What to See in Barrio de Las Letras


Madrid’s Barrio de las Letras is a timeless neighborhood that stays true to its Spanish roots, while still giving a modern feel that leaves visitors coming back for more. With its amazing food, culture, and ambience, you can’t go wrong when it comes to exploring this classic barrio.

Here are a few insights into its history, hotspots and 3 restaurant recommendations!

History with a Modern Twist

Barrio de las Letras, also known as Huertas, is less than a 10-minute walk from Sol and was once home to some of the greatest Spanish writers. The streets are paved with recognizable quotes from writers such as, Miguel Cervantes and José Echegaray.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

There are even plazas and streets dedicated to writers such as Plaza Jacinto Benavente and Calle Lope de Vega. The houses of some of these writers still stand today and are open to the public, such as Casa Museo Lope de Vega which offers free guided tours.

Plaza Jacinto Benavente

Plaza Jacinto Benavente

Calle Lope de Vega

Calle Lope de Vega

Nowadays, this historic neighborhood has become a trendy spot for people to get together and have a drink paired with a few tapas. Calle de las Huertas is the main street where you can easily find great shops, cafes, and some of Madrid’s finest eateries.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

While exploring the side streets that branch off the main road, keep an eye out for the various boutiques, art galleries, bookstores, and antique shops that make this neighborhood so authentic.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Must-Sees in Barrio de las Letras

Plaza Santa Ana is a well-known hangout spot in this neighborhood. Here you can find a number of restaurants with outdoor seating areas that are perfect for enjoying the ambience with a nice wine or beer.

Plaza Santa Ana

Plaza Santa Ana

Plaza Santa Ana is also where you can find monuments of Calderón de la Barca, Federico García Lorca, and the Teatro Español, making it a popular spot for tourists.

Monument Calderon de La Barca

Monument Calderon de La Barca

Monument Federico Garcia Lorca

Monument Federico Garcia Lorca

Teatro Español

Teatro Español—Madrid’s oldest theater

 

3 Restaurants in Barrio de las Letras

This neighborhood is a hot spot for some of Madrid’s oldest taverns and restaurants that serve typical Spanish dishes and tapas. Here are some of the best ones.

Cervecería Cervantes is a favorite among the locals. It’s decorated with beautiful tiles that give a traditional Spanish feel. Every time I walk past this bar, it’s always packed with people enjoying tapas and beer. This cervecería is known for its seafood that can be ordered in small portions. So stop in and try them all!

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Another go-to place is El Lacón on Calle de Manuel Fernández y González. This place has been around since the 60s and has been considered a classic ever since. It’s known for its drink and tapa deal, meaning that with each beer you order, the waiter will bring a small plate of tapas to your table. Not only is this restaurant famous for its incredible deal, but it’s also known for its full plates such as, cocido Madrileño and the meat or fish tablas that can easily feed 3 people or more.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

And if you’re looking for a place that has it all, Casa Alberto is the place for you. This restaurant is hard to miss with its red exterior, antique writing, and open door which allows people to take a peek inside.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

When first entering Casa Alberto, it’s hard to get past the crowd of people drinking and ordering tapas at the bar. But once you’re in the dining room, you are guaranteed a great sit-down meal. For starters, the croquetas de jamón are an amazing way to start your meal. Another great starter is the gazpacho de melon with a prawn tartar. This gazpacho gives a modern twist on the classic Spanish plate by creating a sweet but savory infusion.

Not only are their appetizers high quality, but so are their main dishes. Casa Alberto makes an incredibly flavorful and hearty callos a la Madrileña that’s perfect for a mid-day feast. As a U.S. Midwestern girl who loves red meat, I had to second guess myself after trying the ventresca de bonito. This fish plate was grilled to perfection topped with quality olive oil, fresh garlic, and a side of potatoes.

Make sure to leave room for dessert because Casa Alberto won’t disappoint. Their cream-filled crepes topped with homemade blueberry and cheese ice cream are the perfect go-to dessert. But if you’re looking for something with a bit of an alcoholic twist, the apple and cider sorbet is highly recommended.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Check out all the spots in Barrio de Las Letras featured on Naked Madrid!




María Pandora, a dark and artistic champagne bar in La Latina


If you’ve ever spent an evening watching the sunset with a liter of Mahou in Parque Las Vistillas (and if you haven’t, get on that ASAP), you may have spotted this beautiful, borderline-creepy cocktail bar.

