by Katie Goldstein
Lavapiés is the cultural melting pot and most bohemian barrio of central Madrid. It’s also one of the older Madrid neighborhoods, having been the Jewish quarter until their expulsion in 1492. On any given day you’ll run across African, Bengali, and Moroccan immigrants as well as twenty- and thirty-somethings with an alternative vibe. People go to enjoy ethnic food—mainly Indian restaurants and kebab joints—as well as great Spanish bars and cafés and a relaxed atmosphere. You’ll find that it’s not as much of a place to be seen as La Latina or as hip as Malasaña—Lavapiés grooves to its own rhythm.
Some of the many places to go:
- Nuevo Café Barbieri—there’s nothing “new” about this 1901 café with mirrored walls, impossibly high ceilings, and red velvet. The focus here is on drinks: from teas and chocolates to cocktails and beers. Evenings there’s live music in a back room.
- Melo’s—always filled to the rafters, and with good reason. One reason is the zapatilla: a mountain of lacón and melted cheese on two enormous slices of toasted bread for only 8 euros. Feeds four easily. The croquetas aren’t half bad, either. Take out available—you’ll surely be more comfortable. Open evenings (from 21h) Tues.-Sat.
- El Granero de Lavapiés—vegetarian food at a very reasonable price. Open daily for lunch; dinner Fridays only.
- La Grándola—jarras of beer and peanuts, all while seated on kegs.
- La Escalera de Jacob—food and drink plus cultural center of sorts, with live music and theater.
- La Librería de Lavapiés—“alternative bookstore” with books in foreign languages. Open Sundays!
- Indian food—I’m partial to Bombay Palace on C/ Ave María, but everyone has a favorite. Many of these places are actually run by Bangladeshis, making authentic Indian unlikely in many spots.
- Kebabs—I’m a fan of Alquezar on C/ Lavapiés.
- Calle Argumosa—this tree-lined street is full of bars and terrazas and a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon.
Keep in mind that Lavapiés is surrounded by great cultural institutions: Museo Nacional Reina Sofía, La Casa Encendida, Teatro Valle-Inclán, and Cine Doré. It’s also close to the Sunday morning Rastro, and a less-crowded alternative to bar hopping in La Latina after the market.
What are your favorite spots in Lavapiés?
(Want to read about trials and tribulations of buying and renovating a run-down flat in Lavapies? Check out Errant in Iberia. For a detailed map of all the places mentioned above, see below…)