They’re calling it the re-movida. More than a generation since a straitlaced dictatorship gave way to the raucous counter-cultural movement La Movida, a new social cocktail is shaking up the streets of the Spanish capital. Tired of talk about an economic crisis, Madrileños are instead dancing away their woes in a trademark flurry of nonchalance and noise. Tabernas, rooftops and discotecas remain stubbornly full, a clear sign that this city seems to prize social currency above all else. Now, as a younger generation paints the town with fresh colour and a progressive municipal government has waltzed into city hall, Madrid finds itself undergoing a round-the-clock revival.
Nocturnal by nature, Madrileños aren’t too riled by the taunts of rival city Barcelona for not having a beach. The capital thrives when the sun disappears and has long embraced doing everything later than everyone else. Lunch is served at 14.30, dinner at 21.30 (even later on weekends) and nightclubs don’t typically start filling up until around 02.00. There’s even a word – madrugada – for that magical time between midnight and dawn. This, and the fact that the 2016 calendar contains 14 bank holidays, means the capital is fertile ground for party promoters.
On a Friday, just after midnight, a crowd is already clamouring around the doors of ChaChá, Madrid’s newest late-night ticket. Hidden inside a resplendently refitted 109-year-old theatre (and one-time locale of leisure for King Alfonso xiii), the private club’s doors open just one night a week. Getting through them depends on whether you’re on the list.
No dress code means a more diverse and democratic atmosphere. Flamboyant fashionistas, demure suits and androgynous club kids all rub shoulders on the dance floor. Designers fraternise with actors in the upper-level booths; an aristocrat entertains some visiting friends by the bar. Monocle even spots two elderly parents dancing to Drake and Diplo to the obvious delight of their two daughters. It’s all strangely reminiscent of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1982 cult film Labyrinth of Passion, with everyone coming together between these red-velvet walls to create the kind of place every city needs: welcoming, whimsical and a little wild.
“Young Spaniards are well travelled and better connected than ever,” says ChaChá co-founder Andrea Vandall. Together with Laura Vandall and Edgar Kerri, she has brought a youthful edge to a scene dominated by ageing disco barons. “It’s not just about throwing a party and selling drinks,” she adds. “People have higher expectations and ChaChá is a symphony of talent: graphic designers, video artists, DJs and musicians performing showcases on stage. For many this is how they make a living.”
The next day the bars are filling up once again. The cacophony of voices centres on how to assault the night ahead; a ritual that usually transpires as late dinners morph into even later drinks. Some savvy places, such as Malasaña’s La Pescadería or nearby gourmet burger joint Meat Madrid, are responding to the nocturnal surge by keeping their kitchens open until 01.30. Although one legendary family-run operation still outpaces them all: Laidy Pepa cooks up traditional fare in a subterranean piano bar until around 06.00. Meanwhile, other age-old establishments, such as the 96-year-old taberna Casa Macareno, are being taken over by younger owners committed to preserving the city’s more vintage haunts. The historical ceramic tiles have been respected, for example, but the menu has been rewritten. Nonetheless, elderly patrons still wander in to order a yayo (vermouth with a dash of gin), which they proceed to sip alongside the more junior crowd.
“This was one of the original Movida’s legendary venues,” says designer José Manuel Fernández as he walks us through his lavish refit of art deco disco Teatro Barceló. Fernández and his partner Germán Álvarez are Madrid’s most trusted hands when it comes to renovating heritage haunts. After transforming the barren rooftop of the iconic Circulo de Bellas Artes into an acclaimed terrace lounge and restaurant, their studio Cuarto Interior was approached to reimagine the upper level of Barceló. “It hadn’t been updated in nearly 40 years,” says Fernández, pointing to where huge windows with views over Malasaña’s rooftops had once been boarded up.
On a Sunday evening Pascal Moscheni is looking over the golden sunset-tinged lake of the Buen Retiro Park as he spins the Roy Ayers classic “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” to a crowd of thousands. His summer vibes are part of the city’s annual San Isidro patron saint celebrations. This year the grand festivities played out over four days and nights; the city council was determined to design a entertainment programme that was more brazen and boisterous than ever before. An estimated 130,000 people romped and rollicked under the stars at stages spread around the city, culminating in a final performance by legendary outfit Manu Chao to a 10,000-strong crowd in Plaza Mayor.
“We wanted to stage more open, accessible and diverse parties,” says city councillor for culture Celia Meyer. “Apart from the scores of visitors that visit each year Madrid is also home to many who weren’t born here; the idea was to design a new programme for San Isidro around the idea of acceptance and interaction,” she adds, having also restored the Verbena de Malasaña neighbourhood fiestas (which had been prohibited since 2004) and granted permission for a number of other big music festivals over the summer.
Despite only a year in office, the change is palpable. Previous administrations had gradually curbed Madrid’s wild ways; one former mayor outlawed the so-called “afters” (which allowed party animals to power on into the afternoon) while another imposed a strict sound restriction regime in the city centre. The new municipal team is trying to break the bureaucratic stranglehold with initiatives based on collaboration and empathy. One pilot scheme has given residents the phone numbers of proprietors to mediate noise complaints before the police are called in. If it works the idea will be replicated citywide.
In addition to ChaChá, a growing number of other private members’ clubs have also been popping up throughout the city. Registering as an association provides venues with a thinly veiled legal loophole to eschew strict regulations. In Madrid there’s a will to party on to the early hours; people will always find a way to get there.
As the merriment winds down, people drift up to one of the multiplying Madrid rooftop terraces to sip cocktails and catch the breeze away from the scorched pavement below. The weekend might be nearly over but the mood is upbeat; meeting friends for a drink on a Monday or Tuesday is standard fare in Madrid so no one seems to be commiserating the prospect of a quiet week ahead.
Asked about her proudest achievement in her first year as mayor, Manuela Carmena rejoiced that the city “is more alive than ever”. Madrileños’ famed spirit and stamina forms the real basis of this revival and as talk of the Movida’s second coming gathers strength, the question these days isn’t whether the population has woken up but whether they’ve been to bed at all.
Madrid’s nightlife: the pros and cons
1. Social city
People rarely stay at home alone; plazas, parks, streets and bars are seen as extensions of the living room.
2. Late-night bites
Finding quality fodder at 04.00 is tricky. New 24-hour licences are improving the menu but there’s plenty of room for improvement.
3. A buzz kill
Police are infamous for meting out heavy multas (fines) for noise complaints; the younger team in city hall are on the right track but more imaginative solutions are needed.
4. Dispense pretence
Strict dress codes can be a downer. Thankfully the majority of Madrid’s venues won’t umpire your outfit, which gives the city a chance to mingle without prejudice.
5. Give kids a chance
Nightclubs nurture music culture and are incubators for trends. With high youth unemployment and a natural party instinct, authorities need to facilitate *la fiesta. *
Nightlife in numbers
Drink: Gin (with tonic or vermouth)
Best live music venue: Café Berlin
Most colourful club night: ChaChá
All-night eatery: 24h Churros at Chocolatería San Ginés
Rising Madrid music star: John Grvy
Band making waves: Hinds