They’re perfectly placed should you spontaneously decide to get your shoes shined, grab a bag of chestnuts or pick up a newspaper, but these gifts of the street are rewarded only to those who slow down. Allow yourself an extra five minutes to get to the nearest no-frills bar, and you’ll witness our streets come alive with a multi-generational community of micro shops.
Welcome to the untimely ossuary of Madrid’s extinct shops, bars and restaurants – an emotive collection of defunct signage from Madrid’s long-lost traditional businesses.
Our city gardens are something to be treasured dearly, with so many being lost over the years. Hundreds of grassy nooks and micro orchards have become victim to our ever-expanding metropolis, leaving those that remain with an almost mythical status.
I’ve got a confession to make: I’m a little bit obsessed with confessionals. I suspect this might be one of the weirdest things a priest could ever be told through a latticed window, but although I have no intention of repenting my curiosity-related sins, an explanation might be helpful…
Those hermetic voile curtains are partly to preserve Café El Despertar’s clandestine atmosphere, they’re but mostly there to deter the naive walk-in customer. The steely elderly owner, with his enviable beard, is interested only in clientele who are specifically here for his jazz music, and most certainly not the police, who, for good reason, he constantly fears.
Unless you live on this quiet, narrow street in Lavapiés, there’s almost no reason for you to walk down it – that is, unless you’re going to the Duck Church. Nestled into the ground floor of a centenarian building lives a tiny temple devoted to the rubber duck, and its priest is Leo Bassi, a 66-year-old clown who was born on tour.
Casa Postal is an unfinished, no-frills cabinet of curiosities that will transport you back to your childhood, your mother’s childhood, your grandmother’s childhood and beyond if you let your imagination take you there.
Nathan Brenville likes to explore his local barrio with sketchbook in hand, believing that drawing is the best way to notice the details of his surroundings. While doing so, it often leads to some interesting conversations with passers-by, which is exactly how Nathan met Encarni.
When I asked Jose Luis Jiménez who the people in the photographs were, he spent the next half hour telling me stories from his childhood and showing me pictures taken by his friends from all over the world.
“Do you know about El Comunista? It’s painted Ruby red for people who can’t read – just like the other bodegas – and when you step inside, you’ll see the Spain my great-grandparents knew”
Ex-monk Don Justo survived the Spanish Civil War and even tuberculosis, yet at 93 years old, he knows doesn’t have long left. He’s just a decade away from completing his 60-year mission to build a life-size cathedral, but when the local city council want it demolished, the question becomes, ‘who will outlive who?’
My obsession with horchata began exactly where it should: on the coast of Valencia, surrounded by orange blossom and flamingos. On my return to Madrid, I vowed never to rest until I’d found the best horchata in town, and there it was – as it has been for 74 years – in a little roadside kiosk run by the fifth generation of the same family.
Peluquería Luis Martín is one of Madrid’s last remaining vintage barbers. It survived the frontline of the Spanish Civil war, the requisition of its beautiful chairs, and the untimely death of Don Luís Martín himself. Yet, 93 years later, and still having never given in to the hipster beard, this niche men’s hairdresser’s is still going strong.
Curiosity often gets the better of me, but I like to think I’m prepared for what lurks behind the curtain. In 2015, however, I was forbidden to look. The man inside the tiny ticket window told me: “Sorry love, this isn’t for you.”
There are few better ways to spend a Sunday in Madrid than strolling around El Rastro, but if you don’t have time to explore this 400-year-old market as many times as we have (possibly into three figures), then let us help you hit the ground running with seven of our most eccentric finds.