This article was previously published on My Vacation Source.
If there is one thing Madrid doesn’t lack – it’s bars. The neighborhood of Malasaña alone contains one bar per seven people; so going out on a pub-crawl in the Spanish capital requires minimal effort. But what if you want to do something a little different? Like walking in Hemingway’s footsteps, while eating and drinking along the way.
Hemingway described Madrid as “the most Spanish of all cities.” He arrived in the early 1920s and maintained a presence in the city up until the 50s, only leaving Spain during the Axis allied 1940s. Hemingway’s long-term residency in Madrid means that you can pretty much walk into any bar in the centre dating the pre-1950s with some connection to the writer. There is even the urban legend of a displayed placard outside a restaurant that says, “Hemingway never ate here.”
For those who like to fuel up before a night of drinking, why not enjoy a meal at El Sobrino de Botín, just off Plaza Mayor? With claims of being the “oldest restaurant in the world,” El Sobrino de Botín is also featured in the final scenes of the “Sun Also Rises.” This antique dining establishment offers a three-course menu including garlic soup and suckling pig. While this classic set menu may not cater to everyone’s tastes, there is also a la carte menu available.
If the suckling pig offered at El Sobrino de Botín seems a bit on the heavy side, or you’re partial to tapas, Spanish snack food, then you can have a bite to eat at the next port of call – Cervecería Alemana. The American writer’s old haunt can be found at end of the Plaza Santa Ana, and according to Hemingway, supposedly, serves the “best beer in Spain.” Cervecería Alemana can be described as a German beer hall meets a Spanish tapas bar, with its wooden beams and white walls combined with the noise and chaos you can only find in Spain.
They serve a variety of international beers, but the house beer is most excellent. Served in a white mug that matches the head, it echoes the bready wheat beers from Germany, while still maintaining a light taste. This bar is an even mix of tourists and locals, with grumpy waiters rushing around taking forever to note your food order. This manages to work as part of tavern’s charm, though. Hemingway frequented the Cervecería Alemana often, so much so, that he “owned” the small marble table right next to the window. Although the current owners claim that Hemingway was intensely disliked by the proprietors in his time.
The next stop on the agenda is the hidden bar of La Venencia. Only a five-minute walk from the popular Plaza Santa Ana, Calle Echegaray is quiet and can even seem a little abandoned at night. Keep walking down until you come to a pair of wooden shutter-like doors that mark the entrance to the bar. Back in the 30s, Republican soldiers and sympathisers during the Spanish Civil War used to meet here. As a war correspondent, Hemingway would hang out here for news on the front.
If sherry isn’t your thing then La Venencia won’t be for you – because, apart from tap water, that’s all they serve. Good news for sherry lovers though, is that they have five different varieties from the barrel, available full or half bottle sized or even by the glass. If you’re still after something to munch, you can find tapas that perfectly accompanies sherry at very low prices.
La Venencia is covered with vintage posters and the walls are yellowed with cigarette stains. The bottles on the top shelf haven’t been dusted since, well, when Hemingway was last there, most probably – but it’s part of its appeal. Mostly locals crowd the bar, and you can still see the sign from the Civil War that says “Don’t spit on the floor.” Not only that, La Venencia has maintained some of its republican traditions from Hemingway’s time, such as the rule about no photographs – a safety precaution against Fascist spies, and no tipping. The latter might sound strange, but these were socialists and workers.
From the gritty Republican hangout of La Venencia, Hemingway also found himself in the elegant and fashionable Taberna Chicote, now appropriately renamed Museo Chicote. Situated on the Gran Vía, considered the height of modernity back in the early 1930s with its grand, art deco buildings and lively theatres, Taberna Chicote proved to be popular with international journalists at the time. Hemingway wasn’t the only famous face to have passed through this chic bar. Its former customers included Grace Kelly, Orson Wells, Laurence Olivier and even Salvador Dalí. Nowadays, thanks to its legendary reputation, Museo Chicote still offers a variety of classic cocktails at not unreasonable prices. It marks the perfect end to the Hemingway pub-crawl – sitting in its classy, art deco setting almost transports you back to the glittering 30s with a cocktail in the hand.
While three bars hardly constitutes a pub-crawl, the combination of foamy beer, sherry from the barrel and classic cocktails is a lethal mix that Hemingway would be proud of. As long the tapas and tap water keep flowing, there is no reason why not to make the most of this trip down Hemingway’s memory lane. So grab a copy of the “Sun Also Rises” and have a drink with Hemingway!
El Sobrino de Botin
Calle de los Cuccilleros 17
Tel: 0034-913664217 (Reservation recommended)
Plaza Santa Ana 6
Calle Echegaray 7
Gran Via 12
Jennifer is a freelance writer specialising in art, travel & culture. This blog is a melange of her published articles and independent thoughts.