In the late 70s, with the fall of Franco’s rigid regimen, the whole country, Madrid in particular, fully embraced what todays is known as “La Movida”, or “Transition” – an intense movement initiated by young adults who saw the revival of democracy as the opportunity to redeem their freedom of expression. Although it intervened in many aspects of social life, La Movida became notorious for the popularization of recreational drugs and homosexuality. The entire city was under its influence, but the spirit of La Movida truly thrived in the neighborhood of Malasaña.
Malasaña, an area north of Gran Via, historically cradled rebellious minds. The main square, Plaza Dos de Mayo, received its name after an uprising which took place on May 2nd in 1808 – when Madrid citizens confronted French troops, the events which subsequently led to brutal killings of the rebels and triggered the Spanish Independence War. One of those who stood against the French invaders was Manuela Malasaña, a 15-year old girl, who was executed after the uprising, and is now considered a heroine. Originally she was commemorated with a street named after her, lying between Glorieta de Ruiz Giménez and Glorieta de Bilbao, but now the entire neighborhood bears the name of this courageous girl.
Much like in the old days, Malasaña is still where alternative scene reaches its high. One of the barrio’s most famous establishments – La Via Lactea (Calle de Velarde, 18) – has cradled rock music since 1979; some of the tunes are reminiscent of La Movida era, others – classic indie and punk. The club seems to be popular not only within the neighborhood’s residents, but the entire city – on weekends, it is always jam-packed, although having split between 2 floors, it still has enough room for everyone.
Bars here are plentiful; some of the best are concentrated along Calle del Pez. Among them are 1862 Dry Bar (Calle del Pez, 27), which serves long-forgotten but nevertheless spectacular cocktails back from the early 20th century, and The Passenger (Calle del Pez, 16) with décor reminiscent of the Orient Express wagon. Charming squares, like mentioned above Plaza Dos de Mayo, Plaza San Ildefonso, and Plaza Juan Pujol, are busy with locals having their morning café con leche (coffee with milk), and later in the evening, sipping wine in a group of friends.
Dining is no less exciting, there are zillion of remarkable places, from classic tapas bars like Bodega de la Ardosa (Calle de Colón, 13) to French-style bistros like In Situ (Calle de Valverde, 40) and gastropubs among which La Gastrocroquetería de Chema (Calle Barco 7) particularly stands out. Even though the emphasis is, like the name suggest, on croquetas (croquettes) and the menu lists a dozen varieties of them (including dessert ones!), the rest of it is no less interesting and includes risotto with morcilla (blood sausage, a specialty from Burgos in northern Spain) and curried cheese fondue.
Shopping presents wonderful opportunities, with some of the city’s trendiest boutiques found along Calle del Espíritu Santo, numerous book and comic stores, gift shops and many others.