After a week in central Spain (Madrid, Toledo, Segovia), I’m heading for Ireland.
I like to catch emerging neighborhoods in my guidebooks. Here’s a new listing for my 2007 Spain book: In Madrid, a neighborhood called Lavapies is emerging as a colorful magnet for people looking for the multi-ethnic tapestry of Madrid society enjoying pithy, cheap, seedy yet fun-loving life on the streets. As is the case with most neighborhoods like this, they experience an evolution: so cheap only the immigrants, down-trodden, counter-culture types can live there. The liveliness they bring attracts those with more money who like the diversity and color. Businesses erupt to cater to those bohemian/trendy tastes. Rents go up. Those who gave the area the color in the first place can no longer afford to live there. They move out and here comes Starbucks. For now, Lavapies is edgy, yet comfy enough for most.
This district has almost no tourists. Old ladies with their tired bodies and busy fans hang out on their tiny balconies as they have for 40 years watching the scene. Shady types lurk on side streets.
For food, you’ll find all the various kinds of tapas bars plus great Indian and Moroccan eateries. I list a couple of places that appealed to me…but explore your options. I’d recommend making the entire walk once, then backtrack and eat at the place or places that appeal.
From metro stop “Anton Martin” walk down Calle Ave Maria (on its way to becoming Calle Ave Allah) to Plaza Lavapies (old ladies hang out with the swarthy drunks here while a mosaic of cultures treat this square as a communal living room) and then up Calle Lavapies to Plaza Tirso de Molina (with a metro stop). This newly remodeled square was once plagued by druggies. Now with a playground and flower kiosks, it’s homey and inviting. This is a fine example of the vision for Madrid’s public spaces.
If traveling to Madrid, keep these places in mind: Bar Melos is a thriving dive jammed with a hungry and nubile local crowd famous for its giant patty melts called Zapatillas de Lacon y Queso (because they are the size and shape of a zapatilla or slipper, €7 feeds at least two, Ave Maria 44). Nuevo Cafe Barbieri is a dying breed of smoky mirror cafe with a circa 1940 ambiance playing classical music in afternoon and jazz in the evening and offering its coffee sippers a menu of loaner books (Ave Maria 45). At Calle Lavapies 44, consider a fun cluster of three places: Indian Restaurant Shapla (good €8 menu); Teteria Lakutubia (an atmospheric tea house); and Montes Wine Bar with countless wines open and served by the glass and good tapas (crawl under the bar to get to the WC).
With a good guide, art–even obscure art buried in side chapels–comes to life. In Segovia’s cathedral I found a fun piece in a side chapel. I added this to my guidebook:
The many side chapels are mostly 16th century and come with big locking gates–a reminder that they were the private sacred domain of the rich families and guilds who “owned” them. They could enjoy private Masses here with their names actually in the blessings and a fine burial spot close to the altar. Its many 17th century paintings hang behind a mahogany wood gate imported from colonial America. The center statue is Mary of the Apocalypse (as described in Revelations, standing on a devil and half moon–looks like bull’s horns). Mary’s pregnant and the devil licks his evil chops waiting to devour the baby Messiah.
By the way, only Americans say “Holy Toledo.” Spaniards and the English don’t recognize the phrase. Locals tell me it’s likely from Sephardic Jews (Spanish branch) who emigrated eventually to America. To their American ancestors, Toledo was the most holy Jewish city in Europe…Holy Toledo!
Whenever I find a new eatery with a business plan driven by a chef’s passion, I am one happy guidebook researcher. Here’s my favorite new find for my Toledo chapter:
Adolfo Vinoteca–The highly respected local chef Adolfo who runs a fine restaurant across the street, runs this wine bar in hopes of introducing the young generation to the culture of fine food and wine. The place offers super elegance without the pretension. You can’t go wrong with their short list of gourmet appetizers (€5 each) and fine local wines (€2 to €3 per glass). I’d just throw myself at the mercy of Jonathan, and enjoy the feeling of gourmet slaves in the kitchen bringing you your wildest edible fancies. If the Starship Enterprise had a Spanish wine & tapas bar, this would be it. Wine is sold at shop prices with a €6 cork fee (daily 12:00-24:00, across from the cathedral at Calle Nuncio Viejo 1, tel. 925-224-244).