Today Chueca is easily the liveliest of Madrid’s barrios – almost every building is either a swanky night club, buzzing any day of the week, or a gourmet tapas bar, which would delight the most experienced connoisseur; the list can go on forever, and it still won’t quite express all the excitement Chueca grants its visitors.
However, it was not always like this. In the 70s, the neighborhood had become notorious for drug dealing and prostitution. Despite its situation right in the center of the city, just off busy Gran Via, locals would still shun the quarter, and tourist guides insisted on staying away from such a dangerous zone. The government managed to suppress criminal activity, but the neighborhood already lay in ruins and besides, the dubious reputation was hard to beat.
It was not until the early 90s when the things started to change – the gay community of Madrid has chosen to revive Chueca, and designate it as official gay barrio of Spain’s capital. Numerous gay-orientated establishments were founded, some, like Berkana (Calle Hortaleza, 62) and Café Figueroa (Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 17) are just as much as popular as they were in those days. It is in Chueca where every June Gay Pride festival is held – for 10 days the streets of the neighborhood are everything but boredom. Live performances, open-air parties, cheering crowds, both gay and straight – it is almost impossible to imagine something like that happening elsewhere in Madrid, but in Chueca, it looks perfectly natural.
Aside from being predominantly gay-friendly (which of course does not mean that straight people are not welcomed – quite the opposite), Chueca is well known for diverse shopping possibilities and a blooming dining scene. Calle Fuencarral is lined with world-famous clothing stores, and Mercado de Fuencarral is home to alternative brands.
Along the streets of Calle San Marcos and Calle Libertad, some of the trendiest cafes and restaurants are found. One of them is Taberna La Carmencita (Calle Libertad, 16), which stuns with a wide variety of traditional recipes (more than 75!); fish is brought daily from the rocky cliffs of Cantabria in northern Spain and meat is obtained solely from grass-fed animals.The owner of Café Diurno (Calle de San Marcos, 37), after his visit to New York, intended to replicate a classic New York café; whether he succeeded or not, is hard to say, but the food in Diurno is a delightful fusion of international classics like quesadillas and hummus and Spanish favorites like fried eggplants with honey and charcoal-grilled octopus served in a stylish décor.
Mercado de San Anton (Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24) is another emblematic establishment of the neighborhood; it has something to offer for everyone – from the much beloved in Spain, salt cod “bacalao”, golden brown croquettes, to Greek meat skewers “souvlaki” and Japanese sushi. On the top floor of the market, the restaurant La Cocina de San Antón, has a limited but thought-out menu with seasonable ingredients, and most significantly – a spacious terrace. Having a drink there, with splendid views over the city, is one of the essential parts of a visit to Chueca.