid in Madrid? Comment here or send us a tip!

Pub Prada

4 October, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Malasaña | Comments: 4

by Faye Davies

If the name inspires visions of cashmere-clad beauties sipping White Russians, think again. The only kind of glamour Pub Prada exudes is that of a washed-up pimp, whose prime coincided with the death of Franco.

Still, the place has a certain charm. The leatherette seats and the framed watercolours make for an atmosphere that’s half-American diner, half-Granny’s sitting-room. The music – a jangling stream of Iberian pop – may not be to everyone’s tastes; but the pool table is a welcome rarity on the landscape of Spanish drinking establishments.

On the unpretentious (ahem) outskirts of Malasaña, Pub Prada is the perfect place for a relaxed highball before you head off into the land of disco glitz and garrafón. Or for spotting a supermullet. Bring your own crowd.

Open until 2am every night, including Sundays. Copas 4.50€, dobles 2€.
Metro: Gran Vía. Calle Ballesta, 24. See map below: Read more »

La Mallorquina - Classic Pastelería

3 October, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Sol | Comments: 7

by Julie Espinosa

La Mallorquina, Madrid

La Mallorquina bakery is Madrid’s sweet-tooth mecca. With its aromas wafting about the Puerta del Sol, this pastelería has been a local and tourist favorite since 1894. Its name derives from the original Mallorcan owner, and it’s not the only contending confectionery with a regional name; try the nearby El Riojano, est. 1855, for traditional cookies in an ornate tearoom.

La Mallorquina boasts:

1. Affordable prices (most pastries 1-1.50€ each)
2. No-frills atmosphere
3. Central location
4. Irresistible fresh-from-the-oven sweets!

La Mallorquina sweets, Madrid

Of the many tempting treats, my favorite are the napolitanas de chocolate — I enjoyed my first one so much that it wasn’t until arriving home an hour later that I realized the creamy chocolate center was smeared all over my chin. Then there are palmeras, rosquillas, madrileños and, most decadent of all, trufas de chocolate. Partake with coffee or hot chocolate shoulder-to-shoulder at the bustling bar or request an assortment “para llevar” (for take-away). Upstairs you may indulge unhurried at a table, sometimes even with a window view, but ¡ojo! - prices upstairs are higher than below.

Metro: Sol. La Mallorquina: C/ Mayor, 2. El Riojano: C/ Mayor, 10. See map below: Read more »

Photo Madrid - The Circulo de Bellas Artes Cafe

2 October, 2007 | In: Photo Madrid | Comments: none

by Ben Curtis

Bellas Artes, Madrid

Currently one of my favourite cafe experiences in Madrid…
…More on the Bellas Artes soon (location).

Madrid Nightlife Survival Kit - Top 5 Items to Slip in Your Pocket

1 October, 2007 | In: Travel tips, Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 3

by Amy Menchhofer

For a typical night out most Madrileños leave home with at least three things in hand - keys, cell phone, and Metro pass. No wallet, you ask? The monthly Metro pass, conveniently made up of a flexible card slipped into a plastic sleeve, serves as a perfect catch-all for your marcha necessities.

Here are the top 5 items to slip into your metro pass:

1. Extra 10€ note (like that $500 bill you slip under the Monopoly board “just in case.”)

2. Band-aids (Because those oh-so-cute-got-to-have-them shoes aren’t always as comfortable in the real world as they were in the store.)

3. Kleenex (Out at the bars it’s not uncommon to find the women’s toilet missing its seat and it’s virtually unheard of to find one well-stocked with toilet paper. You can’t do much about the first but you can about the second. Follow the Boy Scouts’ advice - Be Prepared.)

4. Matchbook (Gotta light? “¿Tienes fuego?” is about the most common pick-up line in Madrid. When that cutie asks do you really want to have to say no?)

5. Stick of gum (Beer. Cigarettes. Fried tapas. All the staples of the Madrid night-life combine to leave you craving something minty-fresh - and not another mojito. And once that handsome stranger comes looking for a match maybe you’ll have to split the stick between two…)

What would you add to the list?

El Inti de Oro: Peruvian heaven

28 September, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Antón Martín, South American Food | Comments: 1

by Faye Davies

A while ago a colleague recommended El Inca (C/ Ruiz). The food was acceptable but expensive, and as I seem to recall, slightly overcooked. So Peruvian cuisine wasn’t on my radar when I stumbled across El Inti de Oro. Which was an entirely different matter.

My friend and I opted for the 20€ dinner menu, which kicks off with a non-negotiable platter of national delicacies. We were immediately transported by the ample bowl of ceviche – a kind of sushi in a lemon and onion dressing – and had to force ourselves to leave space for our mains.

