Looking for the best cocktails in Madrid?
You’ve come to the right place, my friend.
Here’s the thing…
I like to hang out with my fellow bloggers whenever I can.
So when Ishita, the brilliant mind behind the blog Globetrotting Cupcake, told me she was going to be in Madrid in a couple of weeks, I told her we could get together for some drinks.
And then, I completely forgot about her.
Thankfully, when she contacted me again I was free, and we were able to meet up and have an exciting cocktail-fueled adventure in the center of Madrid.
An adventure, it must be said, that put my poor liver to the test in ways I would normally try to avoid.
Ready to hear about some drinking?
A short history of cocktails in Madrid
Ishita is from New Delhi and her blog is mostly focused on cocktails.
Cocktails in India. Cocktails in Madrid. Cocktails around the world!
(Also, dating and cakes.)
Cocktail culture is a bit of a mystery for me, because when I arrived in Spain in 2004, there were very few places you could get even the classic cocktails.
In those days, a trip to the bar meant one of three things: beer, wine, or a mixed drink like a very basic gin and tonic, or a rum and coke.
Maybe a vodka with lemon Fanta if we were feeling fancy.
When I was young and not paleo, I’d even go out to drink 1-liter mojitos with my Lavapiés friends. Mint, white sugar and whatever: the perfect combination.
(And don’t even get me started on the box-wine-and-coke monstrosity they call kalimotxo.)
Anyway, the amount of sugary drinks I consumed out of a plastic cup on a pissy-smelling streetcorner in Lavapies is a bit embarrassing to think about, now.
Either way, now it’s 2019. I’m older. Wiser. Cutting carbs whenever I can.
And the cocktail scene has changed, too: these days, you can get all sorts of fancy drinks in all kinds of high-concept bars around Huertas and Malasaña.
Madrid just keeps getting better.
How to get tipsy in Madrid – and spend lots of money in the process
So here’s how it goes down…
Ishita shows up significantly late, with a sprained ankle from a high-heels-and-rain accident a few days previously up in San Sebastián. And our first stop is Casa Toni – my favorite Spanish restaurant, at Calle de la Cruz, 14.
There we start our day of debauchery with squid rings, pork ear and some very unpretentious Madrid wine.
And of course, some chorizo.
This is lunch – we’re only preparing our stomachs for the cocktails to come.
Anyway, eating with food bloggers and other influencers is always fun because there’s that awkward moment where they’re standing up on a chair, taking dozens of artsy photos of the food, saying “Ok, I’m almost done. Just hang on. Two more minutes. Then we’ll eat.”
Not Ishita, though. She explains her point of view on the whole thing: “I just let people eat while I take pictures. That way they don’t want to kill me.”
With some pork ear in my belly, I suddenly find I don’t want to kill her. She actually starts to seem quite charming.
After lunch, and only slightly worse for wear, we hobble off to Salmon Guru, where Ishita gives me a crash course in cocktail culture.
“Serious connoisseurs never look at the menu”, she says, as we sit at the bar. “You have to talk to the bartender to see what’s good”.
By this time, she’s got a huge camera and a monopod out, and she’s ready for action.
The barman speaks good English, and comes out to give her the two kisses on the cheek. Ishita ends up with a chipotle chillona in a skull-shaped glass, and I have a – well, I don’t really remember.
Her drink is pushing the boundaries of weird things I’d put in my body: it’s sweet and spicy and laced with mezcal and covered with apricot foam.
Mine is just sweet.
The gods of paleo dieting are surely sitting up in Valhalla, on a throne made of bacon, glaring at me – and possibly considering tossing a few lightning bolts in my direction to snap me out of the the insulin haze.
Cocktails in Madrid: Lo que no mata engorda
After our drink, we’re ready to go.
The bartender recommends some more places to continue our pub crawl, and we’re off.
But first, we stop to make a video about my complete ignorance of her part of the world.
You can see the video here. It’s got Hinduism, cows, wine, Indian grandmothers and more…
Or if you can’t see the embedded video up there, just click for YouTube: Adventures with Globetrotting Cupcake.
