20th century apartment buildings, churches and medieval cathedrals fill the skyline of Madrid, Spain.
Madrid is littered with centuries’ old buildings and offers the architect and the foodie a welcoming respite from walking through the no-shade sun drenched Indian summer or sleet-ridden wintered worn streets and plazas.
Croquetas and Bacalao from Casa Labra
A multitude awaits entrance into Casa Labra, home of fried fish and national brews.
Since the Middle Ages travelers reached Madrid by horse or stagecoach in anticipation of the taverns that awaited them. Today, smack dab in the epicenter of Puerta del Sol, one can still quench the thirst and hunger assumed by far and wide travel. Established in 1860, and frequented by the Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party founded in this very spot 1879, Casa Labra continues to dish out hot meals and tap out draft beers.
Fried cod (front) and cod croquettes (back) are the specialty of the house at Casa Labra.
Don’t be fooled by the appearance of this restaurant/bar/food-stop listed in almost every guide book on Earth, in fact it’s a Madrid institution. Whether or not you have been introduced to salted and dried cod fish, you’ll quickly learn that bacalao is an essential element of a Spaniard’s diet. This place specializes in it; frying up some of most famous cod fritters and cod croquettes this side of the Atlantic. In standard Madrid fashion, it’s open late and fills up fast, so be prepared to queue.
Where wine flows like water. El Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain.
Finding a shop to make your sandwich on the premises while you browse the gefilte fish and bagel offerings will not be a discovery in Madrid, at least not in this day and age. That being said there are popular and historic markets speckled throughout the city that appease locals and guiris alike with an array of tapas and bite-size finger foods to enjoy along the bar, or wherever you can manage to elbow your own personal space. El Mercado de San Miguel, an iconic 20th century steel covered market, is just the spot for this Madrid experience. And since you can pretty much drink anywhere in Spain, it’s also an excellent location to pair your snack with a glass of wine (vino del paà s). On Sundays – unlike most storefronts – the Mercado de San Miguel is busier than ever.
Situated next to Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s covered market, El Mercado de San Miguel, serves as a delicious and beautiful example of the city’s architecture and gastronomy.
Arrive early for a unique “brunch” of raw shucked oysters and cava (the Catalan equivalent to champagne), plates full of jamón ibérico and Manchego cheese or even pick out your fish from one of the vendors and watch them prepare it onsite. However, there is much more than meets the belly; gourmets can browse the gastronomic bookstore, the architecture (modeled after the original Les Halles Paris) impresses any Ebenezer Scrooge and the ambiance of people’s excitement to be sharing what they love best – company and food – rises above all.
Hungry? Why wait? Pastries tempt passersby at Horno del Pozo, Madrid.
Spaniards may claim to be fit and healthy, abiding strictly to a Mediterranean or a fresh food lifestyle, but truth be told they are huge sweet enthusiasts. Breakfast generally consists of a coffee with milk and sugar or a hot chocolate with some sort of pastry. Also let it be known that the entire country takes an essentially mandatory snack time break at 5pm, the merienda, which is a calorie packed way of tiding over growling stomachs until the late Spanish dinner at 10pm. This mini-meal is almost always a sweet – especially for children – and could be a muffin, a small bag of cookies, or a bread roll smeared with Nocilla (the Spanish branded version of Nutella).
More and more, as industrialized products “facilitate” our lives, the once homemade sweets mentioned above are now being processed, packaged and sold in Costco-style sized bags for quick, easy and mindless consumption. To find a bakery that continuously puts the time and effort into baking treats worthy of calorie consumption is getting more difficult. That said, Horno del Pozo is a living example of tradition frozen in time, the year 1830 to be exact. Walking past the shop will put our glycemic indices on high – in a good way. Walking past without entering however, would be a crime. Marvel at the well kept marble counter, chat with the owners, steal a peek at the antique cash register (still in use!) and certainly grab a treat for the road.
A little piece of history remains functional at Antigua Pasteleria El Pozo.
For some the addition of music or buskers on the bus, train or metro is a welcome accessory to their daily commute. In Madrid, as of lately I have seen more and more artists take the underground or stake claim in Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor as an opportunity to earn their daily bread. I’ve seen them surrounded by the metro’s white tiles in a corner next to the escalators, riding alongside the other passengers with their guitar bag or pull-cart of a speaker or waiting at high traffic areas for commuters to finish their lunch hour or work day. The other day someone told me that they had experienced a full-on Shakespeare troupe in the metro-how cool!
