Blood, sweat and Gypsy tears: Five best flamenco bars in Madrid (and the best flamenco show)

Decor in Callejón de Madrid, a Madrid flamenco bar

It’s funny how the mind works. After seeing my first flamenco performance, I had an unexpected image burned on my brain. The genitals of the male dancer. Big and bulbous,  perfectly cosseted in his exceptionally close-fitting trousers. The women around me were panting and sweating. They were Kiwi woman, who, like me, had never seen a flamenco show before. This was five years ago, in New Zealand.

Yoly, my wife, was seated beside me. Despite being Spanish, she’d never seen flamenco either. She doesn’t recall the dancer’s crotch (apparently).

But we did share something that day. We both caught the flamenco bug. We even started taking lessons (again, still in New Zealand). I lasted four classes and stopped for two reasons. First, I can’t dance. Second, during a shamefully expensive business lunch (back when I directed TV commercials) I told an obnoxious Kiwi ad exec that I was taking flamenco lessons. He choked on his unfiltered pinot and, for all intents and purposes, refused to work with me.

Anyway. I’ve long left the foul-breathed world of advertising, but Yoly still takes flamenco lessons (she’s rather good). And we both enjoy hanging out in flamenco bars (that sounds weird, but it’s not).

Here are my five best flamenco bars in Madrid, plus my favourite tablao (flamenco show).

Note: A lot of visitors to Spain plan to see flamenco in the south (Seville, for example). Andalusia may be the cradle of the art-form, but Madrid is where much of the talent is. Tip? Get your flamenco fix in the capital.

1. Sanlúcar. Tucked away in the back blocks of La Latina, Sanlúcar is not a flamenco bar as such. It’s more a slice of the south, with bullfighting memorabilia, virgins and sweaty cured meats (that’s a good thing). But they do play flamenco (often it’s lighter, jauntier aflamenencado styles) and the food is excellent. Eat ortiguillas (sea anenomes) and tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritters). Drink sherry.

Perfect for: Drinking, lining your stomach before a flamenco bender
Calle de San Isidro Labrador, 14

2. Al Vicente Copas. Now we’re getting serious. One-man-band Vicente runs this underground flamenco temple near Calle Cava Baja. He’s a flamenco nerd of the first order and has hundreds of hours of live performances stored on a hard drive, which he plays at ear-bleeding volumes on a large flat-screen TV. The bar fills with flamenco anoraks and other odd-bods and is jammed with surreal memorabilia (an upside-down Christmas tree, a crucified Christ wrapped in faery lights, a penis-shaped coat hanger… you get the idea… or not).

Perfect for: Drinking, going deaf
Plaza de Puerta Cerrada, 7

3. El Callejón de Madrid. Across town, behind Plaza Santa Ana, this long, careworn bar has been serving dancers, singers and flamenco hangers-on (me, my wife, you) for fifty years. Lola (from the famous Carbonell flamenco clan) and her dancer-husband Mistela pull the pints (well, the rather expensive dobles) and the music is gutsy cante jondo. Lola told me that much-missed flamenco god Enrique Morente propped up the bar a week before he died. That makes El Callejón sacred ground.

Perfect for: Drinking, listening to top-flight ball-busting cante jondo
Calle de Manuel Fernández y González, 5

4. El Burladero. Just around the corner, bullfighters rather than flamenco dancers grace the walls. But that just goes to show that both worlds are utterly interlocked (flamenco dancers and bullfighters are regular bed buddies). Last time I was there I sipped my mojito alongside a Mexican torero on tour. So yes, this place is legit. It’s more of a bar in the early hours and patrons hit the dance floor later in the evening.

Perfect for: Drinking, dancing, picking up bullfighters.
Calle Echegaray, 19

5. Candela. The key to Candela is arriving late. And I don’t mean half-past-midnight late. I’m talking the other side of 4am… when your veins are pulsing with equal parts blood and booze and your gin-soaked brain thinks you can dance flamenco. You can’t, but this is the place to try without making a fool of yourself. And if you’re lucky (or pushy), Candela may give up its secret. Below the bar is a cellar where local gypsies and flamenco performers get together to drink and play. There’s often a bartender guarding the door, but he’s a pushover (well, was for my wife). If you make it down below, keep your mouth shut and just watch… what you’ll see is impromptu round-the-campfire stuff, like true flamenco should be.

Perfect for: Drinking, dancing, unlocking your inner Gypsy
Calle del Olmo, 2

And… drum roll please… what’s the best tablao (flamenco show) in Madrid? I haven’t seen ‘em all, but my pick thus far is Cafetín La Quimera, out near Ventas. Granada-born, dangly crucifix-wearing impresario Antorrin runs the show, and kicks off each performance with a martonete, a blacksmith’s song, striking an anvil with a hammer as he howls. The dancers are first-rate, there are no microphones and the place is small enough that you’re almost guaranteed an eyeful of genitalia. Immersive would be an understatement.

