Virtuoso Global May 2019 3 Ways to Live Like a Local in Madrid

3 Ways to Live Like a Local in Madrid

Take a tip from the locals: Always say “sí” to sobremesa.
Take a tip from the locals: Always say “sí” to sobremesa.
From hours-long meals to dancing all night, Spain’s capital teaches the good life.

For many visitors to Spain’s capital, it’s the lifestyle that stands out. “Madrid is a city internationally known not for its physical monuments, but for its way of life,” notes Virtuoso travel advisor Brian Beard. Madrileños say the local perspective is about enjoying every moment to the fullest – while in the company of others. “Something common to all of Spain,” adds Virginia Irurita, cofounder of Made for Spain and Portugal, “is the importance of spending time together with family and friends.” Virtuoso travel advisors work with her company, an onsite tour connection, to plan custom itineraries for their clients. 

Madrileños will attest: One of the best ways to gather is over food and drink. Scan any bar or restaurant in this vibrant city and you’ll see animated groups rather than solitary diners. Simply put, food and life are best when shared with friends. This slower-paced, relish-everything spirit infuses the three fundamental elements of eating, drinking, and enjoying the capital – and every traveler needs to experience them firsthand. Call them life lessons from Madrid.

Tip No. 1: Never skimp on the sobremesa.

Sobremesa is the Spanish tradition of time spent around the table after a meal, usually over coffee, drinks, and conversation. It’s as important as the food itself – which is saying a lot, considering the level of attention that goes into what’s on the plate.

Most common during weekends, and especially at lunch, a sobremesa typically lasts an hour or two – sometimes even stretching on until dinner. “The length and breadth of the sobremesa time is the measure of a good meal, socially,” says Marcy Forman, the Madrid-based co-owner of Valesa Cultural Services who works with Virtuoso advisors to plan bespoke client itineraries.

Sitting around the table surrounded by the aftermath of a well-enjoyed meal can feel familiar in homes, but Madrid restaurants are also attuned to this deeply Spanish concept. Popular restaurants such as La Tasquita de Enfrente (featuring a menu dedicated to seasonal ingredients) and Lakasa (don’t miss the baked fish with eggplant and anemone sauce) never make diners feel rushed into leaving after they’ve finished eating.

Even haute cuisine lends itself to customization in Madrid. While leaving the table can break the spell of the sobremesa at home, guests in avant-garde establishments with lengthy tasting menus are free to stand up and mingle during the sobremesa. At the Palacio de los Duques hotel’s Dos Cielos – the Madrid outpost of the celebrated twin Torres brothers’ two-Michelin-starred Barcelona restaurant Cocina Hermanos Torres – that means moving to a new table in the hotel’s Coroa Royal Gallery for coffee, digestifs, and unhurried conversation for as long as desired.

At the Palacio de los Duques, enjoy a dynamic, welcoming atmosphere at Dos Cielos before heading to the Coroa Royal Gallery with new friends.
At the Palacio de los Duques, enjoy a dynamic, welcoming atmosphere at Dos Cielos before heading to the Coroa Royal Gallery with new friends.
“If there’s no sobremesa, we must assume it was a business meal, a meal with strangers, or just a bore,” Forman says. “The food can be excellent and memorable, but the social aspect all depends on the conversation and connection of the guests. A pleasant meal is one great thing, but a sobremesa that goes on and on turns a great meal into a memorable social event.”

Tip No. 2: Tapas are always a good idea.

For Madrid-based Irurita, the key to fully enjoying food and wine is simple: “It’s all about sharing.” That sharing – both the food and the experience – manifests in Madrid’s most famous delicacies, tapas. Tapa means “lid” in Spanish, and the tradition of having a small bite in a bar likely began a few centuries ago, when waiters at tabernas began placing tiny saucers on top of glasses of sherry to keep out flies. Crafty bar owners added a thin slice of dry-cured jamón, some olives, or a few almonds to the saucers as an enticement for passersby to come to the bar (and continue drinking).

Over the years, tapas have morphed into an entire way of eating. Patrons order a drink and a tapa featuring the bar’s specialty, eventually move on to another bar for its specialty and a drink, and so on. There’s even a specific verb for this snack-filled bar-hopping: tapear. (The noun form is tapeo.)

At Dos Cielos, brothers Sergio and Javier Torres give traditional tapas a lift. 
At Dos Cielos, brothers Sergio and Javier Torres give traditional tapas a lift. 
Madrid’s La Latina neighborhood is synonymous with tapas. Among the plethora of options here, Irurita recommends La Taberna Sanlúcar for its tortillitas de camarones (thin, lacy deep-fried shrimp fritters) and ortiguillas (deep-fried sea anemones), the family-owned Casa Amadeo for its famous snails, and Casa Revuelta for buñuelos de bacalao (salt cod fritters).

At their best, tapas are inherently social. The menu at the Gran Meliá’s Coroa Royal Gallery & Garden specifically notes this for such classics as patatas bravas (spicy “brave” potatoes) and fried calamari. These are, the menu pointedly states, the “perfect tapas to be shared.” Anything different would be unthinkable.

Tip No. 3: Some of the best fun happens after midnight.

Madrid nightlife is a second act of the city’s convivial lifestyle, and it often begins a drink at one of the many rooftop bars and terraces.

The scene revs up notoriously late – peak time for bars and clubs is between 1 and 3 AM – and might feel challenging for the uninitiated or unprepared. Forman offers some insider tips: Take a nap before dinner, eat around 10 PM, and don’t head out for drinks before midnight.

Start the evening with a creative cocktail at the Palacio de los Duques’ serene garden space.
Start the evening with a creative cocktail at the Palacio de los Duques’ serene garden space.
For a proper night out in Madrid, start in the secluded, 10,000-square-foot garden of the Palacio de los Duques, a tranquil oasis in the old city, for one of its signature cocktails based on Spanish painter Diego Velázquez’s baroque masterpieces. Try the “El Triunfo de Baco” (based on The Feast of Bacchus, or simply The Drunkards, which depicts the ancient god among scruffy boozers on a Spanish street), made with dark rum, passion fruit, lime juice, orgeat syrup, and pineapple juice; the “Venus en el Espejo” (The Rokeby Venus), made with vodka, cranberry juice, red berries, basil, and lime cordial; or, with flavors fit for the seventeenth-century king Velázquez frequently painted, the Felipe IV, made with gin, cava, elderflower liqueur, tangerine syrup, and lime juice.

From there, if you’re in the mood for live music, head to La Coquette Blues Bar for soulful tunes or Café Central Madrid for jazz. Another option is Medias Puri, a raucous discoteca fitted with a live performance space that has locals buzzing well into the daytime hours. For a classy night out, the Arts Club in the upscale Salamanca neighborhood is the place to see and be seen. “The night in Madrid is long, so moderation is key to keeping up,” Irurita advises.
 
At the end of a long night, keep the party going at Chocolatería San Ginés.
At the end of a long night, keep the party going at Chocolatería San Ginés.
Photo by Getty Images
At the end of a night out comes the best reward: chocolate con churros at the 24-hour Chocolatería San Ginés. These deep-fried pastries, dipped into a cup of thick drinking chocolate, are the true madrileño nightcap. Just remember to get enough for your whole group.


Book Your Stay

Head to the Palacio de los Duques in Madrid’s cultural center to experience a life well lived. This sophisticated, 180-room gathering place pairs vintage splendor with modern-day luxury – and is a great place to try your first sobremesa. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily, Red Level Lounge access for standard room guests, and a $100 hotel credit for Red Level room guests.

Popular Articles

You may also like...