“I have never been to a city where is there less reason to go to bed,” wrote Hemingway. The madrileños’ capacity for night-time revelry is legendary, and the rhythm of life here is simply different. People go out very late, many stay out till dawn, they really do have chocolate con churros on the way home, and some simply shower and go straight on to work, napping on the Metro and sleeping at siesta time. If you don’t make at least some concession to that rhythm, your stay in Madrid is likely to feel disjointed.
The first part of the evening, from around 8:30pm to 10:30pm, is the time for beer and tapas “Madrid’s Top Tapas,”. While many visitors gravitate towards the bars around Plaza Santa Ana, locals are more likely to head to Cava Baja or Calle Jesus, or further afield. It’s worth seeking out Chamberí’s Plaza de Olavide, where almost every building surrounding the large, circular plaza has a pavement bar, full of chatting groups of friends. Try Bar Méntrida or El Cuatro de Copas, 3 and 4 Plaza de Olavide. Nearby, Calle Ponzano is a great place to hop from one bar to another, as the evening moves towards copas (cocktails). The locals call it ponzaning. The bars of Malasaña and Chueca have plenty of edgy character, old vermouth fittings, and hipster clientele. Check out Taverna Ángel Sierra, Calle de Gravina, 11, Casa Camacho, Calle de San Andrés, 4, or Casa Baranda, Calle de Colón, 11.
If you are only going to hit the town for 1 night, you should see a flamenco show. Madrid is at the forefront of the flamenco revival and much of the credit goes to Casa Patas, which presents established artists and rising stars. But we also have great respect for some of the showier and more touristic offerings, which help introduce people to the art form. Good choices include Cardamomo (Calle Echegaray, 15; tel. 91-369-07-57; www.cardamomo.es; 39€; Metro: Vodafone Sol) which often features well-known performers and Corral de la Morería (Calle Morería, 17; tel. 91-365-84-46; www.corraldelamoreria.com; 39€; Metro: Ópera) which is located near the Palacio Real and has championed flamenco since 1956. Prices above are for the show and one drink. Dinner is available, but you are better off eating elsewhere. For a more casual performance, try Villa Rosa (Plaza Santa Ana, 15; tel. 91-521-36-89; www.villa-rosa.es; 15€; Metro: Antón Martín), which occupies an historic tiled building on Plaza Santa Ana.
If you prefer cool jazz to hot flamenco, check out Cafe Central (Plaza del Angel, 10; tel. 91-369-41-43; www.cafecentralmadrid.com; Metro: Antón Martín), which has been presenting touring musicians since the early 1980s. The Malasaña mega-club Clamores (Calle Alburquerque, 14; tel. 91-445-7-38; www.clamores.es; Metro: Bilbao) often programs live jazz in the early evening, before it turns into a late-night disco. In nearby Chueca, Madrid’s premier gay bar Black & White (Calle Libertad, 34; tel. 91-531-11-41; www.discoblack-white.net; Metro: Chueca) features a basement disco and a street-level bar with drag shows, male strip tease, and other entertainment. For a more centrally located dance club, Disco-Teatro Joy Eslava (Arenal 11; tel. 91-366-37-33; www.joy-eslava.com; Metro: Vodafone Sol or Ópera) occupies a 19th-century theater near Puerta del Sol. For late-night chocolate and churros, Joy Eslava is conveniently located near Chocolatería San Gines.
Nightlife in Madrid can be roughly divided into the following "night zones":
Plaza Mayor/Puerto del Sol -- The most popular areas can also be dangerous, so explore them with caution, especially late at night. They are filled with tapas bars and cuevas (drinking caves). It is customary to begin a tasca crawl here, going to tavern after tavern, sampling the wine in each, along with a selection of tapas. The major streets for such a crawl are Cava de San Miguel, Cava Alta, and Cava Baja.
Gran Vía -- This area contains mainly cinemas and theaters. Most of the after-dark action takes place on little streets branching off the Gran Vía.
Plaza de Isabel/Plaza de Oriente -- Another area frequented by tourists, many restaurants and cafes flourish here, including the famous Café de Oriente.
Chueca -- Along such streets as Hortaleza, Infantas, Barquillo, and San Lucas, this is the gay nightlife district, with dozens of clubs. Cheap restaurants, along with a few female strip joints, are also found here. This area can also be dangerous in the early hours of the morning, though the customary presence of weekend revelers who throng the streets till around 3am often manages to deter potential pickpockets and muggers. The reasonably active police presence at night also helps.
