Eating out in Spain encompasses a wide variety of options including regional cuisines, a vast range of prices and three distinct restaurant classifications (casual, semi-formal and formal). From Michelin-starred to full-service meals at comedors (roughly translating to “dining rooms”), tapas bars offer free, tasty bar snacks along with drinks. Night-time entertainment is equally varied, with everything from rowdy dance clubs to sophisticated lounges, local bars and pubs. Theaters, flamenco, traditional concerts, and opera make sure there’s something for everyone.
Bars and Pubbing in Spain
Spain is famous for its tapas bars, found all over every city and town that offers free snacks with a drink purchase. Travelers on a budget have been known to trek from bar to bar until a full meal has been consumed along with a considerable amount of alcohol. In the cities, bars close around midnight, but many pubs stay open until 2:00 a.m., while discotecas (clubs) don’t close until 6:00 in the morning. There are also “after-hours” discos that are open from 6:00 a.m. until midday if you really want to extend the night. In Madrid, favorite nightlife areas are around Plaza de Santa Barbara, the Castellana district and Malasana.
Set on Madrid’s fashionable Plaza Mayor is La Torre del Oro (Plaza Mayor 26, Madrid), the real deal with Andalusian bullfighting memorabilia as its décor. The two adjacent bars, Alhambra and El Buscon (C/Victoria 5 and 9, Madrid), have split personalities as daytime tapas bars and nighttime dance clubs with DJs pumping out a mix of music from flamenco to rock. Surreal Balmoral (C/Hermosilla 10, Madrid) boasts oil paintings, stuffed birds, deer heads, and skulls along with cozy armchairs and a small, but decent choice of whiskies.
Barcelona has an excellent choice of nighttime venues, both fashionable and eccentric. Moody, monochrome Bar Lobo (C/Pinto Fortuny 3, Barcelona) has punk graffiti-adorned walls and is alive with DJs at night and good food by day. Boadas (C/Talas 1, Barcelona) hasn’t changed much since it was Hemingway’s hideaway many years ago, although you must adhere to the dress code. Arena’s four clubs, Classic, Madre, Dandy and VIP (Gran Via de les Corts, Barcelona) pack in the crowds every night with a variety of hot sounds and lots of action.
Dining and Cuisine in Spain
Every visitor to Madrid should try El Sobrino de Botin (C/Cuchilleros 17, Madrid) not just for its signature dish, cochinello (roast suckling pig), but for the ambiance in the certified “oldest restaurant in the world,” also patronized by Ernest Hemingway. Good food and a Moorish atmosphere complete with floor cushions and tiled walls greet the hungry at Al-Jayma (C/Barbieri 1, Madrid), and their lamb with dates is out of this world. Prices are amazingly reasonable for the expensive tourist mecca of Madrid.
Asador Donostiarra (C/Infanta Mercedes 79. Madrid) is the perfect place for meat-lovers and fans of Real Madrid, as the stadium is just down the block. This restaurant was a favorite of the Beckham’s until they decamped to the US, but still draws quite a crowd of Spanish celebrities. Madrid’s café society is at its peak in Café del Circulo de Belles Artes(C/Alcala 42, Madrid) an utterly elegant retreat from the steamy city streets with a good daily lunch menu.
Barcelona’s eateries have the bonus of sea views if they’re lucky, and serve regional cuisine like paella, as well as international favorites. Acoma(C/Boqueria 21, Barcelona) is set in the heart of the picturesque Old City and has an outdoor terrace sheltered by orange trees. Michelin-starred Cinc Sentits (C/Ambau 58, Barcelona) is the place for a special occasion in Spain, with innovative twists on local classics and a fine wine list.