María Pandora Café by Naked Madrid

María Pandora Café by Naked Madrid
Cryptic, dripping golden letters read MARÍA PANDORA, and the sound of a dramatic poetry reading demand the curiosity of passersby not yet in the know.

fullsizeoutput_2c4b

Once inside, you’ll already be hooked: every inch of the walls is covered with sinister sketches, the tables are adorned with misshapen melted candles, and vintage furniture adds the finishing touch to make you feel like you’re in a haunted mansion.

fullsizeoutput_2c4c

But despite the ghoulish vibe, the servers here are cheery and chatty. When we ordered champagne and white wine, our server plopped a frozen raspberry in our glass, assuring it would add a little somethin’-somethin’.

Oh, and the tapas here are my kind of food: mounds of candy and fruit.

María Pandora Café by Naked Madrid

20030995_10156330196793835_753610364_n

But the best it yet to come. A meeting point for lovers of art, the bar also functions as a stage for poetry readings, microteatro, and literary chats several nights of the week. The wall of antique books are for sale (but the century-old portraits of the owner’s family are not).

IMG_4811

Sign up for an event, order a glass of bubbly, and if you get there early enough, grab a window seat. María Pandora does not disappoint.

*Just note that their opening hours can be a little funky – they tend to open at 7pm except on Mondays, although sometimes they throw private events. So it’s best to call ahead to make sure they’re open!

Info

  • Website & Facebook
  • Phone: +34 910 42 82 13
  • Address: Plaza de Gabriel Miró, 1
  • Metro: La Latina or Ópera



Street spotlight: Calle Ruda, a tiny portal between La Latina & Embajadores


It goes without saying that there’s no shortage of things to do in Madrid. In fact, sometimes there’s so much, you don’t know where to start. On those days when the sun’s shining and you’re itching to get out of the house, sometimes it’s best to just walk to a cool part of town and let the city do its thing. We’re here to give you some inspiration.

Calle de la Ruda

La Latina and Embajadores—bustling multicultural hubs—are connected by a string of tiny streets full of surprises. One of them is Calle Ruda, which takes you straight from Mercado La Cebada to Plaza Cascorro, and makes the very short walk well worth it.

Calle Ruda by Naked Madrid

Onis, for old-school charm

If you enter the street from Calle Toledo, you’re greeted by the classic corner bar, Onis.

17841700_10155963910313835_720716721_n

This place is the definition of castizo. Tapas in the glass display case, tobacco machines, weird arcade games, and a grumpy server who has probably been here since the place opened (which was 1976, I’ve learned).

17820908_10155963910393835_448289349_n

Ruda Café, for coffee

Looking for something more modern? We got you. Keep heading down Ruda and you’ll come across Ruda Café, a new (opened last year) coffeeshop that’s riding the wave of java experts that has hit Madrid in recent years. We’re not mad about this trend. And yes, they have wifi. They also sell packaged artisanal coffee and tea, jam, art, and coffeemakers.

IMG_2729

17820780_10155963904983835_1900833373_n

17820909_10155963904858835_379831595_n

17842215_10155963904928835_237284831_n

De Piedra, for handmade jewelry

But there’s only so much coffee you can drink (unfortunate, I know). So now that you’re fueled up, you’re ready to browse the cute little shops of this gem of a street. If you’re a fan of jewelry and creepy mannequins, pay a visit to De Piedra, an artisanal jewelry shop at C/ Ruda 19. They haven’t been at this location long, but the store has been open for some 15 years.

17857592_10155963864823835_1533946670_n

17857465_10155963864888835_1141284862_n

Molar, for records, books and cassette tapes

Next you’ll come across my personal favorite place on the street, Molar. Think record store meets bookshop.

IMG_2724

17821349_10155963865018835_890609994_n

They even sell cassette tapes, which is not something you see every day in Mad City.

Mamá Elba, for something sweet

Got a sweet tooth? Mamá Elba has been open a mere 3 weeks, and is already drawing a loyal customer base. Their selection of ice cream (including vegan and gluten-free), cakes, and coffee will leave you overwhelmed by heavenly choices.

17842187_10155963894153835_1227694313_n

17841800_10155963894068835_1017332209_n

Erre Catorce (R14), for art and design

R14 is another brand new spot on the street, just open for a month. It’s a modern interior design shop, with local art, restored vintage furniture pieces (from around the world, namely Scandinavia and the US), apparel, and lots of cool home decor.

