Tasty tapas, fancy cocktails and (very) friendly locals. Marissa Tejada learns to say Why Not? to Cock(tails), and ballses up over Bardem… just blame it on the Rioja!
In one smooth sweeping motion, the bartender knocks down an archaic Pilsner tap over a tall frosty glass, delicately lifts up a small white dish and promptly delivers both food and drink squarely in front me, before she scurries off yelping rapidly in Spanish.
Perfecto. My night out in Madrid officially starts the way locals start theirs.
¡Vamos A Tapear!
I’m in the capital’s central Malasaña district where I plan to fill up on cervezas, wine and tapas… including Madrid’s most famous Spanish omelet, at Bodega de la Ardosa. The Bodega’s dimly-lit square room has few standing tables and, at this point of the evening, no elbow room whatsoever. An impressive beer bottle collection lines its walls and shares space with yellowing posters that may even date back to its opening in 1892. My group is snuggled at one end of the bar, lucky to have squeezed into a prime spot where we can comfortably reach for our Rioja filled wine glasses and share delicious tapas, the small snack-sized plates synonymous with eating out in Spain. I discover why the place gained tortilla de patatas fame: the eggs are scrambled up to perfection, oozing with creamy pockets of potatoes and onion.
Then, he catches my attention. Behind the bar, at eye-level, is a rectangular wall opening, revealing a talking head (see photo above!). There’s a bald man casually sipping a beer behind the bar wall. No nearby doors are in sight. How many Riojas did I drink?
“Oh, that’s a secret dining room,” one of my compadres explains with a shrug. “They’ve got one of those.”
I ponder that strange fact but let it slide. I’m told awesome cocktails await us at Cock.
Cock… as in Cocktails
Upon arrival it’s clear that a team of dark suited waiters keep the fancy place in check. With its high wood-beamed cathedral-like ceiling, thick mahogany bar and carved wood central fireplace, it resembles a lovely room in an old English estate.
Somewhere between ordering a round of Kir Royales and figuring out our choice for a second round we find ourselves in friendly conversation with a group of Madrilenos from a neighboring table. They confirm that Cock is indeed an established and well-known haunt for top cocktails and star sightings.
“Like…” I immediately blurt out the name of the hottest Spanish actor I know. My excitement is met with shocked faces.
“Nobody in Madrid likes Javier Bardem,” states one Madrileno named Juan.
The group nods in agreement. A second later they all burst out in laughter and we tap our glasses with a chorus of salud and cheers.
“Yes, the famous come here. It can have a good crowd, but people of all ages rely on this place for a fancy, good drink,” says Jose, a schoolteacher who is dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s what I’ve noticed most guys and gals wear out on the town. Even my cocktail dress seems overdone for place. Jose goes on to inform me: “It’s 12:30. Madrid nightlife starts now and ends, you know, at least at six, if you’re having a good time.”
“But it’s Thursday. Don’t you have to work?” I ask.
“At seven,” he shrugs his shoulders. “We all work but we all need to have fun too. Madrid is the place to live life, be with your friends and make new friends. You can do anything you like any night of the week.”
“So where would you go now to dance?” I’m curious to know.
The Madrilenos suggest a place around corner and that we should all go together. Why not?
I Wanna Take You To Gay Bar!
Turns out, that’s the name of the club.
We’re still in Chueca, which is Madrid’s gay district. Smoke wafts between me and the club’s metal door entrance where folks are puffing furiously on their cigs in the chilly spring night. We grab our tickets, which include the first drink and head down some dimly lit stairs. The beats of a super dance version of a Black Eyed Peas classic pound the air. This was gonna be a good night.
The club is a narrow tunnel-like room bordered on one side by a long, oak-paneled bar. Underneath a curved, classic tiled ceiling a sea of clubbers clash on the dance space in a happy haze. Had I been portaled into a secret Spanish speakeasy? At that moment the DJ turns up Neneh Cherry and the now obvious man-man couples before me bring me back to modern day reality; I’m standing in one of the coolest little gay clubs in Madrid.
I easily chat it up and dance with the locals. Jaime, a medium-built gay guy with a closely-cropped beard, informs me of two fantastic things. The turquoise color of my dress compliments my skin and that the basement bar is Madrid’s best kept secret.
“No chance not to dance,” he croons.
Then, INXS blasts through the speakers and the crowd starts up again. With one hand Jaime delves deeper into the dance floor as he pumps his other hand furiously in the air, “I love this song!”
There’s love here among a fair share of hetero Madrilenos and Madrilenas too, like our new group of friends that lead us here in the first place and are easily losing themselves to the music. How could anyone resist the free, fun and easy vibe?
Too Many D!cks On The Dancefloor
Back out in the streets, we pass some street vendors selling beers and drinks out of cardboard boxes as we return to Malasaña. There we come up on the club, BarCo which is complete with line that looks way too long to tolerate at 3:30am, one that takes up too much of the cobblestone street. I soon discover it’s just a bunch of smokers getting their nicotine fix. We shuffle past them and the four four beat of house music beckons us in. However, the tightly packed crowd, bathed in the random glow of bright blue lights, is like an ocean of locked bodies that has the sole purpose of preventing me to reach the bar a few meters away. A surprise ambush greets me as I make my first attempt.
A tall, blonde guy bends down to yell in my ear, “So nice to see girls.”
“Come again?” I ask, just as loud, tiptoeing to be heard. That’s a weird pick up line. I look around. A live music club in the early evening, BarCo transforms into pretty happening dance club for 20-30 somethings. I realize this night attracted a favorable ratio of young men – or unfavorable depending on your point of view. The immediate swoop at entrance is beginning to make sense. Turns out tall Tobias from Austria and his Canadian friend, Dan are expats working in Madrid.
“The nightlife here is unreal. You can get carried away though,” explains Dan nodding his head in disbelief. “It’s just that people in Madrid are so open and friendly. Life here is tireless… I mean it’s a weekday. I gotta wake up in a few hours but I don’t care!”
At some point, my heels start to dig, punishing my dancing feet. We ramble out of the still crowded BarCo to say our goodbyes. The crisp cold air refreshes me as I walk off from the group toward my rented apartment off Gran Via. The blue sky lightens up as I notice the lines of Madrilenos still puffing their smokes and continuing the party out in the narrow street, just out of reach from the taxis that inch by. The drivers crane their necks, searching for fares as the sun breaks through. After all, in Madrid, it’s just another night and morning out on the tiles.
On your way to Madrid? Check out Urban Travel Blog’s weekend guide to the Spanish capital. Meanwhile for more blurry nights in some of the world’s wildest cities check out the Editor’s nocturnal adventures in Vilnius, Ben Rhodes’ boozy brunch and all-night partying in Dubai, and James Pengelley’s random revelry in Bogota.