Nightlife, is just life in Madrid.
Staying out late is just the way it is – however old you are. If you just go out for dinner and a drink or two afterwards you’ll be lucky to get to bed before 2am. Any time before that is regarded as an early night.
While tight regulations mean a lot of bars and clubs close between 2am and 3.30am, there's plenty more nightlife in Madrid that doesn’t even get going till after 3am. Getting home in daylight is the norm rather than the exception.
In summer, you just move from terraza to terraza. By day these might be innocent-looking pavement cafés, but as darkness falls they turn into outdoor clubs. Knowing which strip of pavement has been deemed the cool place to hang out at any given time is a bit hard to keep up with, but there are usually a few in vogue along the Paseo de la Castellana.
Key nightlife areas include Plaza Santa Ana, La Latina, and Malasaña. Chueca is the main gay area, though it is also very fashionable in general with a lot of mixed bars.
After dinner, it’s unusual to drink wine, and a lot of bars and clubs don’t even stock it. Most people order beer, cocktails or mixed drinks, which are served long and strong. Always – and I cannot stress this enough – specify a brand when ordering spirits (particularly whisky) otherwise you might be given the rough cheap stuff which will give you a killer hangover...believe me.
And don’t worry too much about what you’re wearing. It’s really not as important in Madrid as in other European capitals.
Olé Lola (San Mateo 28; + 34 91 3106695; www.olelola.com) - lively from early evening onwards, this is a fun bar between Chueca and Malasana and handy for a restorative drink after shopping on Calle Fuencarral.
Marula Café (Calle Caños Viejos 3, La Latina; +34 91 3661596; www.marulacafe.com) - the funky R&B vibe goes on till dawn at this popular club near Plaza de la Paja where there’s live music occasionally too. In summer it all spills out into the street in this rather secret corner of old Madrid under the viaduct. If you can get a pavement table here, hang onto it.
Barrio Alto (Calle Humilladero 16, La Latina) - a great bar for a snack and a few beers or after-dinner cocktails. All sorts of music, played at just the right volume so you can actually talk to your friends without shouting. It’s hidden away down a side street, so although it’s always busy, it’s not quite as heaving as some of the Latina bars, which can be a bit much at weekends.
Tupperware (Calle Corredera Alto de San Pablo 26, Malasaña); +34 91 4464204) - a perennial Malasaña fave, this kitsch club on two floors takes the whole psychedelic Austin Powers thing to unprecedented extremes. I’m talking lava lamps, fake fur, totally poptastic plastic fixtures and fittings and a groovy mural by Mauro Entrialgo.
Joy Madrid (Calle Arenal 11, Sol; +34 91 3663733; www.joy-eslava.com) - it’s been around forever (after starting out as a theatre more than a century ago) but just keeps reinventing itself and you’ll never have a bad night here. With a huge dance floor and a wide variety of club nights, it’s open till around 6am every night. So what if it’s a bit cheesy? Get over yourself!
Soul Station (Cuesta de Santo Domingo 22, Gran Vía; +34 91 5414744; www.myspace.com/soulstationmadrid) - soul, flamenco fusion, world music, live bands, comedy nights…you never know what’s going to happen at this small bar with a tiny stage. It’s only been open a year or so, but already has a loyal following, particularly with the over-25s. The astoundingly good mojitos might have something to do with its success too.
Liquid (Calle Barbieri 7, Chueca) - if you don’t know where to start with the gay scene in Chueca, just go to this friendly bar which serves great cocktails to a goodlooking crowd. You can always stare at the ‘bubble wall’ until someone talks to you.
Le Cabrera (Barbara de Braganza 2; + 34 91 319 9457; www.lecabrera.com) - Top mixologist Diego Cabrera is at the helm at this chic bar in the fashionable Las Salesas area. On the lower floor of Michelin-starred Sergi Arola’s gastrobar, there is no better place to fall off your bar stool. There is a new branch at the Casa de America on Plaza Cibeles too.
Museo Chicote (Gran Vía 12; +34 91 5326737; www.museo-chicote.com) - Madrid’s most legendary cocktail joint, which opened in 1931, is now a hip lounge bar where top DJs do sessions. Hemingway and Ava Gardner used to hang out here, and I have spent more nights there than I care to remember. Although the vibe has changed, the original Art Decó is still there, and the cocktails are still superb too, particularly the mojitos.
Cock (Calle Reina 16, Chueca; +34 91 5322826) - with its dramatic coffered ceiling and glamorous clientele, Cock has been a staple on the Madrid nightlife scene for at least two decades, but shows no sign of going out of fashion – albeit with an older crowd. Always packed with film, tv and arty people, you never know who you might spot. Seriously good cocktails. Try a maitai, a whisky sour or a gin fizz. Although the martinis are totally fabulous…
Bristol Bar (Calle Almirante 20, near Chueca; +34 91 522 4568) - it’s all about gin here, with at least 50 to choose from, but there is an impressive cocktail list too. You really should have a gin and tonic though. They serve tapas and British dishes too, and it is always buzzing with actors from the Maria Guerrero theatre around the corner. Good before, during or after dinner.
Glass Bar (Carrera de San Jerónimo 34, near Santa Ana); +34 91 7877770) - in the Hotel Urban, this is a super chic bar with a long list of creative cocktails. Try a Mostopolitan, with grape juice in the mix, or maybe a Liztania Blue, while you gaze at the fabulous chandelier designed by Philippe Starck, and try not to gawp at the celebrities.
Sala Heineken (Calle Princesa 1, Plaza España; +34 91 5475711; www.salaheineken.com) - this is where to see bands who are already on the scene but not totally mega yet. Florence & the Machine and Richard Hawley played here earlier this year. A lot of Spanish groups play here too. Give it a go! You never know what you might discover. When there’s no live music on the programme, there are club nights instead. DU:OM on Fridays and Saturdays packs them in. You can’t really go wrong.
Café Central (Plaza del Ángel 10, Santa Ana; +34 91 3694143; www.cafecentralmadrid.com) - this is a lovely old café where there’s live jazz most nights - sometimes well-known names, but always great musicians. There’s a good selection of tapas to go with your beer, and plenty of time for chat too. You get a real mix of people here, and all ages. It’s not hip or anything, just a good night out. Don’t miss Red House if they’re playing while you’re in town.
Casa Patas (Calle Cañizares 10, Anton Martín; +34 91 3690496; www.casapatas.com) - have dinner in the Andalusian restaurant then go through to the back room for the live music and dance performances. Although undeniably touristy, the artists who perform here are top notch.
Candela (Calle del Olmo 2, San Antón; +34 91 4673382) - I can’t guarantee you’ll get to see anything here, as it’s a bar where flamenco musicians hang out and one or two may or may not end up playing. But when it happens – which is always very late - it can be very good indeed.
Cardamomo (Calle Echegaray 15, Santa Ana; +34 91 3690757; www.cardamomo.es) - dance to flamenco and salsa beats at this popular bar just off Plaza Santa Ana. Live performances at 9pm most nights, with two sessions on a Saturday. Just about all the best contemporary flamenco musicians have played here.
Artebar (Calle San Bruno 3, La Latina; +34 615 115627; www.artebarlalatina.com) - Flamenco and other live music and performance events take place most nights in the back room of this bar, which also serves great tapas and cocktails. While not exactly devoid of tourists, the musicians and dancers are top notch and you're getting a pretty authentic experience. You can book online too. This is also a good choice for a quietish drink before or after dinner, and is handily located just off Cava Baja near the Plaza Mayor. Mon-Fri 6pm-2am. Sat&Sun 11.30am-2.30am.