This post is accompanied by my video tour of Hemingway’s Madrid, which you can see here:
“Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.” – Death in the Afternoon
Plaza de Toros
Any discussion of Hemingway in Spain without talking about bullfighting would be incomplete. He loved bullfighting so much he wrote his first non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon, as a primer on bullfighting. Hemingway explains how the Plaza de Toros in Madrid is where a young matador is first presented to the bullfighting world. In this book, he writes a love letter to Madrid and proclaims it to be, “the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people…” He even says, with a flair for the dramatic, “it makes you feel very badly, all question of immortality aside, to know that you will have to die and never see it again.”
He later wrote a short story called The Capital of the World, which is about a group of matadors living in a boarding house in Madrid. In the story, he says, “Madrid is where one learns to understand.”
“But if you really want to learn about bullfighting, or if you ever get to feel strongly about it, sooner or later you will have to go to Madrid.” – Death in the Afternoon
Sobrino de Botín
Botín was Hemingway’s favorite restaurant in Madrid. He used to always order the suckling pig, or cochinillo. He would sit on the second floor and do his writing. In the final scene of The Sun Also Rises, Jake and Brett go lunch there after having a martini at The Palace Hotel (yes, a martini before lunch.) At the restaurant, Jake rips through bottle after bottle of rioja alta.
“We drank the roast suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.” – The Sun Also Rises
This was supposedly one of Hemingway’s favorite bars in Madrid. They still have his favorite table ready for him, right next to the window. There is a framed picture of Don Ernesto hanging above the table, holding court.
Located in the Plaza Santa Ana, it is a very unassuming place that has a traditional air to it. One of my favorite bars in the area for a cold beer.
Hotel Gran Via
This was a hotel he stayed at when he was covering the Spanish Civil War. It is now called the Hotel Trypt Gran Via. There was a second floor breakfast room named after him, but the concierge told me that they remodeled it a few years ago. A plaque hangs outside honoring his stay there.
Another hotel that Hemingway frequented. There is a bar in the lobby, but the bartender told me that it was a different bar during Hemingway’s time, but there is a cocktail bar downstairs that he did frequent. Like the Trypt, there is a plaque outside honoring his stay there.
“The Suecia was a pleasant new hotel behind the old Cortes in walking range of the old Madrid.” – The Dangerous Summer
The Prado was Hemingway’s favorite museum and he used to pass hours wandering around it’s halls. “If [Madrid] had nothing else than the Prado,” he explained, “it would be worth spending a month in every spring.” He sings his praises throughout his books and it seems like he mentions the Prado in just about every one. He used to stay at the Palace Hotel, which was just across the street, and that allowed him to go there as much as possible to study the paintings.
“The pictures are so simply arranged, so easy to see, so well-lighted and with no attempt…to theatricalize or set off masterpieces that the tourist looking in the red or blue guide book to see which are the famous ones feel vaguely disappointed.” – Death in the Afternoon
This famous cocktail bar is located in the center of Madrid along the famous Gran Via. It’s patron include everyone from Frank Sinatra to Penelope Cruz. But somehow, Hemingway’s name rises above the rest. He was famous for frequenting this poorly-lighted place while he was covering the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s with other war reporters. The menu even pays an homage to him.
This is my favorite bar in all of Madrid. When you enter, it feels like you walked in to the 1930s. The cash register is made of wood. There is an array of old bottles behind the bar for decoration, each with a layer of dust as a testament to its age. There are only five drinks you can order on the menu – all of them sherry: Manzanilla, Fino, Acortado, Amontillado, and Oloroso.
When you order, the bartenders write your tab on the bar countertop with white chalk. And you aren’t allowed to tip. I’ve been chased down the bar over a “keep the change” comment before. There are no photos allowed, and you are reminded by signs all around the bar. I read online that this was because it was a Republican bar during the Spanish Civil War, and they were worried about Fascist spies. I have a hard time believing this story for two reasons. I doubt that people were walking around taking selfies in bars in the 1930s. I think a camera in a bar was a quite unusual affair then, not worthy of a rule. Although it was a journalist hangout where Hemingway allegedly came to gather news from the front lines. But when I asked the bartender about the no camera rule, he said simply, “No reason, other than it’s annoying for us bartenders.” Obviously they don’t have to worry about Fascist spies anymore, so currently, it’s the last defense against the selfie brigade.
Also, I asked him about Hemingway and he shook his head, as if he was disappointed in me. “He did come here,” he said. “But it wasn’t one of his favorites. He was just a drunk. He went to every bar in Madrid, and this was one of them. It’s a myth.”
“On cold nights you can drink sherry brandy and go to bed.” – Death in the Afternoon
The Westin Palace Hotel
This was Hemingway’s favorite hotel in Madrid because it was right across from the Prado museum. It’s elegant and ornate façade is only overshadowed by the interior. The hotel bar is where Jake and Brett enjoy a martini in the final scene of The Sun Also Rises before going to Botín. I went to the bar and ordered a martini and asked the bartender about Hemingway. He told me that when Hemingway stayed there, the bar was actually on the other side of the hotel so it wasn’t the exact same bar, but the same hotel. Good enough for me.
“We sat on high stools at the bar while the barman shook the Martinis in a large nickelled shaker.” – The Sun Also Rises