Back in India, I must mention, Ishita is a TV producer and works with some important YouTubers. And the best takeaway I got from the day was when she assured me that no, my videos don’t suck.
They’re “reality style”.
The shaky camera, the minimal editing. The general lack of traditional production values.
So listen, ye trolls who send me lists of ways my videos must be improved: fuck all y’all.
Or as they say in my barrio, “Que te folle un pez espada.”
We end up at Casa Labra for some wine – it’s one of the few remaining restaurants in Madrid that are more than a century old. The cod is great. But we don’t want to ruin our appetite with empty proteins and unhealthy omega-3 fats. We need more booze.
And some ham.
As we scarf down some ham sandwiches on Plaza del Carmen, I attempt an explanation of Spanish food culture – “Imagine a country where most people lived in grinding poverty up till recently. Since they had been chopping down their forests since time immemorial, wood was something a luxury. So they had to find creative ways to cure pork products to last through the winter. And paella! Don’t even get me started on paella…”
Most of that explanation, by the way, is completely based on hearsay and conjecture. I read a couple of books about Spanish history years ago and basically called it a day.
Someday, I’ll get around to reading more books about Spain. Someday I’ll get some real Spanish history up in this…
From Plaza del Carmen, we’re off on a slow, twisted-ankle walk to Bar Cock at Calle Reina, 16.
Ishita takes a series of photos outside, which leads to a number of tourists stopping to take selfies next to the word “cock”.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Do you respect the Cock?
Bar Cock is old-school. Founded in 1921. High ceilings. Old-style waiters.
There, I have a cocktail called a rusty nail.
Because I saw it on The Sopranos one time. And it sounded cool.
Barkeep! A rusty nail, please. And a dry martini for the lady.
Martinis really take me back – I had a friend about 7 years ago who introduced me to the idea that I could just make cocktails at home.
And he taught me how to mix the vermouth and the gin. How to use a shaker. How to twist the lemon zest before serving.
A few weeks later, I took this newfound knowledge up to Santander, where I tried to order a martini in a local bar called El Ventilador.
The guy had no idea what I was talking about. But when I explained it, he obliged by filling up a pint-sized glass with white vermouth, gin and ice. He charged me 4 euros.
Several hours and several drinks later, I remember being kicked out of another bar – they said they were closing and I was way to drunk to realize everyone else was staying – and then going home and spending most of the next day wishing I had just died during the night.
It was one of maybe three real hangovers I’ve had in my life.
And it taught me the value of caution where hard alcohol is concerned.
Caution which today I’m throwing out the window.
More cocktails in Madrid – in our hippest neighborhood
At 1862 Dry Bar on Calle del Pez, Ishita has another spicy mezcal drink. I have god knows what. I can’t even remember.
In any case, the ambience is stellar. All the beautiful people are there…
Or maybe the booze is making everyone seem more beautiful than usual.
I spend most of the time leaning on her shoulder for support and complementing her on her sexy Indian accent, which I assure her is nothing like Apu on The Simpsons.
1862 Dry Bar was not founded in 1862 and it’s not a dry bar. It’s a wet bar and was probably founded last year. I don’t know. Either way, it’s one of the hard hitters on Madrid’s cocktail scene.
We pay. We leave.
It’s stopped raining.
And Madrid is a marvellous place. My city. My adopted home. My crazy, sexy European life.
My memory after that point is a bit hazy. Ishita’s gone.
I seem to remember giving slurred, incoherent directions to a taxi driver.
Somehow I end up at home. What just happened?
I think I might have died and gone to cocktail heaven.
P.S. Where do you go for cocktails in Madrid? Got any favorite bars? Typical Spanish or otherwise? Hit me up, right here in the comments. Thanks for reading! And stay tipsy, my friends…
P.P.S. Actually, these days I’m in Barcelona more. So here’s an article about the best cocktail bars up here on Driftwood Journals. Enjoy!
P.P.P.S. Okay, so I stopped drinking. Here’s a bit about sobriety.