Want to know where to eat in Chueca, Madrid? Read on…
Vibrant, bustling old Castilian joint serving excellent traditional-cum-contemporary tapas
The El País headline stuck to the wall reads “El Bocaíto is to tapas what the Prado is to Goya”. That’s pushing it, but this is one of my favourite tapas joints. It’s been around since 1966, and retains a colourful old Castilian vibe – hams and peppers dangle down, bullfighting memorabilia lines the walls, and there always seems to be three ageing regulars who’ve dug in at one end of the bar. But it’s not all tradition. A glass wall looks through to the kitchen and you can watch the frantic chefs prepare some of the best old-meets-new tapas. The tosta with foie and Pedro Ximénez reduction is out of this world, the grilled mushrooms are excellent and meat is cooked to bloody perfection. Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar adores the place and other enamoured celebs are featured in photos on the back wall (there’s a snap of Hugh Grant looking a little like he did in his mugshot). A white-washed dining room is tucked out back (you’ll need to sit if you’re getting a fixed-price menu), but I always go for tapas at the lively, bustling bar.
I stumbled across this recently-opened wine bar after a bite at Bocaíto (see above). And my first thought when I saw owner/bartender was: yikes, it’s Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now! A little prettier… a little musclier… but a near spitting image. Turns out Vicente is a star of sorts – he used to host a Spanish dating game and is well-known in these parts. Anyway, he’s since thrown in the TV towel to realise his wine bar dreams. And wine he serves in spades. Sixty of them, including twenty by the glass and at lower prices than other bars serving similar calibre wines. Along with the vino there’s a wide selection of Spanish cheeses, including more obscure quesos you’d be hard pressed to find outside a traditional market. Decor is basic and rustic, but that’s what I like about this place. Zero pretension, good wines, a knowledgeable host and tasty bar food (there are pintxos and dishes apart from the cheese… though the lack of an onsite kitchen means Vicente – who does all the cooking – keeps things simple). If you’re keen to try an interesting white, order Vicente’s family drop. He grew up in the lee of his father’s grapes in Albacete, and the enormous photograph on the back wall is him as a chubby little nipper standing next to papa, backed by a striking moonscape of stripped-bare vines.
Late-night piano bar; rowdy singalong with the rich and not-quite-famous
This is what the Spanish call an after-hours – a bar that fills after 2am when all the rest have shut up shop. The decor is plush 1970s and the waiters, who float trays of white spirits above the crowd, are waist-coated and bow-tied. The action is down the back where you’ll find a bevy of well-oiled, Ralph Lauren-wannabes and old, over-tanned floozies gathered around a four-metre long piano and sing along to traditional Spanish folksongs. Patrons take turns with the mic, the crowd accompanies and a rotating selection of piano maestros bang out the tunes. But karaoke this in not. So if you haven’t got the voice, just pop your cocktail on the piano (coaster please) and soak up the private-party vibe. €10 to get in, which includes a drink. After that, the booze ain’t cheap (€10 for a G&T), but at 4am do you really need another one?