However, another day riding the subway I encountered a new circumstance. Two security guards ushered a busker off the metro-without force-while the entertainer was mid-song. I asked one of the guards why they had done that, “Is it illegal to play music on the metro?” She answered that it is prohibited only when it is a nuisance or annoyance to the passengers. Therefore, it could be perceived as permitted in wide hallways, during hours of slow commuter traffic or if no objections are made.
Which led me to contemplate, how do we perceive art? What is bothersome to us? Will we allow ourselves to be introduced to new forms or are we only willing to pay for something if we choose to enter the four walls housing the exposition, act or artwork? How then does urban art, an “intrusive” form of art-being that it is never up to us if we see it or not, it is just there-affect Madrid’s civilians and which artists are changing our perceptions?
According to another set of policemen, la guardia civil, graffiti is illegal on all accounts in Spain, minus in situations where an artist has been commissioned to produce something and the legal paperwork has been filed to validate this agreement.
A store front window is decorated in black and white, likely the outcome of a hired artist and approved city codes.
Apartment building mural in the Lavapiés neighborhood. Calle Lavapiés #17, designed by Cristina Gayarre.
There are over forty-four museums in the Spanish capital. If you are interested you can find a wide variety of sculptures, classic pieces, modern, theater, comedy, photography and specialty museums, like the Naval Museum or even 18th century garments. Street art however is a rarer sight, especially along the tourist path running from el Museo Prado to the Palacio Real on the far west end of the city. Splashed across shuttered store fronts, trains out towards the city limits or on crumbling walls of deserted warehouses you are more likely to see “bubble” signatures or tags of that nature.
I suppose the phenomenon in Madrid starts with the definition of graffiti. We are generally, from a young age, taught or gather from the media that graffiti has a negative effect on society.
2. ( used with a plural verb ) markings, as initials, slogans, or drawings, written, spray-painted, or sketched on a sidewalk,wall of a building or public restroom, or the like: These graffiti are evidence of the neighborhood’s decline.
The second influence is our government’s perception. If a city, district or nation bans or allows this type of expression from its residents or tourists, the city’s entire persona can be altered accordingly. Take a look at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as Michelle the founder of Untapped Cities called attention to the city’s aggressive and prismatic landscape in her featured article in the Huffington Post. Is there a coincidence that this city is home to the happiest people on Earth?
Getting away from adverse connotations of graffiti to educating the citizens about street art is in the hands of the artists. People will need to be surprised, awed and moved. Tagging is no longer the answer for grabbing attention, and defacing property isn’t the motto of today’s street art icons. Murals, small objects in wall corners or building skins need to be unique and speak to the population. Spanish artist Escif is quickly gaining the attention of the urban art scene for his international work, however the majority can be found in Valencia, Spain, where he resides. Escif paints rather politically themed murals and one-offs with a minimal color palette. He also keeps a YouTube channel to display his works to fans.
Madrid has proven to be a little slower to adapt. There are less artists than say Paris or New York City, but according to word on the street, the artists that roam the capital are active in what they do.
Mostly found in the neighborhoods of Malasaà±a and Lavapiés, you should keep your eyes out for 3ttMan, a multipurpose artist who in 2011 headed a campaign based on cement carvings. He worked in broad daylight, blending in as a construction worker, yet still received threats and fines for his expressions.
“Mas obra, menos arte, More construction, less art,” states this piece by 3ttMan on Calle de la Luna.
The door of a small storage-space becomes the canvas for an urban graffiti artist in Madrid.
REMED, a Frenchman who claims Madrid as his adoptive city, creates colorful and generally large scale pieces, e1000ink specializes in surreal and 3D paintings, Neko, very active in Madrid, produces stickers, posters, stencils and neon light fixtures that take the place of advertising modules or telephone booths. Sam3 has been gaining more national and international attention, arriving to be known in London and Portugal. His most recent billboard makes references to the recortes, or budget cuts that have been hitting Spain’s state, education, health and cultural programs with drastic cutbacks. dosjotas who has a gift for the irony, reinvents street signs, garbage collection notices, public advertising or state information with a twist. Only those who read the fine print or recognize the sarcasm in the changed landscape will know he has been there.
2009 mural by 3ttMan and REMED on Calle de la Luna in Madrid’s city center.
A fresh fish shop is adorned with the art of 3ttMan on Calle del Noviciado.
Finally, Nuria Mora or just Nuria in the art world has been painting geometric shapes with “girly” touches-floral or gingham effects-for years now. She has a tendency to choose attention grabbing locations in the touristic center of the city. For a large mural on Calle de Cedaceros she worked 7 hour days for a finished product that mixes the industrial feeling of the street with her daintiness. When I went to visit, it had already been covered by others, more proof that these pieces are so temporary, or at least always straying further and further from the artist’s’ original intentions.
