No Frills

Míticos, típicos y no-frilleños: Malasaña’s 10 best bars

8 February 2020

The bares típicos are one of the things I deeply love Spain for. The way you can pop in for a coffee in a glass, a caña, a tapa, a few words with the person behind the bar and other people in the bar – a sense of connection to simple uplifting things. I still remember one of the first of these places I went to when first I came to Madrid, age 19; the now sadly defunct Helens in Tetuán, where I enjoyed that sense of peace and togetherness, being alone, and at the same time with other people. 

As tastes keep pace with societal and economic change, Malasaña has sadly fewer and fewer of these local gems. I have seen the closure of bars like Domino, El Prado, Lozano and the iconic El Palentino within the space of a few months as rents rise steeply and owners (and customers) retire or pass away. So, I’d like to celebrate some of the remaining examples. These are not strictly bares típicos, but are instead a mix of bars, cafes and restaurants which retain a classic or no frills feel, marking history in this fast-changing barrio.

1. Restaurante Byblos

Ticking all the no-frills boxes, Byblos is almost hidden among the modern restaurants of Corredera Baja, and combines bar and Lebanese food. Byblos, with its brown wood interior, payphone by the entrance and 90’s soundtrack has a time-warp feel.  The bar has been in the family for almost 20 years.

You can make a living but it’s hard to live comfortably

… the owner told me, as he lamented the relative lack of appreciation for kebabs in Europe compared to in the US.  And the food at Byblos is tasty; at my last visit I tried the mutabbal, hummus, falafel and chicken shawarma.

  • Caña: €1.50
  • Top tip: take out and enjoy the board games on top of the freezer
  • Corredera Baja de San Pablo, 4
2. Casa Perico

Casa Perico, just shy of it’s 80th birthday, is a restaurant/bar where the food is the big draw. The defining feature of Perico is the immaculately coiffed Angeles Jímenez, or Nines, who started working at age 12 in the restaurant. In the evenings she can be seen bringing customers their food and looking on patiently at the restaurant, checking in with diners that all is as it should be with their food.

Perico, located on Calle Ballesta, is a traditional spot that contrasts with the transitory transactional feel of the street, where sex workers line its pavements. Two worlds alongside each other, going about their respective businesses.

  • Caña: €1.70
  • Top tip: go for the seasonal specials on the menu, for example the artichokes
  • Calle de la Ballesta, 18 
3. Pub Prada

Peaceful, warm and a friendly atmosphere, with a touch of student bedroom with its 90s style posters, Prada is at the quiet end of Ballesta. With a friendly atmosphere, cheap cañas, pool table and darts, Prada is often packed at weekend evenings.

The bar is immaculately kept thanks to owner and manager Julio, and his family, who have looked after Prada for the past 33 years.  Julio is very happy to chat away about the gleaming silver darts trophies lined up behind the bar. They’re the treasures of the local darts teams who play here.

  • Caña: €1.20
  • Top tip: perfect for a game of pool and darts with a botellín or three
  • Calle de la Ballesta, 26
4. Cafetería Dos Passos

The classic zinc bar, the Zumex machine, the plancha, lines of coffee cups and saucers ready to go, an in-excessive range of imported and national spirits (no rows of gins vying for your attention)… the beating heart staples of the traditional neighbourhood bar are all here.  Opened in 1962, Dos passos (named after American author John Dos Passos) remains a family business presided over by Lucía and her husband. There’s an air of resignation with which the Lucías (junior and senior) talk about the future of the bar…

Estoy muy desanimada.

… says Lucía senior.

Lucía junior tells me how much the area has changed in the last ten years: as tourists numbers have gone up, so has the rent. Lucía tells me with distress in her voice how a 30m2 flat in the area “on a 5th floor with no lift!” was just sold for 260,000 Euros. “A 2 bedroom flat can cost 1,600 to rent,” she explains. The regulars of days gone by are now a handful in their 80s and 90s, with just a few younger-generation locals.

  • Caña: €1.55
  • Top tip: check out the pretty bar-branded design on their serviettes
  • Calle de San Bernardo, 42
5. Casa Camacho

A Malasaña veteran at 90 years old, Casa Camacho is located between the thriving plazas Dos de mayo and Juan Pujol. They are the purveyors of the fast-acting and potent yayo drink. A customer stood up at the bar asks, “¿Que lleva el yayo?”

Alegría, cariño y amor!

… was the reply, which it turns out equates to Vermut, Gin and Casera.