We weren’t disappointed. The chicken in walnut sauce and hake with king prawns were both cooked to perfection; and the homemade desserts that followed deserved much more attention than our strained stomachs could offer them.

The service was impeccable, and the menu includes a Peruvian cocktail, half a bottle of decent wine, and a generous chupito of dulce de leche (shot of toffee liquor!) All in all, one of the best bargains to be found in Madrid.

Good for: groups, or a casual date. Bad for: dieters.
Reservations: 914 29 19 58; www.intideoro.com.
Address: C/ Amor de Dios, 9. Metro Antón Martín. See map below: Read more »

Seen in Madrid - Building inside-out in Malasaña

27 September, 2007 | In: Photo Madrid, Malasaña | Comments: 4

by Ben Curtis

Malasaña Graffiti

Taking the camera everywhere is definitely a good idea. This shot (large version here) comes from Malasaña. Many new building projects are forced to maintain original facades, gutting the middle of an old building, and building from the inside out, temporarily revealing these fascinating empty shells.

The question is, did this portrait artist have a ladder?

Art House Cinema in Madrid - Cine Doré

27 September, 2007 | In: Culture, Antón Martín | Comments: 1

by Julie Espinosa

Cine DoreCine Doré is a uniquely nostalgic place in Madrid to watch films ranging from silent gems to modern globe-spanning festival winners. The cinema, constructed in 1923, underwent extensive restoration from 1982 to 1989 and today is kept busy with offerings from the Filmoteca Española (national film library). It offers cinephiles a café, bookstore, and affordable, interesting films not available elsewhere.

If you have the choice, go for a screening in the main Sala 1, which has been reconstructed with the original modernist décor. There are 2-4 screenings nightly, Tuesday-Sunday; all are non-dubbed original versions. The schedule is available in print (in Spanish) at the ticket office, or at the Filmoteca headquarters/exhibition area (C/ Magdalena, 10. Metro: Antón Martín). It is also available on-line at the Filmoteca website.

During September and October the first screening of each night is an entry in Spain’s Premios Goya 2007 competition, so seating is limited. October will also offer examples of contemporary German cinema. Tickets may be bought the day before, from 21:00 until closing or the day of, from 17:15 until 15 minutes before the show begins.

Pricing: 2,50€ a ticket / 10 for 20,00€; students 2,00€ a ticket / 10 for 15,00€
Location: Santa Isabel, 3 (Metro: Antón Martín). Map below: Read more »

Never Too Late for Ice Cream in Madrid!

25 September, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Retiro | Comments: 3

by Amy Menchhofer

Ice cream in MadridAlthough the long days of summer are beginning to come to an end, don’t pull out that coat just yet. We all know the heat can return at any moment, so there’s still time for a cold, sweet treat. Over on the east side of El Retiro you can find one of the best ice cream shops in Madrid. At Narvaez 62, Helados Sienna is perfectly situated for making a quick pit stop before a stroll through the park just two blocks away (there’s a second location near Parque Fuente del Berro at Sancho Dávila, 29). With more than 30 flavors you are certain to find the perfect combination, such as strawberry cheesecake and pitufo (smurf) or, my favorite, dulce de leche and coco. Don’t happen over to this neighborhood much? At just 2.20€ for a small, two-scoop cup you can even afford to make a special trip just for the ice cream!

Map below: Read more »

Avoid: Sol, Saturday, 6 p.m.

22 September, 2007 | In: Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 3

by Ben Curtis

Free hugs in Madrid

Someone recently suggested in our Spain forum that this picture is worrying on several levels. Primarily, what the hell is going on with Mickey and the spangley yellow jacket?!

Whether Mickey is there or not, I strongly suggest avoiding Sol and all adjacent shopping streets on Saturday afternoons… unless you particularly enjoy being hustled around amongst thousands of painfully slow moving shoppers, who do their best to second guess your every direction change and impede your escape at all costs.

Luckily the abrazos gratis (free hugs) girl was there to provide psychological support… If only I could have got past Mickey…

More on where and what to avoid in Madrid coming soon!

La Venencia - No Spitting, no Tips, just Sherry

16 September, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Santa Ana | Comments: none

by Ben Curtis

It might be midnight on a Saturday, but that doesn’t deter the two grannies sipping Fino (sherry) in the doorway from gossiping away like they just stopped by for a quick pre-lunch tipple. From where they stand a narrow wooden bartop stretches inside, chalked numbers on the dark wood in front of each group of drinkers keeping a tally of what they’ve had so far. The walls are demarara brown from decades of tobacco abuse, and fading posters for musical events in the seventies, presumably when they were put up, look brittle and decaying enough to shatter if touched. Grubby signs above tables declare that spitting on the floor will not be tolerated, and that tips are not accepted. Great sherry barrels are stacked behind the bar, whilst the drink itself is fished up from under the bartop in chilled, label-less bottles.