Pastels and flowers merged with city landscapes in Madrid’s historic center. Mural by Nuria.
There also exists a movement of people who are dedicating themselves to capturing this art, documenting it before it is removed, worn-away or splashed over, such as Madrid based photographer Guillermo de la Madrid and artist Alberto de Pedro. Or bloggers dedicated to making Madrid known to the rest of the world.
Today street art is more mainstream, once underground sites like Street Art News and Unurth, give a daily update of happenings and discoveries around the globe to thousands of fans, through various social media platforms. But like anything that goes big, the anti-movement will likely be even more powerful, aware and present of the opposition. Although this Guardian article dates back to 2007 and it speaks to the UK’s position on street art, its trifle nature remains an international current affair. The answer quite simple, those creating the pieces do less harm than those removing it.
A moment too late, a small piece by street artist Alice is covered by a tag in Madrid’s Malasaà±a district.
You may wonder what makes certain cities more artsy than others. Is it rebellion? For instance Parisians are more likely to jump the metro and they have a history of being flamboyant protesters. Are they creating an environment for anti-system procedures and free expression? Is it something already present in their culture? If so, Madrid should be almost at the top of the list with Velázquez and Goya as a base. Or has the Spanish capital been too far gone from the creative nucleus, as artists in the early 20th century fled to Barcelona, France and beyond? I don’t have the answer for you, I can’t tell what moves the artistic and inventive cooperative of the city. But I’d be willing to guess that Madrid will show more expression in the coming years, that artists will be passing through or settling permanently between which they’ll leave their mark on the city. Why? Because Madrid is in transition. The unrest of politics, unemployment, civilian rights and a renaissance or revolt of what it means to be “Spanish” will speak itself in the form of art. Or at least I hope so, because a city is bare, weak, lacking energy and character if its artistic set cannot be lauded and admired on display for the public.
An onlooker admires part of a mural at the community garden in Lavapiés.
“La calle es de todos, es para transmitir el arte que cada uno de esos artistas urbanas lleva dentro.”
“The street belongs to everyone, it exists so that every artist can transmit what they carry inside to the masses.”
I recently watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ”˜The Layover’ as he visited my old territory of Los Angeles. One segment showed Bourdain touring the streets of LA with a professional tour guide mastered in the subject of Hollywood’s darker side-celebrity deaths and their death places-perhaps most notably Black Dahlia, John Belushi, Janis Joplin and Charles Manson’s victims.
It’s true that often we travel not just to take in the city, but to relive it, sometimes as we would have imagined it when [enter dead celebrity here] was alive. The human obsession with morbidity and mystery is reflected in travel highlights like the Tower of London, the Roosevelt Hotel, the toilet at Graceland…the lists goes on and on.
This leads me to a hunch as to why people come to Spain. Sure, the sun, food, architecture, vibrant culture and flamenco guitar melodies attract many, but I’m convinced others do so to combine their interest in stepping foot where famous acts and figures in history spent their last days; where the Spanish Inquisition (one of the most tortuous examples of human mistreatment, persecution and prejudice) took place, or the death and final resting place of Christopher Columbus, or maybe even an interest in the life of Roy Kinnear (you know, that British comedian who spoiled Veruca Salt rotten in Willy Wonka?). And lest we forget Ernest Hemingway, who left his footprints well marked throughout the Spanish state, and has likely inspired millions of tourists to become aware of Spanish culture or make the pilgrimage themselves to visit his old stomping grounds. Simply uttering the name “Hemingway” is likely to conjure up many images for the Western Literature fan, or anyone who paid attention in their high school English Lit class. For many others, this name probably draws upon imagery of Paris, the Caribbean, Spain, bullfighting, and of course, alcohol. The latter three can all be found in Madrid-and still visible and accessible-through Hemingway’s trail.
Hemingway was no stranger to Europe, his novels are dotted with inspiration from his time in Italy, Paris, and London (although not always by choice-living through two world wars), but Madrid was a city that he always came back to, including one of his final international trips before his suicide in 1961.
Who’s to say exactly why “Don Hemingway,” as the Spaniards called him, became so enamored by Madrid? We may always just wonder what drew him back during the hard times, a civil war, the beginning of a dictatorship and later between trips to his other permanent residencies. Some of his most active literary years were those that he spent in the Spanish capital, predominately in the mid-1920s and mid-1950s.
An eccentric and extroverted ex-pat, he was known to visit and return to his passion points, or to bars that leaked Republican news (those of the anti-fascist movement). More than fifty years since his death, you can still wander through the skinny cobblestone alleys, lean against the dark wood and marble-laden bars or sit in the shade at the famed bullring.
