Madrid’s literary neighbourhood was where Spanish Golden Age writers like Lope de Vega and Miguel de Cervantes lived and worked, and where the likes of Ernest Hemingway hung out while he was covering the Spanish Civil War. Step back in time by visiting some of the neighbourhood’s classic old tavernas, and explore its more modern additions by following our guide to the best bars in Madrid’s Barrio de Las Letras.
Taberna la Dolores, with its jazzy tiled façade, opened in 1908 and still has the feel of a bygone era (check out the dust-covered beer bottles and tankards lining the shelves as you walk in). Prop up the bar with a cold caña (little beer) or vermouth, one of Madrid’s favourite aperitifs.
This beer house, located on the popular Plaza de Santa Ana, was founded in 1904 and was such a favourite of Ernest Hemingway that the bar has a photograph of the American writer above his favourite seat – the window table looking out over the square. It has a terrace outside, but sit inside to soak up the atmosphere; the smart waiters are quick and efficient, gliding between the wooden tables, offering generous tapas and a good range of beers.
The walls and ceiling of this little bar are plastered with film posters, postcards and other curiosities, lending it the feel of a magpie’s nest. El Imperfecto is famous for its mojitos (two for €10) and you can often smell the heady rush of mint when you walk in. It has a good range of other cocktails, as well as milkshakes and teas. The bar has a cool, laid-back atmosphere ideal for a break from sightseeing or the start of a night out in Las Letras.
Craft beer has been slowly making a name for itself in Spain, and Fogg Bar is a great place to explore some of the new cervezas on the scene. It specialises in Spanish craft beers and has a good range of local cheese to accompany the drinks. It often holds tastings and has a rotating menu of beers. Staff are friendly and knowledgeable and will teach you a thing or two about the best local brews in Spain.
During the Spanish Civil War, Republicans would gather in this dark and dusty sherry bar to get the latest news from the front. The rules established then (no photos – you could be a spy and no tipping – because it was very un-Socialist) still stand today, as does the decor. Sherry is served from huge wooden barrels behind the bar and staff write down your orders in chalk on the bar top. It gets busy at weekends so don’t be afraid to elbow your way inside.
This Madrid institution hosts regular jazz concerts, with bands usually playing week-long stints. It is a great place to discover great Spanish and international musicians. Performances start at around 9pm and tickets can be bought a few hours before.
This stylish bar, which occupies the space of a former record shop, offers a good range of beers, wine and cocktails. There is a food menu that has sharing dishes like hummus and nachos, as well as creative takes on classic tapas. Stop by for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.