Contrary to what some believe, locals in Madrid don’t eat loads of paella and usually don’t do their tapas hopping at Mercado de San Miguel. That said, enjoying great food and drink is a huge part of the Spanish way of life. We wanted to immerse ourselves in a bit of that culture and find bars and restaurants loved by those who call Madrid home. We took a food tour to explore the literary quarter and learned where to find some popular local hangouts for tapas and beer in Madrid. Here are three of the awesome establishments where we were lucky to rub elbows with locals, sipping, snacking, and soaking up Spanish culture, Medrileño style.
Gato is the nickname for a Madrileño (a Madrid local) and this place with its eclectic ornate design really reflects the rich culture that pulses in the lifeblood of the city. The centuries-old tapas bar is jammed full of cool eye candy: bullfighting memorabilia, sparking chandeliers, interesting colored liquor bottles, antiques, and quirky murals.
Just walking through the door was enough to overwhelm the senses! The place was packed, and the atmosphere was oddly sophisticated and warm and homey at the same time. The food was the same way, we enjoyed their canapes, tapas on toast with smoked salmon and cream cheese, calamari, and Serrano ham. All of the tapas were simple combinations of toppings, deliciously elegant comfort food!
Then there was the drink, vermouth poured from a tap! Locals in Madrid don’t drink sangria they drink vermouth and after tasting it ourselves we totally understand why. It was a sweet red vermouth served over ice and it was so good and refreshing.
We visited Los Gatos with the Madrid Food Tour. They helped us make the most of out time introducing us to really great tapas bars like Los Gatos.
We visited eleven local businesses in the Huertas neighborhood on the Madrid Food Tour and when the tasty exploration was over our awesome guide Luke provided us with a list of more local favorites to visit on our own! We used the list to find more special places like Fabrica Maravillas. Established in 2011, the brew pub was born of two friends love of tasty beer. Beers like Heineken and the local giant Mahou, popular domestic brands, are cheap and plentiful in Madrid. It is easy to drink cheap beer to your heart’s content for under 10€ in Madrid, but most of what bars and street vendors sell all tastes the same.
Not so at Fabrica Maravillas! The bar is small and the concept is simple, no food just chips, olives, and a variety of craft beers lovingly brewed on the premises. You can see the fermenting tanks through the glass behind the bar. They masterfully produce ales, stouts, and pilsners all of which are original and tasty.
If you can’t decide what to try first the friendly staff is more than happy to give you a taste before you commit to your selection. Rob tried two different beers recommended by the bartender. Both definitely didn’t disappoint! He had consumed a lot of simple tasting beers on our travels and was delighted to drink some full bodied craft beers.
Makai had a great time at this bar too. The atmosphere was relaxed and very family oriented. The owners children played in the bar racing pedal cars down a narrow sloped hall from the front seating area to the back behind the brewing tanks. Mak didn’t hesitate to join in. I think he was a bit confused at first, was this a playground or a beer bar? Is It okay to race cars and laugh loudly inside? The laughing kids, cheering adults and awesome craft beer made Fabrica Maravillas a great place to enjoy a couple of hours. As I said a simple concept, craft beers, and snacks. Sadly no wine or gluten free beer options for me. So after an enjoyable couple of hours we moved on to the next bodega on our list.
La Bodega de la Ardosa
We set out to find to find another place where locals like to enjoy food and drink. La Bodega da la Ardosa was within walking distance from Fabrica Maravillas so we decided to make it our next stop. We made our way down a strangely quiet downtown residential street. The road was lined with tall trees and was so peaceful, few cars passed us on the way and even fewer people were out walking. As the road curved we rounded a corner to arrive at La Bodega de la Ardosa. It was now clear where everyone was hiding in this area, at La Bodega! People spilled out the front of the bar onto the street. Rob challenged me and Mak to go in and find a seat while he crossed the street to snap a photo.
We were still standing in the entry when he came to join us. A waiter approached us, expertly weaving through the crowd that filled the bar. He soon stood before us with a welcoming grin asking the number in our party to which we replied sheepishly “tres”. We felt certain we would be turned away, but the waiter motioned with a wave of his hand to follow him. “Where are we going to go?” was my thought. It was wall to wall people but to our surprise there was a small archway at the back marred only by the bar. He encouraged us to duck underneath and proceed to another hidden part of the bar. “So cool!!!!!” is what we thought.
On the other side, we found a corner to claim a spot to enjoy a drink and take in the merry atmosphere. One of the first Irish pubs in Madrid, La Bodega has been packing locals in to enjoy beer and tapas since 1892! It feels like an Irish pub with the dark wood accents and select quality beers only available on tap. In addition to the kegs of handpicked beers, La Bodega is also renowned for serving up some of the best vermouth in Madrid.
We could have stayed at La Bodega de la Ardosa until the wee hours, the service and atmosphere was that good! We were leaving Madrid early the next day so we paid our tab after two tasty drinks, feeling so lucky to have found some cool local hangouts for tapas and beer in Madrid. Thanks so much Madrid Food Tour!!!
There are literally thousands of tapas bars in Madrid. Our wish was to find local favorites because doing so would help us experience the best of something that is such a pervasive part of life in Madrid. These three were our favorites and we will definitely spend more time in each of them the next time we are in Madrid.
Have you been to Madrid? Where were your favorite places to enjoy great tapas and tasty beer?