La Venencia on Calle de Echegaray in the barrio of Huertas
Begin at the epicenter of Madrid, kilometro cero, from which all of the corners of Spain sit equidistant, officially known as the Puerta del Sol. This is the old part of town-the historic district-so it won’t be difficult to put yourself into Hemingway’s shoes from here. Cut right onto a less crowded side section and soon you’ll find yourself on the quiet street of Calle de Echegaray. The painted block letters above door number seven will read La Venencia. Go inside and ask for a glass or tasting of jerez-sherry wine fortified with brandy and a typical apéritif-maybe you’ll hear your neighbor discussing Republican democracy, or simply sit and enjoy, whether that be while mourning or celebrating his legacy.
Front entrance to El Sobrino de Botin on Calle de los Cuchilleros
Stumble out into the callejones Madrileà±os that seem to be frozen in time and direct yourself towards Restaurante Sobrino de Botin, or just Botin to the locals. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is the oldest working restaurant in the world. Dating back to 1725, this restaurant witnessed many an afternoon and evening with Mr. Hemingway. He chose this site as a point of interest in his novel The Sun Also Rises, in which the protagonists share a meal here. His “table” remains on the upper level, essentially as he would have left it, so many years ago.
Downstairs dining room at Botin
Roasted suckling pigs awaiting their turn inside the 300 year old oven at Botin
If necrophobia is the fear of dead things and things associated with death, then perhaps necrogastrophobia would be the fear that you will die before trying quintessential dishes that famous people had dined on before you. If that’s your thing, order the roasted suckling pig (cochinillo) and a glass of rioja alta wine. PETA advocates have been forewarned-these little piggies won’t be going all the way home.
Or choose the upstairs dining room where Hemingway preferred to sit
After dinner, mosey uphill towards Gran Via, the busy and well-lit intersection of the city, lined with early 20th century facades, brimming with locals, out-of-towners and theater-goers. Grab a nightcap at Museo Chicote, known in Hemingway’s day as Taberna Chicote-it was, and still is hip, modern, art-deco and classic. Drinks are strong and the design is well-kept, cheers to authenticity! For the record, other deceased celebrities walked through these doors and sipped these cocktails including: Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Orson Welles.
A classic bar stop on Madrid’s busy Gran Via
In Hemingway’s day La Cerveceràa Alemana served one of Madrid’s best beers on tap
What Spanish pub isn’t equipped with cured ham legs and strong liquors?
If the night must live on, or if the next morning you find yourself needing a hangover cure with a slice of history, pop into CerveceràaAlemana in Plaza Santa Ana. Perhaps these folks play too heavily on the “Hemingway was here” catchphrase, but alas for all those retracing his steps, this bar/restaurant shouldn’t be overlooked. The inside holds to its past and one can marvel at the jamón legs from the marble counter-top or steal his spot in the window for people watching and that touch of nostalgia. Bring your copy of Death in the Afternoon his non-fiction writing on bullfighting and courage, or For Whom the Bell Tolls, his interpretation of the Spanish Civil War. Have no fear, the bartenders won’t kick you out until you want to leave.
Hemingway WAS here
In Madrid for the weekend? You can follow Hemingway’s lead to the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. Every Sunday from the beginning of March until the end of October tourists, Madrileà±os and Spaniards (generally of the older generation) mark their space inside the nearly 24,000 seat arena to partake in the viewing pleasure, or disgust, of bullfighting.
The subject is very touchy here in Spain (Catalonia banned the practice in 2011) as to whether or not in today’s society it is an art form, animal cruelty, or dying tradition, but the truth is that Ernest Hemingway was a passionate enthusiast of the “sport.” You can still find many tapas bars serving up rabo de toro, a stewed bull’s tail, which comes from-you guessed it-the final act of the bullring.
For architecture fans, Las Ventas is worthy of a trip to see the blend of Muslim and southern Spanish styles on a grand scale. Inaugurated in 1931, it’s no surprise that this impressive construction, as well as literal execution inside and out, must have deeply impacted Hemingway.” ª
I challenge you not to feel swept away by your surroundings as you spend a day in the life of Hemingway in Madrid. Enjoy!
Many flock to the outer areas of the bullring for picture taking and gawking
Carefully placed bricks, ironwork and tiles line the circumference
La Venencia [map] Calle de Echegaray 7 28014 Madrid Spain
Restaurante Sobrino de Botin [map] Calle de los Cuchilleros 17 28005 Madrid Spain
Museo Chicote [map] Gran Via 12 28013 Madrid Spain
Ceverceràa Alemana [map] Plaza Santa Ana 6 28012 Madrid Spain
Plaza de Toros Las Ventas [map] Calle Alcalá 237 28028 Madrid Spain