Independent travel for independent minds

Livin’ la vida loca (RICKY  MARTIN)

The mad-for-it Madrileños certainly know how to party. Since the nightlife rennaissance of La Movida which saw the city rejuvenated after Franco's death, Madrid has established itself as a great night out. Many Brits make the mistake of starting too early, only to find themselves falling by the wayside as the locals prepare to greet the dawn. The centre of the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) universe, Madrid is a magnet for party animals.

Whether stood at a bar snacking on raciones, watching the sunset at a crowded terrassa, or propping up the bar till morning: the Spanish love to socialise. Light sleepers might want to pack ear plugs, misanthropes might want to go somewhere else. Just remember, even with those caffeine-charged cortados, you're going to have to sleep at some point.


Many young expats have more than one job in Madrid, so you may find your bartender is also teaching English, au-pairing, or also plies their trade at another speakeasy. One of the funkiest areas to chill out during the day time is the Malasana barrio. It was here that La Movida (literally ‘the movement’) started in the 80s. Check out the one-man-operation boutiques, the retro kitsch shops or get inked at one of the tattoo parlours.

When it’s time to feed your brain instead of your wardrobe, head to J & J Books and Coffee at 47 Calle Espiritu Santo. Downstairs pick up Voltaire for a few Euros, while upstairs the delightful Lauren or the mild-mannered Dave will serve you ice cold beers or a comforting cafe con leche in efficient North American style. Say what you will about the US, but they do service with a smile and their bartenders' people skills are exceptional.

Intercambios are the big thing for newbies in Madrid, but anyone can go. They’re informal conversation sessions between locals and non-locals. Use them to improve your Spanish skills, share your English abilities, and make friends. All are welcome. But if you scan the small ads of the local free listings paper In Madrid, you might find that some older Spanish men are very picky about who they learn their English from. One particular guy thinks he will learn best from young blonde girls...

J&J’s is good for lushes as well as languages, with a happy hour 4-7 Mon-Fri. There are also special deals for teachers on Tuesdays and a pub quiz (late) of a Friday night. So while you’re killing off a few brain cells, you can at least stimulate the ones you’ve got left, right? There’s also an all-you-can drink offer on a Saturday, for the hardcore.

Not to be confused with the very fine Bacchus Kirk bar in San Francisco, this bar also takes its name from the Greek God of getting smashed. English owner Josh keeps the vibe mellow and also employs excellent N. American staff. If you’re nice to the lovely Rachel, she’ll even You Tube your favourite track whilst telling you (selling you?) Madison is a secret leftfield paradise. You may even get an invite to her monochromatic-themed birthday party. No nuts, but they do have popcorn.

Bacchus is located in the studenty area of Arguelles at 52 Meléndez Valdes. The wifi is free and the vibe is friendly. Owner/manager Josh seems to be his own best customer, so schmooze the boss at the bar while you get the inside track on the local scene. Bookpacking picked up a cheap copy of an old Iain Banks book we’d somehow missed, before the proximity of the bar proved too much temptation. International interaction is  possible with Tuesday night intercambios if you’re climbing the walls after a virtuous Monday night in.

When Bookpacking stays in Madrid, we're usually on a budget so we hang out at the Albergue Juvenil (youth hostel) at 21 Mejia Lequerica (nearest Metros are Tribunal and Bilbao. It’s handy for Malasana and you can walk to the more touristy Sol in about 20 minutes. Only a couple of years old, the four-bed dorms are clean and modern. Breakfast is included for about E24 per night, and the multi-lingual staff are friendly. Say hi to Carmen, Miguel or Marie-Luz if you’re there.

Around town
Check out Lonely Planet’s Encounter guides for a good selection of happening places and cultural hotspots. If you spot a big Irish guy with a large droopy moustache who looks like he should be a biker, that’s Bren. He’s a character on the expat scene, and a nice guy. He works at the Irish Rover bar, which everyone thinks he owns. Chic t-shirts referencing the likes of Le Corbusier can be found in Feta at 11 Espiritu Santo (that street again) and there’s a Skunkfunk shop at 102 on happening Hortaleza street.

Head out to one of the tapas bars where locals dominate, and see how they live. Staccato bursts of conversation are interspersed with more-ish morsels. Protein-rich tapas are swigged down with cold cerveza, sherry or rioja – as they talk/eat/drink/smoke their way through the night like manana never comes. Tomorrow is always a day away for the Madrileño. No wonder we love it