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Best Madrid Nightlife

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Early-to-bed types take note—you are in the wrong town. The best Madrid nightlife doesn’t get going here until 10PM at the earliest, and even then many bars and nightclubs are just opening their doors because most madrileños are still eating dinner. Things really don’t get going until midnight and last until 4 or 5 in the morning. The weeknights aren’t really any different than the weekends, except that the crowds are thinner. Bar-hopping is a fine art here, with people rarely staying for more than two drinks at the same place. This is a good thing because there are so many good bars, cafes and nightclubs to see, and you get a constantly rotating crowd to mingle with. Most places are very social and it’s easy to strike up conversations. A lack of Spanish is a bit of a handicap, but most Spaniards under 40 know at least some English. Here’s an important bit of Spanish—a nightclub is a disco, not a club. A club is local slang for a brothel. The best Madrid nightlife is in Malasaña and Lavapiés, where clusters of bars and discos can keep you partying all night without even having to go to another street. Chueca is best for gay nightspots. Actually, all barrios have a sprinkling of good places, but these are the best.

La Via Lactea

Neighborhood: Malasaña

This Malasaña favorite right off Plaza Dos de Mayo has been rocking since La Movida, the flowering of culture and music after the long years of straight-laced fascist rule ended in 1975. The interior is a riot of color, thanks to neon lights, flickering TVs and walls covered in concert posters. Old-school rock blares through the sound system, which gets increasingly inaudible as the bar fills up with a mixed-aged crowd that makes anyone feel welcome. The bar opens earlier than most places in Malasaña, so it makes a good first stop around 10 or 11PM. Go any later on a weekend, and you’ll find it packed.

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La Via Lactea  

La Escalera de Jacob

Neighborhood: Lavapiés

The ground floor appears to be just another cool Lavapiés bar, notable for a hip 20s and 30s crowd and an eclectic range of classic and hard rock on the sound system. Go downstairs, and you’ll see what this place is really all about. The cavern-like cellar hosts another bar and a small stage for poetry readings, blaring concerts, magic shows and experimental theater. Entrance to the upstairs is free, but shows cost generally around €6-15. On weekends this is a late-night venue, with not much happening before midnight.

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La Escalera de Jacob  

Café Central

Neighborhood: Huertas

Jazz in Spain? Why not? By day, Café Central is a pleasant and well-located spot for a coffee or drink. The light streaming in from sunny Plaza del Ángel doesn’t quite dispel the nighttime classy ambiance of the old curved wooden bar, elegant modernist woodwork and marble floor and tables. Despite the mirrors lining the walls (so you can see and be seen), there’s an intimate feeling to this place that’s heightened when jazz performers mount the small stage in one corner. There are many jazz spots in this town, but top acts like coming here for the easy vibe and appreciative audience. You can eat well-prepared Spanish cuisine while you listen. Book well in advance. Prices vary, but expect to pay €10 and up. Concerts tend to last from 10PM to about midnight, but the café stays open into the wee hours and is popular with the after-hours crowd.

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Candela

Neighborhood: Lavapiés

Forget the touristy flamenco joints your hotel will try pushing on you—drink an extra coffee and head here instead. La Candela doesn’t even open until 11PM, and starting around midnight it comes alive with a friendly mixed-age crowd and sudden onsets of flamenco. Nothing is really scheduled, but the owner knows everybody in the scene, and flamenco performers come here almost nightly to strut their stuff. A privileged inner circle go back to La Cueva (”The Cave”) for a more private performance, while we commoners have to satisfy ourselves with the tunes echoing down the hall. If nobody is playing in the front room, the sound system takes over, and people dance to that instead. The walls are covered in autographed pictures of flamenco’s glitterati and colorful concert posters. It’s popular with the after-hours crowd because it stays open until 5:30AM. on weekdays and 6AM on weekends.

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José Alfredo

Neighborhood: Plaza de España

Lots of bars in Madrid claim cocktails are their specialty, but José Alfredo does some of the best and adds plenty of style with its lounge-room décor. Plush seats, dim lighting and mood music make this a relaxing spot until about 11PM, when it starts filling up with a mostly 30s crowd. Not that this crowd is bad, but the number of people starts interfering with the vibe. Plus the wait for service gets longer, and good luck finding a seat. Since it opens at 6PM—practically the morning by Madrid terms—this makes for a soothing choice before heading out for more serious partying. Cocktails are more expensive here than most lounges—€8 and up—but the expert mixologists make them worth every euro cent.

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