Madrid nightlife is a pretty serious phenomenon. This is one of the few cities in Europe where you can get caught in traffic jams in the early hours of the morning when the clubbers are either going home or moving on to the dance-past-dawn discos. As with everything madrileño, there is a bewildering variety of nightlife venues. Most common are the discobares – bars of all musical and sexual persuasions, whose unifying feature is background (occasionally live) pop, rock, dance or salsa music. These get going from around 11pm and stay open routinely until 2am, as will the few quieter cocktail bars and pubs.
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For discotecas, entry charges are quite common (€5–18), but tend to cover you for a first drink. Free passes can often be picked up from public relations personnel who hang around in the streets outside, in tourist offices or bars. Be aware that many discotecas are fairly ephemeral institutions and frequently only last a season before opening up somewhere else under a different name, so it’s a good idea to consult listing magazines La Guía del Ocio, Metrópoli, esMadrid or the website clubbingspain.com for the very latest information.
Gay and lesbian Madrid
Much of Madrid’s nightlife has a big gay input and gay men especially will feel at home in most of the listings in our “Discotecas” section. However, Plaza Chueca and the surrounding streets, especially c/Pelayo, harbour at least a dozen exclusively gay bars and clubs, as well as a café that’s traditionally gay – the Café Figueroa at c/Augusto Figueroa 17. Wandering about, be aware that the area just north of Gran Vía is a red-light and drug centre, so taxis are best late at night. The lesbian scene is more disparate.
The main gay organization in Madrid is Coordinadora Gay de Madrid, c/Puebla 9 (Mon–Fri 10am–2pm & 5–8pm; Aug from 7pm; t915 230 070, wcogam.org; mGran Vía), which can give information on health, leisure and gay rights. Feminist and lesbian groups are based at the Centro de la Mujer, c/Barquillo 44, 1° izda. t913 193 689. For a good one-stop shop with lots of info on the gay scene, try Berkana Bookshop, c/Hortaleza 64 (Mon-Sat 10.30am–9pm, Sun noon–2pm & 5–9pm; wlibreriaberkana.com; Chueca).
Bars and discotecas
Café Acuarela c/Gravina 10; mChueca. Comfortable café, with kitsch Baroque-style decor. The perfect place for a quiet drink, and popular with a mixed crowd. Daily from about 11am–2am.
Cool c/Isabel la Católica 6; mSanto Domingo. Futuristic, style-conscious mixed club with a large gay following. Expect to pay €10–15 entry fee, and don’t arrive until late. Thurs–Sat midnight–6am, Sun 9pm–2am.
La Lupe c/Torrecilla del Leal 12; mAntón Martín. A mixed gay, lesbian and alternative bar. Good music, cheap drinks and occasional cabaret.
Medea c/Cabeza 33; mTirso de Molina/Antón Martín. A women-only disco with a huge dancefloor and wide-ranging selection of music. Gets going from about 1am.
El Mojito c/Olmo 6; mTirso de Molina. Friendly Lavapiés cocktail bar with a mixed gay and lesbian clientele. Daily 9pm–2.30am.
Ricks c/Clavel 8; mGran Vía. A varied-clientele discobar that gets packed at weekends when every available space is used for dancing. Open and light, with a friendly atmosphere – but drinks are pricey. Daily 11.30pm–5.30am.
Stars Dance Café c/Marqués de Valdeiglesias 5; mGran Vía. Quiet and low-key during the day, gradually livening up as the night goes on. It’s a popular meeting point for the gay community but the clientele is mixed. Daily 10am–2am.
Truco c/Gravina 10; mChueca. A long-established women’s bar with a popular summer terraza that spills out onto Chueca’s main plaza. Mon–Thurs 5pm–3am, Fri & Sat noon–3am.
Chocolate before bed
If you stay up through a Madrid night, then you must try one of the city’s great institutions – the Chocolatería San Ginés (daily 9.30am–7am) on Pasadizo de San Ginés, off c/Arenal between the Puerta del Sol and Teatro Real. Established in 1894, this serves chocolate con churros to perfection – just the thing after a night’s excess. There’s an almost mythical madrileño custom of winding up at San Ginés after the clubs close (not that they do any longer), before heading home for a shower and then off to work. And why not?
