In a country that’s famous for two boozy things—vermouth on tap and the most bars per capita in Europe—I had high hopes for Madrid when it came to cocktails. If you’re a fan of gin and tonic, no problem, you’re living in a libation utopia.
Unfortunately for me, I’ve received too many manhattans that look like this:
Between the margarita glass, straws and white vermouth, this is a cocktail with an identity crisis. And yes, there’s an olive floating in there.
Lucky for you, I’ve sacrificed many a Friday night in the name of research.
Keep reading for the four gems I’ve found in Spain’s capital city.
If the dark wood paneling and centerpiece fireplace seem reminiscent of an English pub, you wouldn’t be far off base. Opened in 1921 and decorated with pieces brought from London, the Cock got its start as a Spanish salon for artists, intellectuals, and politicians. As one of the few places to survive the civil war, it continued on to see wave after wave of distinguished guests pass through its doors (bullfighters, U.S. Presidents, actors!). Unlike other establishments who have a rep for famed clientele, you won’t find tourist hoards or rowdy crowds knocking back pints. The serious looking bartenders ensure that the Cock remains a classy place to have a conversation over a perfect drink.
Neighborhood: Chueca (Calle Reina, 16)
Sometimes, a name can be a clue to a spot’s potential to serve you a seriously crafted beverage. In this case, 1862 is the year cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas published the Bar-Tender’s Guide. It’s also when the building housing this bar was built. The dimly-lit, speak-easy type den under the upper bar is chic and pared down. Low sofas line one end of the cozy space, while tattooed bartenders whip up drinks in an exposed brick niche on the other. This spot was tailor made for date nights.
Neighborhood: Malasaña (Calle Pez, 27)
Originally a cinema, Platea’s almost 65,000 square feet were recently converted into a swanky food hall. Ok, they call it a “gastro-leisure space.” Either way, you can have whatever you like here, whether it’s gourmet tapas on one of the open galleries or a full blown fancy dinner in one of the Michelin starred restaurants. I prefer to head to the bar on the Patio level and choose from their extensive selection of whiskeys (even rye!). One of the competent bartenders will quickly slide a cocktail into your hand so you can get back to people watching.
Neighborhood: Salamanca (Calle Goya, 5–7)
With the front bar a mix of kitschy ‘50s den and back rooms taking inspiration from the neon colors of the Saved by the Bell intro, this place could easily slant toward pretentious if it wasn’t so fun. Opened last year by celebrity bartender Diego Cabrera, this spot serves both excellent classics and a creative list of in-house creations. Not sure what you want? Sit at the bar where the enthusiastic bartenders will ask your favorite spirits and recommend you a cocktail to match. Or maybe just find Adrian and ask for his Laphroaig-infused old fashioned.
Neighborhood: Cortes (Calle Echegaray, 21)
If you have any favorite haunts in Madrid, I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.
Until next time, cheers!