For the past few centuries, Spaniards from all over the country have been packing their bags, saying adios to their towns and villages and setting sail for the big city. When they arrive in Madrid, they disperse into many different lines of work, but there’s one business over any other that harks back to the most recent migration boom. You guessed it: Madrid’s no-frills bars.
With just over 21,000 Peruvian nationals resident in Madrid, there are a lot of people here longing for a taste of home. El Rinconcito Cusqueño, a small, no-frills Peruvian diner in the dainty barrio of Puerta del Ángel is the foodie plane ticket to Peru we all needed.
The sun pours through the smokey windows of this upstairs diner and is intercepted by half a dozen coconut palms, casting exotic shadows on the terrazzo floor. Everything – and I mean everything – is a shade of brown, as it has been since its last refurb a few decades ago.
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.
The plain façade and Korean lettering were a good sign that we may have stumbled across a no-frills gem, then all was confirmed after peeping through the translucent door of Go Hyang Mat. We saw not one frill within: just lots of food on lots of tables – a surprise given it was a Monday evening.
Many know that Ernest Hemingway was here during Spanish Civil War, but did you know where he was staying, or who he was having an affair with? Also in this volume of lost stories, we uncover floods, Madrid’s lost tramlines and the blessed metro line.
Much like a municipal bin, a no-frills bar is never more than 50 metres away from you in the centre of Madrid. Going for an impromptu caña was never easier, be it at a train station, on a train, in a hospital or even next to a funeral parlour.
In the thick of bustling Indian restaurants and foreign food stores, a jazzy facade with bold retro lettering stands out from the crowd. This neighbourhood veteran is Bar El Jamón, the Godfather of Lavapiés.
Usera, just south of Madrid’s Manzanares river, is a fascinating neighbourhood that feels like a completely different continent. Join us as we explore some of the lesser-known corners of this barrio, including some wonderfully no-frills Chinese and South American eateries.
One of the best things about this accidentally retro bar is how much fun it is to explore. There are secret, time-bending portals connecting the endless labyrinth of dining rooms… or so it seems. When the same short, middle-aged waiter in a waistcoat kept appearing every time we entered a new room, we wondered how else he could have got there so quickly.