Run by a group of brothers, Camacho is a bar full of tradition; from the uniform, to the barrels and the owners themselves. The bar is consciously moving with the Malasaña times and keen to show their best face to visitors; when I visited last, the barman was giving advice to tourists about how to present their photos of the bar they were taking for Instagram “¡no las pongas en ‘historias’, porque se van dentro de 24 horas!” (don’t put them in stories, they’re gone in 24 hours!)

  • Caña: €1.50
  • Top tip: you simply can’t go here without ordering Yayos!
  • Calle de San Andres, 4
6. Casa Julio

There is something warm, cheerful and romantic about Casa Julio – from the bright red façade to the elegant wooden chairs to the people and vibe inside. Casa Julio is also a Malasaña old hand, in existence in the hood since 1921.  It’s also famous for being visited by rock legends ‘U dos’ back in 2000 (as seen in the photos on the walls) as well as for its croquetas, though I recommend their delicious pisto con huevo too.

  • Caña: €1.50
  • Top tip: get there before 9.15 pm if you want a seat!
  • Calle de la Madera, 37 
7. Cervecería Roca Blanca

Easy to miss amongst the chaos of Calle Fuencarral, Roca Blanca is a classic no-frills bar that can fill and empty within minutes, keeping time with Spanish rituals such as the second mid-morning breakfast and hora del aperitivo before weekend meals. In residence since 1974, as its recently revamped sign says, Roca Blanca’s classic zinc bar has simple fast Spanish food to match: hamburgers, bocadillos, pincho de tortilla and their speciality, croquetones of many flavours. The bar feels ready to spring into action, plancha grill at the ready, rows of saucers laid out on the bar with teaspoons and sugar prepped to distribute coffees as soon as they are required.

  • Caña: €1.45
  • Top tip: try their croquetones – minimum order of two for €2. I know Leah is a big fan of their tortilla too!
  • Calle de Fuencarral, 71
8. Bar Sidi

Opened in 1943, this is one of the oldest of the bars in my list. Due to its location, long opening hours and affordable food and drink, Sidi flips from quiet, and sometimes forlorn in the day to packed full of people even on Monday evenings.  Sidi draws customers with its early opening hours and plentiful fried foods all the way through to the evening.  Stern signs reminding you ‘esta prohibido cantar y bailar’ are stuck to the purple walls painted after the august recess last year.

And now that the late Palentino has closed, Sidi is a contender for the no-frills ‘sandwich mixto’ crown, offering theirs for just €2.70.

  • Caña: €1.50
  • Top tip: good spot to watch the football and rediscover your youth on a weeknight.
  • Calle Colon, 15
9. Vinos El 2 de Sagasta

Vinos 2 is the oldest bar in the list at 135 years old and, like Ardosa & Casa Julio, it retains the classic red facade, painted so that those who couldn’t read could identify that wine was served here. Their wooden bar stools even predate the bar and are almost 150 years old and are the strongest little stools you’ve ever seen.

A family bar passed down through the generations, the couple running the bar welcome absolutely anyone that passes through their doors with warmth and generous tapas.

  • Caña: €1.80 including cabrales!
  • Top tip: enjoy their homemade vermouth, sitting on a barrel underneath some stark lighting
  • Calle de Sagasta, 2
10. La Petisqueira 

A relative newcomer to the scene, tucked away near the mercado Barceló, is the Petisqueira, which takes its name from the Portuguese for small dishes or petiscos.  The bar specialises in bacalao and meat, as well as generous tapas, which are served up for the customers in the bar, or you can go through to the large restaurant at the back. There’s a friendly, laid back vibe there, where you can watch the bar spring into aperitivo action from the relative mid-morning calm, with groups of friends filling the bar by 2pm at weekends.

  • Caña: €2
  • Top tip: Go for the generous tapas
  • Calle Churruca, 6

This article was written by Marietta Sandilands, who discovered Madrid No Frills through her and Leah’s shared love for the no-frills bar. Marietta’s friends joke that one of her favourite things is a community notice board – and it’s true! She loves sharing stories of people and places that combine to make Madrid the beloved place it is for her.

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2 Comments

Paul Huard 8 February 2020 at 4:13 pm

What an excellent article! I now have more places to explore and more cañas to sip when I return to Madrid this summer.

Reply
Bob 7 March 2020 at 1:18 pm

Love the fact you’re documenting these great good places*, they’re disappearing globally, and along with them an integral part of our societal memory.

Reply

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