Weekend in . . . Madrid
The city is reinventing itself as a vibrant reflection of Spanish creativity
A view from the Tartan Roof atop the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Photograph: Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times
Museum visitors take in Picasso’s Guernica.
In the five years since Spain’s economy took a nose-dive, madrileños never stopped going out, but they did become more judicious in their spending. While not easy on businesses, this has ultimately been good for consumers, as retailers and restaurateurs dug deep in the treasure chest of Spanish talents and traditions – not to mention agricultural bounty – to weather the economic storm. Before that storm, Madrid seemed frantic to become a copy of any other European metropolis, but now the city feels more Spanish again. Resourcefulness, creativity and reinvention are bubbling up in art galleries, designer ateliers and restaurants.
Hit the high seas Get a maritime perspective on world history and the naval events that shaped Spain’s vast empire from 1492 to the present at the Museo Naval (€3). Against a backdrop of wall-size paintings of Christopher Columbus stepping ashore in the Americas, or bird’s-eye depictions of famous battles such as Trafalgar, emblems of Spanish naval prowess abound. There are hundreds of intricately rigged model galleons and clipper ships, some large enough to sail away on, vivid reminders that Spain once ruled the seas and apparently kept excellent records of every voyage. As the museum is part of a government ministry, visitors need a valid photo ID.
6pm Locals-only shopping Global luxury brands once dominated the prime storefronts in Barrio Salamanca, Madrid’s upscale shopping district, with local talent and independent designers shoehorned into tiny spaces and appointment-only ateliers. With the city’s real estate correction has come a new visibility for top-quality Spanish designers and craftsmen. Check out gorgeous men’s shoes handmade in Almansa, Castilla-La Mancha, at Berwick 1707. Other exquisite leather goods, manufactured in Ubrique in Andalusia, can be found at La Portegna and include purses, supple travel slippers and 21st-century accessories such as iPad covers and yoga bags. For edible souvenirs head to La Conservera, a new speciality boutique opened by the fish canner Frinsa with its line of delicacies from Galicia. As security gates start rolling down at 8pm, shoppers can ease the transition from retail to relaxing by sampling Spanish wines at Lavinia, one of the city’s most esteemed vinotecas.
10pm Bunless bunch For 10 years, Sandro Silva’s Asturian restaurant El Paraguas has reigned as preferred canteen for many of Madrid’s movers and shakers. In 2012 Silva opened Ten Con Ten, which has a more casual vibe. The innovative menu ranges widely, with easy-to-share starters such as duck spring rolls, pheasant croquetas or a salad of goat’s cheese and fresh herbs melting over ribbons of thinly sliced courgette. Nobody shares the burgers, which are made of beef, oxtail or pixín, a firm-fleshed Asturian anglerfish, and come bunless on a plate with minimalist finesse. As the night wears on, the bar starts to feel like a frat house for a well-heeled over-35 crowd.
1am Only drinks In Chueca, the Madrid neighbourhood with perhaps the highest density of watering holes, it’s hard for a new establishment to make a splash. But instead of bellying up to the bar at the 10-month-old Only You Hotel, customers pose languidly on long Chesterfield sofas in what feels like a salon of a particularly tasteful duchess who likes having a lot of people around and serves 36 varieties of gin (€12). Other signature tipples include the aromatic Eivissa Connection, which blends herbal liquor from Ibiza with almond, mint and thyme (€11).
Saturday 11am Art course Known as the “golden triangle”, the blocks between Madrid’s three most emblematic museums – the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza – are a natural breeding ground for commercial art galleries and alternative exhibition spaces. Some also sell books, booze and even breakfast, so start your art crawl with a café con leche and tostada (toast) drizzled with olive oil, crushed tomato and slices of jamón Ibérico (€2.50) at La Fábrica, a year-old space on Calle Alameda combining gallery, shop and restaurant. Next door at CaixaForum Madrid check out a major exhibition on the French architect Le Corbusier (until October 12th, €4). The greatest density of art galleries is along Calle Doctor Fourquet, just behind the Reina Sofia, Spain’s national modern and contemporary art museum. The established dealers Helga de Alvear and Espacio Minimo share sidewalks with newcomers such as Louis 21, “The Gallery.” Score some wearable art at the beloved vintage clothing boutique Pepita Is Dead.
1.30pm Chop room The refrigerator handle on the front door and meat cleavers over the bar will tip you off that Sala de Despiece is a meat-lovers’ paradise. Waiters guide you through the menu and show you how to make meat roll-ups with thin slices of raw steak, some flakes of sea salt, a bit of crushed tomato and a dollop of earthy truffle sauce. Grilled artichokes are served with a zesty ceviche-like concoction of tomatoes and shrimp. Majorero goat’s cheese from the Canary Islands is grilled until it develops a golden crust, then served with paper-thin wafers and a drizzling of molasses. Most dishes come in full or half portions so diners can sample a greater variety. No reservations, so come early. Lunch for two with a bottle of wine, €60.
