Lost & Found

10 offbeat finds in Madrid (Vol. II)

3 January 2018
The secret garden on Plaza de Puerta Cerrada

We’ve all done it, getting locked into commuter mode and becoming completely focused on overtaking that impenetrable row of old ladies. It’s easy to get yourself into a routine of tunnel vision no matter where you live, so let this collection of offbeat finds inspire the new year’s resolution you never made: to slow down (or even stop) and look at the Madrid around you, and you might just see something you never knew was there.

1. THE PAKISTANI MOSQUE

Squares in Lavapiés have forever been a hub of multicultural activities in Madrid – especially Plaza Arturo Barea. On any given day, you can find Senegalese locals blasting reggae, groups of Bangladeshi boys playing football, and Madrileños (born and adopted) playing the guitar.

One Friday afternoon, I was passing this square and noticed a stream of traditionally dressed Muslim men spilling out from the back. I went against the current and stumbled across a tiny Pakistani mosque on the ground floor of the huge block of flats…

The Pakistani mosque on Plaza Arturo Barea

The Pakistani mosque on Plaza Arturo Barea

Secret address: Plaza Arturo Barea, Lavapiés (the far northwestern corner)

I’ve since discovered around six ‘secret’ mosques in Lavapiés, but that’s an article for another day.

2. THE SECRET GARDEN BEHIND PLAZA MAYOR

Tucked discreetly into an oblique corner of Plaza de Puerta Cerrada lives a tiny triangular oasis in the entrance to a residential building. Look closely and see if you can spot the miniature strawberries…

The secret garden on Plaza de Puerta Cerrada

The secret garden on Plaza de Puerta Cerrada

A tiny strawberry growing in the garden

A tiny strawberry growing in the garden

Secret address: Calle Latoneros, 3

3. THE REMAINS OF AN OLD WALL

Just in front of this secret garden, there’s a small chunk of wall that seems out of place…

The 1m by 1m block of wall

The metre-square block of old wall

4. EL RASTRO’S ANCIENT STREET NUMBERS

If you’ve only ever visited El Rastro on a Sunday, you won’t have been able to see these numbers, as they’re covered by the stalls. These old numerical floor tiles mark the areas allocated to the different stalls, most of which occupy several spaces.

Tiled numbers on Plaza de Cascorro

Tiled numbers on Plaza de Cascorro

But there’s one small stall that takes up only a single space…

5. THE SMALLEST STALL IN EL RASTRO

Allocated just one number, this tiny stall is sandwiched between a much larger clothes stall and a leather shop. You can find this miniature watch and jewellery stall at the top of Calle Ribera de Curtidores.

The smallest stall in El Rastro

The smallest stall in El Rastro

Sandwiched between its neighbours

Sandwiched between its neighbours

6. A RANDOMLY RITZY RESIDENTIAL RECEPTION

The door on the street was slightly ajar, so in I went…

A residential reception area

A ritzy residential reception

Secret address: Calle de los Caños de Peral 5

7. MADRID’S GAY SAUNAS

Madrid has dozens of male-only ‘saunas’, whose unusual abundance is a relic of the city’s post-dictatorship sexual revolution.

Saunas are intended as safe places for gay men to meet other gay men, but there’s sometimes a darker side to the business. Prostitution is strictly prohibited but difficult to monitor, and some saunas are said to be a front for illegal brothels. If you want to know which are regulated saunas and which show signs of shadier shenanigans, Google reviews and TripAdvisor are surprisingly helpful.

Sauna Adan

Sauna Adan on Calle San Bernardo

8. THE 104-YEAR-OLD BUTTON SHOP

If saunas aren’t your thing, perhaps buttons are. I was doing my usual “follow that abuela!” mission when two elderly ladies led me to Almacén de Pontejos – a huge haberdashery of granny-chic treasures just behind Puerta del Sol…

Buttons of every shape, size, colour, pattern…

Buttons of every shape, size, colour and pattern

Antique rotating button displays

Antique rotating button displays

9. THE BULLFIGHTERS’ TAILOR

There’s one just off Sol called Justo Algaba, which sells and adjusts all the gear a matador could ever need…

The matador tailor shop by Sol

The matadors’outfitters just off Sol

10. MADRID’S KING OF FOOTBALL SELFIES

There’s at least one constant to the photos adorning this concierge’s office window: the concierge himself. He’s fanatical about football and keeps over 100 photographs of him and his heroes sellotaped to the windows of his booth. You can find his quirky shrine inside the shopping forum between Calle del Carretas 12 and Calle de la Paz, which is also a fascinating portal that leads you through the 1980s and back out again.

Madrid's king of selfies

Madrid’s king of football selfies

Discover even more things you’ve walked past 100 times in Ten offbeat finds in Madrid (Vol I).

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