The playlist below is the perfect accompaniment for pre-loading and doing your makeup before a flamenco hooley.

Oh, and want to know what flamenco shows are coming up in Madrid? Check out this very clever and handy site, The Flamenco Guide. The editor of the site, Yolanda Martín, happens to be my very clever and wonderful wife and she also offers exceptional private flamenco tours and experiences in Madrid, for those keen to truly discover the art form with a local expert (too often tourists see flamenco shows and sadly don’t really know what they’re looking at).

Also, I have my own tour company, Devour Madrid Food Tours and we also offer an fun and delicious Evening Tapas and Flamenco Tour!

James Blick

 

 

25 thoughts on “Blood, sweat and Gypsy tears: Five best flamenco bars in Madrid (and the best flamenco show)

  1. I just found your blog while searching for craft brew bars in Madrid. I’m so glad I did! I saw the most incredible flamenco performance in Sevilla in May. I would love to try out some of these bars. Thanks for the great tips!

  2. Love your blog James! Do you suggest us (5 California visitors) eating dinner at the flamenco show or hit a bar/restaurant before?

    • Hi Cathy,

      Thanks for getting in touch (and for reading the blog!). Yeah, I’d suggest eating somewhere else and then hitting the show. ‘Dinner + show’ is usually a dangerous gastronomic combo! The food at the tablao is average. You’ll get better elsewhere.

      James

    • Hi Stella,

      I’m afraid I don’t. You could search YouTube the tablao names, but a tablao is only as good as the dancer dancing that night… so a video of someone dancing at a table two years ago doesn’t mean much. Good luck!

  3. Thanks to your great blog we enjoyed REAL flamenco at Cafetin La Quimera…spine tingling rhythms, mind blowing footwork, oodles of passion…we felt totally immersed in the true meaning of this unique culture.

    • I disagree. It’s the artists the make a show great, and the key artists rotate around the different tablaos of Madrid. So, a huge part of the equation is to know who is dancing/signing/playing on a particular night, regardless of where it’s Cardamomo, Villa Rosa or Casa Patas etc.

  4. GREAT post. Thank you! How early could your tour start? I know most shows start after 10… same applies to your “flamenco hooley” 😉

    Again… thank you!!

  5. Hi James, I see most of the post were written in 2014, is your blog still hip and happening? I plan to go to Madrid in December 2014 and I want to do a class for just an hour. Is it advisable to watch a flamenco dance before or should one just dive in? Really difficult to contact the schools before hand, is there a trick one can do to make sure they call or email back. I do not speak Spanish except one from tv series Dora the Explora

    • Hi Tina,

      Thanks very much for your message. My wife @flamencoguide (www.theflamencoguide.com) is much more an expert on flamenco than me, and she has suggested the following…

      “You could advise her to check my blog entry about dance classes (http://theflamencoguide.com/where-to-take-flamenco-dance-classes-in-madrid/) . For one-off classes, I´d say go directly to Amor de Dios and ask the people at reception about beginners classes (“clases de baile flamenco para principiantes”). Or there’s a grid with the hours here (http://www.amordedios.com/WebUsuarios/Clases/ListaClases.asp) but I don’t know how updated it is. Her category would be “CLASE GENERAL, Principiantes, Baile flamenco”. The class will cost around 15 euros. No need to buy a pair of flamenco shoes for one class – a pair of confortable high-heels will do – no need to go to a flamenco show first, although it’ll certainly inspire her 😉 To get in the mood, she can also watch a flamenco film (see my recs here: http://theflamencoguide.com/flamenco-films/)”

      I hope that helps Tina!

  6. Pingback: Where to see the best flamenco in Madrid - The Flamenco Guide

  7. Hi! I’m going to be in Madrid the end of the month…is all of this info still valid? Anything you’d add? I want a real local experience…some flamenco and drinks without the touristy feel…thoughts/\?

  8. Hello! I would like to invite you to try Taberna Flamenca El Cortijo. On Fridays and Saturdays we invite some of Madrid’s top performers to our tablao to wow locals and tourists alike. A welcoming and relaxed atmoesphere at locals’ prices. Just let me know when you would like to come!

  9. Where would be a good place to see some flamenco in Madrid 19-23 October? I am not familiar with the artists so the names do not mean anything to me. Thanks.

  10. Hi James, I plan to visit Madrid with my husband very soon this November 2016. Please suggest a good authentic flamenco performance in the month. Thank you. 🙂

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