4pm Egyptian interlude Head to the Templo de Debod, a second-century BC Egyptian temple in the Parque del Oueste, which offers spectacular views of the Guadarrama Mountains. The temple was a gift from Egypt in gratitude for Spain’s help in building the Aswan Dam in the 1960s. Stroll south past the Plaza España to the Sabatini Gardens beneath the north facade of the Royal Palace. Stretch out on a bench to take a mini-siesta among the sun-bleached sculptures of Spanish kings, or continue south to the Café de Oriente for a pick-me-up café carajillo (coffee with brandy) and front-row views of the crowds promenading in front of the palace
9pm Meet the neighbours The once-mean streets of TriBall, the recently minted name for the area around Calle Ballesta and Corredera Baja de San Pablo just north of Gran Via, have become some of the trendiest addresses in town. Prostitutes still linger on some blocks, but the many restaurants and bars draw enough traffic to tip the scales from seedy to spirited (and safe). You could easily spend the entire night in the area starting with a beer at Clarita, a TriBall pioneer popular with the city’s art crowd. Follow it up with dinner at the tiny eight-table (reservations necessary) La Tasquita de Enfrente, where the chef Juanjo Silva elevates classic Spanish fare in tasting menus of four or six dishes plus dessert (€45-€90 depending on wine). Midnight 9 Scene steeler Madrileños love to have a “first drink” in a more upscale environment than where they suspect the last drink will be consumed. A good place for yours – or a light and affordable late supper – is Maricastaña, a cozy, candlelit spot where the kitchen stays open from 10am-2am. Then step across the street for drinks two and three at Kike Keller, a showroom selling Keller’s gorgeous welded and forged steel furniture. From Thursday to Saturday the shop also becomes a lounge open until 2.30am with an atmosphere that lands somewhere between an Edwardian gentlemen’s club (albeit one with waiters in kilts) and a 1940s airplane hanger.
Sunday 10am Market ticking up Bucking a downward trend for many European antiques districts, Madrid’s Sunday flea market keeps getting bigger and better. For vintage items, stay on the blocks between the market’s main drag of Calle Ribera de Curtidores and Calle de Toledo, where shops such as Vintage 4P, La Brocanterie and Midtempo offer a range of chic and portable items such as lumpy 1970s ceramics with lavalike glazes that make stylish souvenirs.
Noon Big sky Take a beloved cultural institution, add international “street food” gastronomy and views, and you have Madrid’s most buzzing drinking, dining and sunbathing experience. Tartan Roof, atop the Circulo de Bellas Artes (admission, €3), offers prime vistas over the fanciful rooftops of Gran Via and Calle Alcalá. You’ll think you can see the entire city, and by summer’s end all of Madrid will have come to sample Javier Muñoz-Calero’s innovative take on hot dogs, flatbreads and spring rolls. Lunch for two with drinks, €50 .
Museo Naval, Paseo del Prado 5; armada.mde.es/ museonaval.
Berwick 1707, Jorge Juan 11.
La Portegna, Núñez de Balboa 62.
La Conservera, Claudio Coello 38.
Lavinia, José Ortega y Gasset 16.
Ten Con Ten, Ayala 6; restaurantetenconten.com
Only You Hotel, Barquillo 21; onlyyouhotels.com.
La Fábrica, Alameda 9; lafabrica.com.
Caixa Forum Madrid, Paseo del Prado 36.
Galería Helga de Alvear, helgadealvear.com.
Espacio Mínimo, espaciominimo.es.
Louis 21, “The Gallery,” louis21.es.
Pepita Is Dead, pepitaisdead.es.
Sala de Despiece, Ponzano 11; saladedespiece.com.
Templo de Debod, Paseo de Pintor Rosales 2.
Café de Oriente, Plaza de Oriente 2; cafedeoriente.es.
Clarita, Corredera Baja de San Pablo 19; claritamadrid.com.
La Tasquita de Enfrente, Ballesta 6; latasquitadeenfrente.com.
Maricastaña, Corredera Baja de San Pablo 1.
Kike Keller, kikekeller.com.
Vintage 4P, Calle Bastero 4.
La Brocanterie, Rodrigo de Guevara 2; labrocanterie.es.
Midtempo, Mira el Rio Baja 6; midtempo.es.
Tartan Roof, Circulo de Bellas Artes, Marques de Casa Riera 2; azoteadelcirculo.com.
© 2014 The New York Times. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate