Málaga, the friendly capital of Spain’s Costa del Sol region, is a bar-hopper’s paradise. The streets of its central neighbourhoods are packed with venues to suit all tastes, from old-school tapas joints to chic rooftop terraces. Below, Culture Trip shares Málaga’s 10 best bars, as well as offering recommendations on what to order when you get to them.
Málaga has a vibrant, cosmopolitan ambience quite unlike that of any other major Andalusian city. This is reflected in its dynamic bar scene, which offers much more than just traditional tapas establishments (although there are plenty of those around, too). Málaga-based writer Mark Nayler takes you around the best bars in the Costa del Sol’s hedonistic capital, including a wine specialist that’s been open for 180 years, a rooftop terrace overlooking the port and several tapas joints in the city’s wonderful central market.
Bar, Spanish, Snacks
The best place to be on a summer afternoon in Málaga is Plaza de la Merced, a spacious square that’s packed with sunny terraces. One of its most popular hangouts is Bar Picasso, an inexpensive tapas joint named after the city’s most famous son, who was born a few doors down in 1881. Grab a table on the terraza, order a few chilled cervezas (beers) and some tapas to share, such as alitas de pollo (crispy chicken wings) or spicy patatas bravas. Nearby, the trendy Mercedes Gastro Market is also worth a visit.
It’s not necessary to commit to a full sit-down meal to experience El Pimpi, one of Málaga’s most famous restaurants. At the tiny tapas joint attached to the dining rooms, you can prop up the bar with a vino (glass of wine) or caña (small beer) and nibble on light bites such as albondigas (meatballs) and croquetas. Several major attractions are within a five-minute stroll from the bar, including the Picasso Museum, the cathedral and the Moorish Alcazaba, the latter of which you can admire from Pimpi’s terrace on Calle Alcazabilla.
Situated just north of Plaza de la Merced, this grungy hangout is one of the top after-dinner spots in central Málaga. The decor reflects La Merced’s bohemian style, with a table made from a surfboard and TVs showing skateboarding videos on loop. Laid-back owners Rob and Eddie never fail to give a warm welcome, and work from an extensive repertoire of cocktails that includes a mean mojito and margarita. The tables out on the street, in the heart of a residential area, are perfect for summer afternoons and evenings.
Hip La Tranca is found at the top of Calle Carreteria, in the heart of the alternative La Merced neighbourhood. It has recently moved to slightly roomier premises (for years, it occupied a kiosk-sized space a few doors down the road), but the walls are still covered with classic album covers, from rock to flamenco. The bar’s house tipple is vermouth, which is made on site, and there’s a decent selection of traditional tapas such as tortilla, empanadas and montaditos (small sandwiches). When you’re ready to leave, the staff will chalk your bill on the bar.
After just a couple of visits to Los Gatos, you’re welcomed back like an old friend. Situated off Calle Granada in the thick of the Old Town, this cheerful madhouse offers one of the best draught beers in the city and a colourful array of Basque-style pintxos – slices of bread topped with all kinds of treats (the salmon and cream cheese option is delicious). Soak up the street life by perching at one of the barrels outside, or admire the antique decorations and the speed of the waiters as you sit at the bar inside.
La Fabrica de Cruzcampo is a cavernous factory/bar that brews several varieties of Andalusia’s signature beer on site. Located in Soho, a formerly-neglected barrio that’s become one of Málaga’s most fashionable areas, its cerveza offering ranges from dark “ales” to refreshing shandies. The industrial-chic interior is spread over several distinct sections, including a covered terrace and a space for DJs and bands. Sharing platters of hummus, nachos, patatas bravas and “Kentucky-style” fried chicken are available as accompaniments to your beer(s).
Situated just over the road from Atarazanas, Málaga’s oldest tavern was opened by Jose de Guardia in 1840. The “bar” – which is the only place to hang out, apart from a few high tables – consists of a row of wooden benches facing a wall of oak barrels. Waiters serve a selection of Málaga wine directly from these, in small measures that cost about €1.50 to €2 (£1.30-£1.75) each. Sample everything from dark, sweet olorosos (a dark sherry) to dry white finos (a light-coloured sherry), while snacking on cold tapas such as prawns and olives as you go. Bills, naturally, are scratched on the bar with chalk.
Hotel Room Mate Valeria overlooks Málaga’s port and has a chic rooftop bar that’s open to non-guests. Found on the fifth floor (the elevator’s on the right as you enter reception), it’s the perfect venue for a romantic drink at sunset. Prices here are a little more than down below, but are notably cheaper than other rooftop bars in the vicinity. The terrace has plenty of shade during the day, is stylishly lit at night and is serviced by friendly, speedy waiting staff.
Located behind Hotel Room Mate Valeria and run by a charming English-Spanish duo, Café de Estraperlo (Café “Black Market”) is a focal point of Soho life. It’s just as popular for breakfast as it is for tapas and beers in the afternoons or for wine and other drinks in the evenings. Seating is spread over several outside tables or in an intimate interior, where the walls are adorned with local artwork. Málaga’s Old Town and beautiful port area are both less than a five-minute walk away, making it a great stop-off when you’re exploring.
The entrance to Málaga’s central food market is through an impressive Moorish archway – the only remaining piece of a 14th-century structure that originally housed shipyards. Nestling amongst the colourful meat, fruit and spice stalls are several bars where you can soak up the mercado’s atmosphere over tapas and cañas. Those nearest the entrance also have serviced terraces on the street, either side of the archway. Don’t leave without checking out the enormous stained-glass window that dominates Atarazanas’ rear wall.