18143201_120332000349190366_1819156447_n

18136347_120332000348247881_387440227_n

18136825_120332000356919584_2046257165_n

Soon they’ll be putting on events to promote and discuss interior design and art, so keep your eyes peeled and follow them on Facebook.

La Tienda de Cerveza, for craft beer

Next up: craft beer. Okay, I lied before, THIS place is my favorite. La Tienda de Cerveza is a must in La Latina (and in the city, really). The shelves are lined with hundreds of bottled or canned craft beers and ciders from both Madrid and around the world. They have a few tables in the back, and they hold tasting events often. An absolute must for cervecerxs.

17842438_10155963904758835_1982153364_n

Tienda Biológica, for something healthy

Something I love about Madrid is that you can eat healthy without going bankrupt. Tienda Biológica is living proof of this. This small organic food shop sells health products at reasonable prices, and it’s run by the sweetest lady.

IMG_2726

IMG_2727

La China Mandarina, for a great meal in a modern space

And last but not least (and not even covering half of the street’s spots), for a great meal and a laidback ambience, visit La China Mandarina at the end of Calle Ruda (closest to Plaza Cascorro). It’s one of those places that masters the art of offering both very traditional and very modern cuisine on the same menu. So if you’re craving a tortilla de patatas but your friend has a hankering for a vegan burger, there’s something for everyone.

17842005_10155963910503835_109243198_n

They have great wifi and won’t roll their eyes if you work on your laptop all morning (I know from experience).

Calle Ruda is just one of a plethora of tiny goldmines in Madrid. If none of these spots call your attention (tough crowd!), we suggest you still come to the area on a beautiful day and just get lost. You can’t go wrong.

 




Swinton & Grant: Art, Books, Coffee


We wandered Lavapiés on an overcast day, searching for our regular dosis of cafeína.  As we crept to the door of our usual haunt, my friends and I found a CLOSED sign awaiting us.  Spain’s siesta schedule had tricked us yet again – even baristas need a break.  The time had come to try a new café.

Swinton & Grant

Open since last May, Swinton & Grant sits just off the Glorieta de Embajadores, amid North African falafel joints, street art, and cherry blossom trees.  As you walk down Calle Miguel Servet, you’ll first notice just how big the place is.  Natural light streaks through black velvet curtains, revealing two main areas: on the first floor, Ciudadano Grant, a café-bookstore.  In the basement, the Swinton Gallery, a large space for local artist exhibitions.

Hip folks feel at home here.  Bare bulbs and LEDs light customers’ way to the pressboard bookshelves lined with English and Spanish biographies, comics, and children’s picture books.  Jars of LEGOs and framed pictures of Leonard Nemoy draw your eye to bottles of Arizona Tea, Jones Soda, and fresh cakes and cookies.  Bon Iver, Jorge Gonzalez, and Fleet Foxes tickle the ears while you waltz through the space.

The menu, with its own abstract artwork, impresses.  Coffees come cheap (around €1.40).  For a small charge, you can enjoy the flavor palates of special bean blends from Costa Rica, Kenya, Colombia, and other countries.  Teas come in all sizes, colors, and temperatures.

Swinton & Grant

The café offers a desayuno special before 1PM every day.  While you appreciate the art that is half-Banksy, half-neoclassical, you can try the classic pan con tomate, a ham and cheese sandwich, or a slice of cake with your choice of beverage – all for €2-4.  If you’re still hungry, go for a full-size bocadillo or a giant cookie.

After your sobremesa, take a look downstairs, where artists hang their work in rotating exhibits.  Next on the program are characteristic contemporary pieces from Luis Pérez Calvo, Victor Solana, and Antonyo Marest.  If you’re feeling fancy, feel free to buy the art, with prices ranging from a few euros to a few hundred.

Since my first fateful detoured day into Swinton & Grant’s doors, it’s quickly become one of my favorite Madrid spaces.  These days, when I’m in the mood for comfort, cake, and caffeine, I invariably make my way to Embajadores.

Info:

Web
Facebook
Twitter
Address: Calle Miguel Servet 21
Metro: Embajadores
Some photos courtesy of Keith Lema
 

You may also like:

Best Cafe-bookshops round 1

Best Cafe-bookshops round 2

El Cafelito – for coffee lovers in Lavapiés

Desperate Literature – Santorini, Brookly and now, Madrid!




