From Jewish corner to working class Spanish barrio, village-like Lavapiés’ history is as colourful as its ubiquitous ochre and dusky pink balconies, which hang over its maze of cobblestone streets.
Located southwest of the city centre, Tirso de Molina Square marks its northern boundary, bordered to the south by Embajadores metro station. Originally it was set beyond the city walls, and in many ways Lavapiés is still an outsider, marching to the beat of its own drum. It has an emerging underground culture, and yet traditions still run deep. Old converges with new – Cine Doré, a beloved 1920s cinema, is situated just four blocks from graffitied La Tabacalera, a former tobacco factory-turned-community-arts-space. Straddling both worlds is vibrant indoor market, El Mercado de Lavapiés, which hosts free Swing Dancing and Salsa lessons on Sundays. The barrio’s ‘pay what you can afford’ bookstores and free admission days at Reina Sofía mean you don’t need to show up with deep pockets.
As well as throwing its fair share of fiestas, Lavapiés pulls out all the stops for Chinese New Year and Ramadan, a clue to its multiculturalism, also reflected in an eclectic food scene. Take your pick from traditional tapas haunts and hip Bao hole-in-the-walls, to Moroccan teahouses and Senegalese restaurants like Baobab in Nelson Mandela Square. But it’s still a barrio that packs a castizo (genuine) Madrileño punch, with old-school taverns like Antonio Sánchez and Bodegas Alfaro. You could while away several hours at tree-lined Calle Ave María and Calle Argumosa – both strewn with animated bars and street-side terrazas, that make for the perfect tapeo (tapas crawl).
For the sweet taste of Syria in the heart of Madrid, follow your nose to this unassuming bakery, said to have the stickiest and crunchiest baklava in town! These bite sized parcels are baked fresh every morning by owner Yahid, a third-generation baker hailing from Aleppo. Don’t be surprised if he offers you a cardamom-laced black tea on the house. It’s the perfect accompaniment to dulces árabes (Middle Eastern pastries) like Ma’amoul; a buttery date-paste stuffed cookie.
Calle del Tribulete, 10, +34 666 62 31 37
A five-minute taxi
La Casa Encendida
Housed in an imposing Neo-Moorish building, this 6,000sqm social and
cultural hub is an incubator for Madrid’s emerging artistic talent. It also hosts cinema sessions, workshops, live music and a jam-packed performing arts calendar.
Ronda de Valencia, 2, +34 915 06 21 80. lacasaencendida.es
A seven-minute walk
Deborah Abizanda Ceramics
Sandwiched between galleries and ateliers on Doctor Fourquet Street, spitting distance from Reina Sofía, this charming ceramics shop keeps excellent creative company. Its Madrileño owner, Deborah, turned her love for mud (an obsession that took hold aged four) into a business three years ago. Ranging from US$28-280, her collections include rustic stoneware dinner sets, hanging flower “Sapa” pots that recall Vietnamese hats, and porcelain plates inspired by her rescue greyhound, Philip. Get your hands dirty at one of her small group pottery classes ($28 for two hours), held in her annexed studio.
Calle Doctor Fourquet 11, +34 652 93 62 37, deborah-abizanda.es
A four-minute walk
Self-taught designer Francisco Panadero’s atmospheric milk-shop-turned-atelier is an unexpected find on Calle de la Fe. You’ll often find the former photographer pattern making with antique leather-craft tools, surrounded by his Singer sewing machine and 60-year-old leather stencil press. Most of the materials are sourced from the city’s Calle de Ribera de Curtidores – once the navel of Madrid’s tanning industry. Starting at $170, Francisco’s signature backpacks take an average of three days to make, and, along with the designer’s wash bags, wallets, cardholders and key rings, come with a lifetime warranty.
Calle de la Fe, 18, [email protected]
A two-minute walk
A cat café with a conscience, non-profit La Gatoteca is both a refuge for Madrid’s stray kitties and a space to enjoy feline company. “The house belongs to the cats” is the owner’s motto, and judging by the eat-sleep-play zones, running wheels and climbing towers that monopolise its two floors, we’d have to agree. Cats take up residence here anywhere from several days to a year, and if one tugs at your heartstrings, you can adopt after attending a crash course in feline care and nutrition. Prices start at $5 for half an hour, including one free soft drink.
Calle Argumosa, 28, +34 916 22 58 31, lagatoteca.es
A four-minute walk
Arte Reina Sofía
This vast temple to 20th-century Spanish art features all the greats, from cubist master Picasso to doyen of Surrealism, Dalì. Francis Bacon’s Lying Figure and Mirò’s Man With a Pipe are crowd-pleasers, but it’s Picasso’s venerated black-and-white, Guernica, which hangs with jarring impact at 3.5 metres tall, that steals the show. Also check out its art-dedicated library (Spain’s largest), housed in the museum’s triangular-roofed Jean Nouvel extension. Visit Saturday evening, Sunday afternoon and weekdays (except Tuesdays) from 7pm onwards, for free entry.
Calle de Santa Isabel, 52, +34 917 911 330, museoreinasofia.es
A three-minute taxi
One of the city’s oldest literary cafés, this 114-year-old Art Nouveau institution attracts a motley crowd from students to well-heeled tourists. Tables spill out onto the pavement (great for people watching on sunny days), whilst inside its peeling walls, cast-iron beams and original tiled-floors transport you to 19th century Madrid. Settle into one of their red velvet banquettes and cave into your sweet tooth with chocolate molten cake or homemade churros. Thirsty? Choose from 25 different teas, a dedicated milkshake menu or spirits and vermouth on tap. There’s usually someone tinkling the ivories from 9-11pm, and Swing or Jazz nights on Mondays.
Calle del Ave María, 45, +34 915 27 36 58, cafebarbieri.es
A seven-minute taxi
Vintage-meets-urban style at this gorgeous boutique that champion’s independent Spanish designers. Shop for jazzy bow ties, light box art, woolly hats with customisable bobbles and rails of retro-print fashion.
Calle del Ave María, 27, +34 918 23 70 71, facebook.com/lapositivashop