This, without doubt, is the most classic, dated, time-warp drinking experience to be had in Madrid. Forget all the ‘Hemmingway drank here’ places around the corner in the Plaza Santa Ana, this is the real deal. The bar opens and closes at will, often leading to disappointment, there’s little to drink beyond the Sherry (try a half bottle of Manzanilla first), and the tapas are simple: cecina (cured beef) and mojama (smoked tuna) for the brave, maybe some cheese or chorizo for the rest of us.

Don’t miss out on La Venencia, there are but a handful of places like this left in the whole of Spain. Location: Calle de Echegaray 7.

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Noche en Blanco on September 22nd

14 September, 2007 | In: Culture | Comments: none

by Ben Curtis

According to Damian Corrigan at gospain.about.com, Noche en Blanco “is an all-night cultural extravaganza which takes place on one night each September (in 2007 it will take place on the night of September 22). Everything is free of charge and the city puts on 24 hour public transport to make getting between events easier.”

As well as free entry to most of the major museums throughout the night, musical offerings include shows from Daft Punk, Strange Fruits, Macanique Vivante and Fátima Miranda. For full details check out Damian’s write up at about.com, or the official Spanish site.

I have to go to this bar!

31 May, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Chueca | Comments: 3

by Ben Curtis

What fun! Apparently it’s called El Cisne Azul, specialises in wild mushrooms and impromptu opera madness, and is located at Calle Gravina 19 (map).

Great Menu del Dia Lunch near the Plaza Mayor

4 May, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Great Lunch, Madrid de los Austrias (Historic Center) | Comments: 4

by Ben Curtis

Menu del dia near Plaza Mayor

Everyone who decides to have lunch in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor soon discovers that they have made a huge mistake. The Menu del Dia (lunchtime set menu) is far too expensive and usually not all that good. Walk a few minutes in any direction however, and you are likely to be far better off. My personal favourite for a Menu del Dia near the Plaza Mayor is Refra, at Calle Santiago 4 (just across the Calle Mayor - Map).

For 8.50 inside and 10.50 on the terrace, you get around 5 starters, 5 main courses and 5 deserts to choose from, in what is basically a top quality working man’s lunchtime menu served in a friendly, family-run establishment. You will be eating with the locals, you won’t get ripped off, and you will leave more than satisfied. I ate here almost every day for three months whilst living in the Hostal Santiago opposite (see book for details!), so I know what I’m talking about!

Pickpockets in Madrid and the Rastro.

24 April, 2007 | In: Travel tips, Rastro | Comments: 4

by Ben Curtis

Pickpocketing and theft are a problem in Madrid but it is not something to worry about if you take a few sensible precautions. Obvious things to AVOID are carrying your wallet in your back pocket, or valuables in a back pack on your back - both are asking for trouble. Handbags should be carried under your arm. Be very careful not to leave bags next to you on the floor in bars or restaurants - keep them on your lap. Pickpockets and bag snatchers tend to work in pairs or small groups in Madrid and often one or two members of a gang will distract you (by shoving you, asking an innocent question, showing you a map) while another robs you - be particularly aware in the Metro and around major tourist attractions such as museums. Again, there is no need to be paranoid all the time, but if you are aware of this problem then you are bound to be fine.

What follows in an excellent example of the tricks used in Madrid these days, from Julian, who was on holiday in Madrid with his wife Judith, and was targeted the Rastro market.

So having walked round the Rastro & flea market, Judith & I had bought a few items & were heading out when I got targeted as the victim of a ‘contrived accident’. I knew all about this possibility & Ben had warned us not to have anything of value on us.

It was skilfully carried out because it was made to look as if I had tried to rob the pickpocket.

He was just ahead & was holding a mobile (probably an old broken one) close to his ear. He swung round backwards & bumped into me - the mobile was dropped (flung) against my leg as I walked forward — thus sending the mobile skittering off a few feet away. Instead of just retrieving it - he bent down & grabbed one of my legs with one hand while with the other made a show of frisking my leg where the mobile had hit it, i.e. trying to make it look as if I had deliberately tried to pinch his mobile.

My wallet was in my front pocket out of harms way and I had a firm grip on it. I freed myself quickly from this & he picked up his mobile from the ground.

But the distraction had enabled his accomplice (who I never saw) to remove the contents of my back pocket … just a few sheets of folded A4 paper.

No harm done but it shows that despite taking all precautions the pickpockets can still catch you unawares.

This all happened so quickly that Judith who was walking slightly ahead of me carried on & hadn’t even noticed what had happened.

Do you have a Madrid pickpocket story? Send it in to help others avoid the same trap!