Moderna de Pueblo: A self-aware series of graphic novels about hipster hijinks in Madrid


I have been using Spanish graphic novels in an attempt to learn slang and expletive phrases in order to reinforce my grasp of the language. While browsing volumes in La Central, one book caught my eye. El Cooltureta is a relatable story because it follows a group of young people that live in Madrid. The creator, Raquel Córcoles, is credited by her pen name, Moderna de Pueblo, which doubles as the name of the series.

10269408_778102632200764_6121307161988601431_n

The skyline of Madrid, as envisioned by the artist

The artist nails the portrayal of my adopted city. The first panel of the book begins with the protagonist on his balcony in Anton Martin, admiring the street below while thinking to himself, “Acaba de mudarme y estaba totalmente enamorado del barrio.” 

The first story follows its titular protagonist as he adopts a hipster identity. El Cooltureta relocated to Madrid from an unnamed, generic pueblo and seized the opportunity to recreate himself as a stylish, trendy, pseudo-intellectual.

Each panel portrays a broad spectrum of scenarios that young people can relate with—dealing with roommates, unrequited love, awkward communications via Whatsapp and the troubles that stem from relentless over thinking.

1480506_503837879722299_665567471_n

El Cooltureta, the protagonist of the first book

The central conflict of this first story is that El Cooltureta wants to engage in the vast cultural offerings of Madrid, such as screenings in the Cine Dore, but he is too awkward to go alone. El Cooltureta searches for a social circle that he can thrive in, and gradually meets several characters whose names are their endearing archetypes: the tortured friend, the cinefile, la chica de la bici, la mariliendre etc. 

The series is full of cultural references, both mainstream and otherwise. There is one instance where the protagonist is de resaca and watching the mindless television series New Girl. When a friend calls to check up on how he’s doing, he lies to maintain the illusion of his dignity by telling her that he’s watching (my favorite series) The Wire. A climactic scene of the story occurs during a performance by Die Antwoord, which the protagonist only attended begrudgingly. At every stage the characters are either heavily endorsing, or making snarky comments about, various forms entertainment and media. One character is often seen wearing a shirt that says in bold lettering “All blogs post the same stuff.”

After becoming heavily emotionally invested in the characters I picked up the second book, Los Capullos no regalan flowers (Dickheads don’t gift flowers) which follows an unnamed female protagonist. The second book outshines the first in my opinion because it has more of a clearly defined plot.  Similar to El Cooltureta, the female lead moved to Madrid from a generic pueblo and hopes to take advantage of her recently acquired freedom. Each chapter, titled after different capullo archetypes, follows her endearingly awkward search for love. It is neatly fitting that she has a poster of Woody Allen’s classic film, Manhattan, right above her bed. She is a hopeless romantic who gets swept up in the world of Tinder, nightclubs,  & Whatsapp courtship. Although her view on relationships and romance evolves as she adjusts further to her new environment, the old-school romantic in her secretly hopes that one of her partners will bring her flowers.

10599661_844164698927890_6935790322311354235_n

The female protagonist of the second book bears a striking resemblance to the series creator.

One of her many less than ideal dates was with the male protagonist of the first book, who stayed true to his character and talked her ear off. Her internal dialogue as she makes decisions throughout the story is quite comical. She does her best to be open to the various types of modern flings–open relationships, long distance relationships, and relationships with flatmates. As the chapters progress, the female lead becomes increasingly frustrated with her circumstances.

269390_578709592140070_604098345_n

Internal dialogue

She returns to her pueblo temporarily to seek clarity. While away from Madrid she has the epiphany that I’ve had time and time again—Madrid is a uniquely special city to which my hometown (as much as I respect it) pales in comparison. Upon returning to Madrid she continues her personal journey with further conviction.

Although both books were lleno with unfamiliar slang, which I’ve had to pause at intervals and ask my roommate to explain to me, I was laughing at every turn. This self -aware series is a must-read for young adults living in Madrid because it pokes fun at us and the spectrum of tonterias that we partake in. Numerous panels of the comic, which still make sense out of context, are free on their Facebook page  & website, “Moderna de Pueblo.” If you become hooked, I encourage you to purchase both texts at your nearest La Central.

Web
Shop
Image credit: All of the imagery that appears above are samples from the Moderna de Pueblo website and their Facebook page
 

For more on good reads in Madrid, check out:

 

Desperate Literature, for book lovers in Brooklyn, Santorini and now Madrid

Best Cafe-bookshops in Madrid, round one

Best Cafe-bookshops in Madrid, round two