Lined up for you, I’ve got two bars, one of which is 316 years old. Also, two no-frills eateries on two different continents, a few local architectural phenomenons spanning various eras, and a virtual ticket to some of Madrid’s nethermost barrios.
Sound good? Then dive in…
1. A BEAUTIFUL NO-FRILLS BAR IN VILLA DE VALLECAS
From the outside, this bar in Villa de Vallecas looks like a kitsch Spanish train from the 1970s, and inside lies a perfect, no-frills bar. The floor is strewn with napkins, toothpicks and snail shells, and the walls are clad with smokey mirrors.
The bar area is a huge U-shape – so big that you never have to compete for space up at the best place to be. Want to sit down? Pull up a black plastic chair.
2. THE NO-FRILLS ETHIOPIAN
Unsurprisingly, I’ve become a regular at Habesha, a brand-new Ethiopian restaurant by Atocha. It’s hugely popular with local Ethiopians, and me, and it’s also right next door to one of my other Madrid favourites: the Pupusería.
3. THE SQUARE OF THE EYES OF THE MOSQUE
My favourite square name ever. Go and see it with your own eyes in the southern barrio of San Fermin, not far from a beautiful part of the Manzanares river.
Location: Plaza de los Ojos de la Mezquita
4. THE ARCHITECTURAL OUTCROP
Once upon a time, this two-storey building had a large patio, until they built a whole ‘nother building in it.
Location: Calle Embajadores, 27
5. A NO-FRILLS NOODLE PLACE IN USERA
Those crispy Gyoza cost €4, the stuffed bread: €2, and each of those moreish bowls of hot, soupy noodles cost between €3 and €5. To that, add a few tinnies and a regrettable lathering of spicy pickle and you’ve dined like a no-frills queen for the price of a lunchtime menú.
Location: Jin Yung Shao Bing
6. COLONIA DE LA PRENSA
No, I’m not in Cuba. I’m standing at the Modernist gateway to the old Colonia de la Prensa: the 20th-century holiday homes for journalists. They’re now privately owned mansions, in Carabanchel – not exactly no-frills, but it certainly ticks the curiosity box, which I know you love.
Location: Colonia de la Prensa
7. THE VALLECAS TOWER BLOCK WITH A VIEW
This stunning view belongs to the residents of one of Madrid’s largest tower blocks, which is also where local radio station, Radio Vallekas lives.
Location: C/ Puerto del Milagro, 6, Vallecas
8. THE “POOREST NEIGHBOURHOOD IN MADRID”
This is Barrio Aeropuerto, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Madrid. It comprises a mix of low-rise 1960s tower blocks, old bungalows and a few no-frills bars. It was built from scratch to house immigrants and airport workers, but as you can see in the photograph below, it receives very little funding. A Hilton hotel complex overlooks the “básica” municipal sports pitch, which is a field of sandy mud, much like the town’s car park, which floods regularly.
The neighbours of Barrio Aeropuerto have been fighting for years for Madrid to make improvements to their broken streets, neglected facilities and crumbling flats. And finally, €12 million has been granted and three years of works will begin next year.
The future of this neighbourhood is uncertain, however, as regeneration often comes hand in hand with gentrification. No one in Madrid should be expected to live like this, but when a poor area suddenly becomes desirable, well, we know what happens next…
Location: Barrio Aeropuerto, by the airport.
9. AN UNEXPECTED STREET OF CASAS BAJAS
Just behind Villa de Vallecas station exists a small, quiet industrial area for new and used cars, windows, blinds, furniture etc. But just behind it I found this narrow back lane of casas bajas.
It appears to be the last complete street of traditional, self-built bungalows in the neighbourhood – most of them have been demolished and replaced with tower blocks, or have been left as empty plots of ghost buildings.
Location: C/ Gutiérrez y Michel
10. AN ANCIENT MADRID BODEGA
This is La Bodega de Pedro, a 316-year-old bodega in a village that lies in the shadows of Madrid’s iconic skyscrapers.
Don’t be shy to explore every inch of this charming bodega, admiring the ancient wooden features and the ornate vaulted ceilings. Ask the waiter too if he’ll let you into the wine cellar two-stories below ground, which should be possible during lunch time.
Location: La Bodega de Pedro
Carry on tumbling down the no-frills rabbit hole with Volume V of our no-frills finds.