Think it can't be done? In the Spanish capital, you can have dinner and a drink (well, three) and still get change from a €5 note at one of its most tucked-away tapas bars. This is how to go about it…
One of the best things about staying at hostels in Spain is that you get tips no hotel concierge would provide. After a long day of delayed trains, we dumped our bags at the Hostel One Puerta del Sol and asked for a good place to eat. The answer came back clear and concise: El Tigre.
Off the delightfully broad and elegant Gran Via is the Calle Infantas, which might be mistaken for a shady backstreet in most other European cities. Packed from one end to the other with pubs and clubs, it is one of Madrid's best party streets – and El Tigre is the jewel in its crown. Spilling out of the premises on to the street, where plastic and Formica tables are roughly leant up against the walls, you will need a brave heart and physical strength to wade your way through the masses of locals who come here night after night for cheap drinks and free tapas.
That, you see, is the joy of El Tigre. The bar operates a very simple system: every drink you buy gets you a plate of assorted tapas, rapidly spooned on to your plate before you are either ushered out the door to eat on the street, or pushed out by locals queueing behind you at the bar to get their order in. Plates piled high with patatas bravas (big crispy chunks of fried potato slathered in a spicy sauce), deep-fried breaded chicken parcels, concoctions resembling scotch eggs and delicious slices of fatty ham on small crusts of bread come at you with every €1.50 beer you buy.
Do the maths for yourself: buy three beers and you not only end up pleasingly warm and smilingly happy, but your belly is lined with enough fried food to see you through the night at one – or several – of the many other bars in the area. After all this, you will still get change from a single €5 note.
Be aware that you will have to send in a couple of people at a time to the overcrowded bar: one to carry the plates and drinks, the other to burrow their way through the mass of people who are trying to get in through the single small door. Once you are out of the suffocating crowd and into the street, however, the party begins – and you will feel like you are living like a true local.
El Tigre is a wonderful place that, for all its dankness and overbearing crowds, keeps drawing you back in. There are many more elegant eateries in the Spanish capital, but they seem less appealing once you have experienced El Tigre – and that is why locals are so quick to call out its name when you ask for a decent meal and drink in Madrid.