Ernest Hemingway had a lifelong love affair with Madrid. The heavyweight of American literature visited Spain many times from the 1920s and throughout the 1930s – when he covered the Spanish Civil War – to his final visit in 1960. He returned again and again to write, drink and watch his beloved bullfights – he set several short stories and novels in Madrid, which he called ‘the most Spanish of all cities’. People joke that there are few places in Madrid that don’t claim Ernest Hemingway drank there, but Don Ernesto, as the Spanish called him, definitely had his favourites.
This 1904 beer hall was such a favourite of Hemingway’s that he had his own table in prime position – in the window overlooking the beautiful Plaza Santa Ana. Today, there is a photograph of the writer hanging above his old favoured seat, so you can sit at the same table where Hemingway enjoyed a beer.
Little has changed in this sherry bar since the days of the Civil War, when Hemingway would pop by to hear the latest news from the Republican soldiers who frequented the bar. The rules established at that time, such as no tipping (Republicans saw themselves all as equal workers) and no photographs (in case you were a Fascist spy), remain in place to this day. Tabs are still written in chalk on the bar and the sherry is stored in huge, wooden barrels.
Officially the world’s oldest restaurant (it was founded in 1725), El Sobrino de Botín was a firm favourite of Don Ernesto, who used to enjoy its speciality, roast suckling pig. Legend has it he would arrive early in the day and write upstairs until his friends showed up for lunch, and was even allowed to make his own martinis. He also used the restaurant as the location for the final scene in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.
Hemingway frequented this cocktail bar, supposedly Spain’s first, throughout the 1930s when it was a popular haunt with foreign journalists. Later, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardener would mix with the most famous bullfighters of the day in the cosy booths of this Madrid institution.
It’s no secret that Hemingway was a big bullfighting aficionado. He explored Pamplona’s infamous Running of the Bulls in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, being a regular visitor there and at Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring. His 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon, explored the culture and traditions of bullfighting. Today, you can still visit Las Ventas, which holds regular bullfights (the best time to see one is during the San Isidro festivities for Madrid’s patron saint in May). If you would prefer not to see a bullfight, you can visit the bullring’s museum and take a tour of the impressive building.
One of Hemingway’s favourite places to stay was the Palace Hotel (now the Westin Palace Hotel), supposedly because of its close proximity to the Prado Museum, where he liked to wander around taking in some of Spain’s finest art. He would often begin his evenings with an aperitif of a martini or two at the hotel bar, which also appears in The Sun Also Rises.
Not a favourite haunt, but certainly a regular one. During the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway would run the gauntlet of sniper fire down Madrid’s Gran Vía to get to the Telefonica Building, home of the Office of Foreign Press and from where he would wire his reports. It was one of the first skyscrapers in Europe and today is the headquarters of the Spanish telecommunications company, Telefonica.
This former slaughterhouse is today a thriving arts and cultural centre, but back when a young Hemingway visited Madrid he liked to hang out at the slaughterhouse in the early mornings. He would watch the apprentice bullfighters practise killing and the old women who would stand in line to drink the blood, which supposedly had nutritious qualities.