“Salí a tomar una cañas y me lié” (“I went out for a few drinks and got waylaid”). A classic excuse heard all over Madrid bars, and one that explains that phenomenon whereby during the exceptionally hot and sweaty Castillian summer, everyone in the city does their best to make the most of the cooler hours of the day and stay out ’till dawn. Here, we pick our favourite Madrid bars for early evening drinks so that you too can join in with this ancient Spanish tradition.
1. El Palentino – In recent years, this local bar’s star has risen thanks in no small part to the revival of the central neighbourhood of Malasaña, beloved of musicians and modernos alike. For despite (or perhaps because of) the formica and the ancient decor, this bar is 100% pure cult cool. Always has been. There is even a book about the life and times of this long time haunt of students, artists and old people all out for a caña. The rock-bottom prices (Serrano ham sandwiches at €2, Mahou beer for €1.20), veteran waiters and round-the-clock opening (until 2am) keep the crowds coming to this little corner of the Calle Pez. If you have time, stop in at the nearby Patio Maravillas ‘occupied space’ (aka arty squat) where there is a varied programme of arts, cultural and political events as well as the occasional food market.
2. José Alfredo – Before Gin and Tonic became the go-to posh drink in Spain (with go-to posh prices), José Alfredo was there, with its leather bar (perfect for squeezing in some quality leaning) and excellent combinados. The bar harks back to the time when Hollywood stars used to get tipsy in the Chicote on Gran Via. This is one of the few places in Madrid where you can try a glass of Mexican specialty Mezcal and, although prices have risen since its launch in 2001 (cocktails and mixed drinks from €9), this is an authentic, elegant bar with nary a minimalist mueble in sight.
3. Casa Camacho – This hole-in-the-wall bar is still going strong at nearly 100 years old, and still serves an incredible 400 Litres of vermouth a week. Time has almost stood still for Casa Camacho, which still has a faithful clientele who continue packing the place out for its famous pickes and yayos (€2), a home-made mix of gin, vermouth and fizz which makes for a potent start to the night.
4. Lamiak – We have a love-hate relationship with Malasaña on a Taylor-Burton level, and so are going to sling you a recommendation in a different neighbourhood – La Latina. This area is famous for its tapas, and Lamiak is one of the original bars that allowed the gastro scene to throw off the shabby reputation that it had (somewhat unfairly) gained in the years prior to its 2001 opening. With a menu inspired by Basque pintxos, the bar occupies the same site as the Mandrágora, a bar that was a favourite among the movers and shakers of the movida madrileña. Business is so good for the owners of Lamiak that they have opened a second bar with the same name in Anton Martín. Good for a visit any time of the week except for on a Sunday after tge Rastro when the whole of Madrid seems to want tapas in La Latina.
5. La casa de Granada – Before the frankly bizarre trend for 5* terraces in luxury hotels in a country in a seemingly perpetual economic depression, La Casa de Granada was the place to be. This skinny rooftop bar has only a few tables, but great views to the south of Madrid from its vantage point on Calle del Doctor Cortezo (number 17, 6th floor). Enter through a front door that wouldn’t make you look twice and think about booking in advance. The food is so-so but the views are truly incredible.