Bona Fide Madrid

enRoute online, March 2011
Chris Sanchez, 27, English teacher
Tienda de Vinos C/. Augusto Figueroa, 35, 34-915-217-012
Choosing a bar in Madrid is never easy. “There are more bars in Spain than the rest of the EU!” boasts Chris Sanchez. Still, Tienda de Vinos’ homestyle, traditional Madrileño cuisine – think roast cauliflower with garlic, fat white asparagus and setas con jamón (eggs, mushroom and bacon) – makes it a perennial favourite. “During the Franco regime, a lot of communists gathered here, so people sometimes call this place El Comunista,” he says. “Like a lot of places here, it feels stuck in time – like a 1950s film noir.”

Sofia Benjumea, 28, former TV journalist with Antena 3
Outside La Casa Encendida Ronda Valencia, 2, 34-902-430-322
Located near Spain’s most celebrated museums, this cultural centre has stiff competition. “Museo del Prado, Reina Sofía, Museo Thyssen are amazing – you can’t compare. But they can be overwhelming,” says Sofia Benjumea, a rare native Madrileña. With a handful of exhibits, La Casa is manageable. It also offers something the others don’t: a sense of community. “It’s free admission, and classes are subsidized. I’ve studied photography and video editing here. So you get students and young people and the old woman who’s been living next door for 50 years wandering in to look at some modern art.”

Héctor Rodríguez Molnar, 60, environmental and corporate lawyer
Plaza de Santa Ana
Like so many of Madrid’s squares, Plaza de Santa Ana buzzes at all hours. But Santa Ana is unique, says Héctor Rodríguez Molnar. “It’s the centre of Madrid’s history and culture.” Flanked by statues of the 20th-century poet Federico García Lorca and the golden age dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, the square is surrounded by century-old tapas bars and theatres. Molnar moved here from Argentina in 1976, but he’s still enchanted. As he explains, “That’s why, even though I live in Torrelodones, I keep a pied-à-terre near the square.”

Margaux Chiche, 22, Master of Laws at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Chocolatería Valor Postigo de San Martín, 7, 34-915-229-288
Not all meals in Madrid centre around pork. At this 130-year-old Spanish chocolatería, locals line up alongside tourists for what some consider the best churros in town. “Some people say San Ginés is the best,” says Margaux Chiche. “It’s open all night, so if you go after the club at 7 a.m., it’s crowded. But I prefer the churros here; they’re bigger.” Chiche dips her churros into sugar, but the classic is chocolate a la taza – a rich chocolate dipping sauce that devotees gulp down once their churros are done.

Marcos Flores, 42, promoter/booker
Café Central Plaza El Ángel, 10, 34-913-694-143
Set in a former mirror-and-stained-glass shop, Café Central is a 102-year-old Art Deco masterpiece. “It’s the most beautiful café in Europe,” declares Marcos Flores. Countless Spanish and international jazz legends, from Perico Sambeat to George Adams, have performed here. Flores, who has been a fixture on the local music scene since arriving from his native Puerto Rico on “vacation” 11 years ago, says, “El Junco, where I work, is the oldest club in Spain. But when you talk about jazz in Madrid, you talk about Café Central.”

César Lucas, 70, photographer
The Westin Palace Plaza de las Cortes, 7, 34-913-608-000 
Over the past half-century, César Lucas has captured Spain’s most glorious moments and personalities. So it comes as no surprise that his relationship with the Westin Palace is intimate; the hotel has hosted everyone from Picasso and Hemingway to Spain’s provisional government, which ran the country from the general manager’s office following 1981’s attempted coup. “The lobby’s one of Madrid’s best meeting places,” says Lucas, whose portraits are often displayed in the wood-panelled El Bar del Palace. “I love the style and elegance of the Palace,” he says. “But it’s hard to explain exactly why. It’s a feeling I get.” 

View the slideshow at enroute.aircanada.com