Argüelles/Moncloa -- For university students, this part of town sees most of the action. Many dance clubs are found here, along with ale houses and fast-food joints. The area is bounded by Pintor Rosales, Cea Bermúdez, Bravo Murillo, San Bernardo, and Conde Duque.
The Club & Live Music Scene
Cabaret -- Madrid's nightlife is no longer steeped in prudishness, as it was (at least officially) during the Franco era. You can now see glossy cabaret acts and shows with lots of nudity.
The Sultry Sound of Flamenco -- The lights dim and the flamenco stars clatter rhythmically across the dance floor. Their lean bodies and hips shake and sway to the music. The word flamenco has various translations, meaning everything from "gypsified Andalusian" to "knife," and from "blowhard" to "tough guy."
Accompanied by stylized guitar music, castanets, and the fervent clapping of the crowd, dancers are filled with tension and emotion. Flamenco dancing, with its flash, color, and ritual, is evocative of Spanish culture, although its origins remain mysterious.
Experts disagree as to where it came from, but most claim Andalusia as its seat of origin. Although its influences were both Jewish and Islamic, it was the gypsy artist who perfected both the song and the dance. Gypsies took to flamenco like "rice to paella," in the words of the historian Fernando Quiñones.
The deep song of flamenco represents a fatalistic attitude toward life. Marxists used to say it was a deeply felt protest of the lower classes against their oppressors, but this seems unfounded. Protest or not, over the centuries, rich patrons, often brash young men, liked the sound of flamenco and booked artists to stage juergas or fiestas where dancer-prostitutes became the erotic extras. By the early 17th century, flamenco was linked with pimping, prostitution, and lots and lots of drinking, by audiences and artists alike.
By the mid-19th century, flamenco had gone legitimate and was heard in theaters and café cantantes. By the 1920s, even the pre-Franco Spanish dictator, Primo de Rivera, was singing the flamenco tunes of his native Cádiz. The poet Federico García Lorca and the composer Manuel de Falla preferred a purer form, attacking what they viewed as the degenerate and "ridiculous" burlesque of flamenquismo, the jazzed-up, audience-pleasing form of flamenco. The two artists launched a Flamenco Festival in Grenada in 1922. Of course, in the decades since, their voices have been drowned out, and flamenco is more flamenquismo than ever.
In his 1995 book Flamenco Deep Song, Thomas Mitchell draws a parallel to flamenco's "lowlife roots" and the "orgiastic origins" of jazz. He notes that early jazz, like flamenco, was "associated with despised ethnic groups, gangsters, brothels, free-spending bluebloods, and whoopee hedonism." By disguising their origins, Mitchell notes, both jazz and flamenco have entered the musical mainstream.
Dance Clubs -- In Madrid most clubs are open from around 6 to 9pm, later reopening around 11pm. They really start going at midnight or thereabouts.
The Bar Scene
Summer Terrazas -- At the first blush of spring weather, Madrileños rush outdoors to drink, talk, and sit at a string of open-air cafes, called terrazas, throughout the city. Some of the best (and most expensive) ones are along Paseo de la Castellana, between the Plaza de la Cibeles and the Plaza Emilio Castelar. You can wander up and down these boulevards, selecting one that appeals to you; then move on later to another one if you get bored. Sometimes these terrazas are called chirinquitos. You'll find them along other paseos, the Recoletos and the Prado, both fashionable areas but not as hip as the Castellana. For old traditional atmosphere, the terraces at the Plaza Mayor and in nearby Plaza Santa Ana are among the most atmospheric choices within the old city. Friday and Saturday are the most popular nights for drinking; many locals sit here all night. Most relaxing of all, though, are the terrazas along Paseo Rosales, beside the leafy Parque del Oeste in the westerly Argüelles district.
Cave Crawling -- To capture a peculiar Madrid joie de vivre of the 18th century, visit some mesones and cuevas, many found in the barrios bajos. From Plaza Mayor, walk down the Arco de Cuchilleros until you find a gypsylike cave that fits your fancy. Young people love to meet in the taverns and caves of Old Madrid for communal drinking and songfests. The sangria flows freely, the atmosphere is charged, and the room is usually packed; the sounds of guitars waft into the night air. Sometimes you'll see a strolling band of singing students going from bar to bar, colorfully attired, with ribbons fluttering from their outfits.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.