With the introduction of a new law banning smoking inside bars and restaurants, terrazas have become more popular than ever in Madrid and many places now have at least a few tables set up on the city pavements year-round.
In summer many more bars migrate on to the streets, especially the trendy designer ones that lie along Paseo de Recoletos and its continuation, Paseo de la Castellana. Beyond Plaza de Colón and up to the Bernabéu more fashionable terrazas with music, a posey clientele and higher prices often appear in the summer. Be aware, however, that many of the terrazas run by clubs vary their sites year by year as they fall foul of the increasingly strict licensing and noise regulations.
Atenas Parque de Atenas (just off c/Segovia). Lively summer terraza set in the park down by the river and not far from the bars and clubs of La Latina.
Jardines Las Vistillas c/Bailén (on the south side of the viaduct). This popular terraza is good for a relaxing drink while enjoying the vistillas (“little vistas”) over towards the Almudena cathedral and the Guadarrama mountains to the northwest.
Paseo del Pintor Rosales There is a clutch of terrazas catering for all tastes and popular with families along this avenue on the edge of the Parque del Oeste.
Paseo de Recoletos and Paseo de la Castellana On the nearer reaches of Paseo de Recoletos is the refined garden terraza at the Casa de América (no. 2) and those of the old-style cafés Gijón (no. 21) and Espejo (no. 31), popular meeting points for madrileños of all kinds.
Plaza de Comendadoras One of the city’s few traffic-free squares, this has a couple of very popular terrazas – attached to the Café Moderno and to the Mexican restaurant next door.
Plaza Dos de Mayo The terraza on Malasaña’s main square is always a lively affair, favoured by a grungy teenage crowd.
Plaza de Oriente The Café de Oriente terraza is a station of Madrid nightlife and enjoys a marvellous location next to the opera house, gazing across the plaza to the Palacio Real.
Plaza de la Paja One of the most pleasant terrazas in the heart of old Madrid in this former market square in La Latina.
Plaza San Andrés Just the other side of the church of San Andrés a host of bars spills out onto this atmospheric plaza. The place is buzzing in the summer, and makes a great meeting place before a bar crawl around the area.
Plaza de Santa Ana Several of the cervecerías here have outside seating, and there’s a chiringuito (a makeshift bar) in the middle of the square throughout the summer.
The beat from the street
The Barcelona sound – mestiza – is a cross-cultural musical fusion whose heartland is the immigrant melting-pot of the Raval. The local postcode – 08001 – lends a name to the sound’s hippest flagbearers, while also typically “Raval” is the collective called Cheb Balowski, an Algerian-Catalan fusion band. The biggest star on the scene is the Parisian-born, Barcelona-resident Manu Chao, whose infectious, multi-million-selling album Clandestino (1998) kick-started the whole genre. He’s widely known abroad, and influenced many Barcelona bands, including the world music festival favourites Ojos de Brujo (Eyes of the Wizard), who present a fusion reinvention of flamenco and Catalan rumba. Other hot sounds come from the Latin American dub and reggae band GoLem System, and the fusion-freestyle merchants LA Kinky Beat.
Gay and lesbian Barcelona
There’s a vibrant local gay and lesbian crowd in Barcelona, not to mention the lure of nearby Sitges, mainland Spain’s biggest gay resort. There’s a particular concentration of bars, restaurants and clubs in the so-called Gaixample, the “Gay Eixample”, an area of a few square blocks just northwest of the main university in the Eixample. The biggest event of the year is Carnival in Sitges, while the main city bash is Barcelona’s annual LGBT Pride festival (wpridebarcelona.org), which has events running over ten days each June, from street parades to Tibidabo fun-fair parties.
There’s a lesbian and gay city telephone hotline on t900 601 601 (daily 6–10pm). Aside from the weekly bar and club listings in Guía del Ocio and Time Out Barcelona, there’s also a good free magazine called Nois which carries an up-to-date review of the scene.