Chasing a Spanish dawn

Here’s how to crack the party code in Madrid. Dress up, fuel up and don’t forget your siesta

Unexpectedly, Picasso’s Guernica evokes an almost visceral melancholy. In white, black and grey, the painting engulfs the gallery with its disconcertingly aesthetic depiction of terror.

The mural, commissioned and executed in 1937, as a response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque village in Spain, draws a motley crowd at Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Packed together solemnly, visitors gaze at it in heavy silence. Then, unexpectedly, a band begins to play.

It’s 7 pm, and Madrid is just beginning to shake off the soporific effects of another warm day. My sister and I have been in the city for two days, earnestly trying to be good tourists.

On day one, brandishing maps, Spanish guides and meticulously collated notes, we do a strenuous walking tour, looping through Puerto del Sol, Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. By 6 pm, we are so exhausted we flop down at a café with a bottle of Rioja for rest and reconnaissance. We’re in bed by 9 pm.

Chasing a Spanish dawn

  • Pacha: Stylish crowds. Even more stylish bouncers in sleek black suits and full-fledged tuxedos
  • Party earth: Mega club in Malasana filled with hipsters, black couches and purple lighting
  • Joy: A 1950’s theatre converted into a boisterous nightclub with acrobatic dancers and international music
  • Fabrik: Converted aircraft hangar turned in a 4000 capacity club, with ice machines, laser shows and video projection screens.

Day two is similarly predictable. The museum-cathedral-park circuit again. Buen Retiro park is pretty, but underwhelming in the relentless afternoon sunshine. Our guide books suggest we spin through the city’s most colourful districts next, rapidly soaking up culture and sangria in a tourist-appropriate manner. Summer holidays are hard work, especially in this age of FOMO.

VIP guestlist

Besides, the city seems so monotonously sedate in the evenings. Wilting gently over icy glasses of vermouth at touristy Mercado de San Miguel, we Google ‘partying in Madrid’ and learn we need to take a shuttle bus to Fabrik, a club in Fuenlabrada, 30 km away. Or get in line to enter Teatro Kapital, with seven floors, each offering a different style of music from hip hop to EDM. Or dress “elegantly” enough to get past the bouncers at Teatro Barcelo, which has reportedly hosted Andy Warhol, Prince and Mick Jagger.

Chasing a Spanish dawn

I hate to admit it. But I’m done with clubbing. I’ve ticked the necessary boxes over the past decade: right from dancing between women in feather boas and men in glittering fish net stockings though the night in Barcelona at Roxy, to attending a Flower Power party night at Pacha in Ibiza, charmingly titled the ‘Gomorrah of the Mediterranean Sea’.

A few years ago in London, standing in a claustrophobic queue to get into Fabric, famous for its huge mosh pit, vibrating ‘bodysonic’ dance floor and cutting-edge electro, I found myself craving a couch, quilt and The Mindy Project reruns. That’s how you know you’re growing old.

Or, like me, you go to Madrid on holiday, and decide to embrace afternoon naps.

Hence, by day three, we abandon our guidebooks. Breakfast features crusty bread topped with delicate slices of deeply marbled jamon Iberico, along with cups of strong cortados, espressos swirled with steamed milk. We stroll though the city, stopping only for a 3 pm lunch, that begins with smoked salmon on crunchy chunks of lettuce, followed by buttery pork chops served with unevenly cut golden fries. Then, unapologetically dive back into our gloriously air-conditioned, darkened hotel rooms for a siesta. When we emerge, the sunlight is dim and the day cooler. An ideal time to walk to the Renia Sofia and soak in art.

Chasing a Spanish dawn

When Mastretta and his band begin their concert, Renia Sofia acquires that unmistakably electric, enticing Saturday night feel, without the relentless party-till-you-drop pressure of a heaving night club.

Inspired, we stroll across to Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Since it’s Museums Night, the Permanent Collection is open (free of charge) till 1 am. Which is how I find myself nose to nose with Rueben’s Venus at midnight.

Beside me, girls in sharp stilettos and men in carefully groomed beards lock eyes over the Picassos. There’s a fog of disparate perfumes in the air. Calvin Harris spills out of the neighbour’s earphones. I spot an exceptionally good looking Spaniard gazing at a Goya, and develop a fresh appreciation for 18th Century art.

We emerge from the museum to find the city transformed: Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ thuds out of packed bars, revellers spill onto the streets and the air is charged with energy. The Hat, a design hostel boasting a rooftop bar is packed with clutches of trendy young locals.

It’s time for tapas: delicious little plates of fluffy tortillas, spicy chorizo, lush paella and crisp croquettes. Tapas end by midnight, which is when the pubs fill up. We stop by an inevitable Irish bar with live music and beer on tap.

Chasing a Spanish dawn

Siesta mode

Then, the clubs spring to life. A man inexplicably dressed as clown welcomes us to The Room, frantically twisting balloons into perky yellow sausage crowns to persuade us to stay. Club promoters stand on the streets offering free shots to lure clientèle.

At 2 am we stumble upon El Son, a salsa bar. There’s just one couple pirouetting gracefully on the floor. It’s still early, shrugs the bartender as she slides over a beer. “Dancing starts at 3 am.”

We quickly adapt to our new Spanish routine, siestas during the day, and wandering the city though the night.

Evenings are spent at La Latina’s lively tapas bars. Or making new friends in cheerfully grungy roadside cafés over beers and bowls of potato chips in gritty graffiti-splattered Lavapies.

One night we watch Flamenco at Cardamomo, squashed in a warm, dark room with exposed brick walls over oversized glasses of chilled sangria. Another evening is spent drinking gin at the Circulo de Bellas Artes terrace, offering a 360º panoramic view of the city, amid an intimidatingly stylish crowd replete with crop tops, man buns and designer dreadlocks. The waiters are exasperatingly haughty, the bouncers grim and drinks watered down, but our view of Madrid in the golden-grey 9 pm light of a summer sunset is unforgettable.

Each expedition inevitably ends at legendary St Gines with dark cups of hot chocolate as thick as custard, served with airy, crisp, freshly-fried churros. The café is open 24 hours a day, making it ideal for that essential pre-dawn pick-me-up.

Our revolutionary new biorhythm is surprisingly easy to adapt to, perhaps because it makes complete sense. Clearly, we’ve been holidaying all wrong our entire lives: As it turns out, the ideal time to go to bed is just before sunrise.


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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 7:49:35 AM |

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