Getting Drunk With Hemingway in Madrid
Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
The Cervecería Alemana was one of Hemingway’s favorite bars in Madrid. Located in the Plaza Santa Ana, it’s one of the best spots in Madrid for a relaxing beer on a nice day.
They still have his favorite table reserved for him, right next to the window. Above the table, there is a framed picture of Don Ernesto himself.
Plaza de Toros
Hemingway loved bullfighting so much he wrote his first non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon, about bullfighting. According to Hemingway, the Plaza de Toros in Madrid is where a young matador first presented himself to the bullfighting world. He later wrote another non-fiction book called The Dangerous Summer about a rivalry between two bullfighters.
In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway proclaims Madrid to be, “the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people…” With a flair for the dramatic, Hemingway even adds, “it makes you feel very badly, all question of immortality aside, to know that you will have to die and never see it again.”
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.Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
Sobrino de Botín
Botín was Hemingway’s favorite restaurant in Madrid. He would always order the suckling pig, or cochinillo. He would often sit on the second floor to work on his writing. In the final scene of The Sun Also Rises, Jake and Brett go there for lunch after drinking a martini at The Palace Hotel (yes, a martini before lunch!)
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.Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Hotel Trypt Gran Vía
This was a hotel he stayed at when he was covering the Spanish Civil War. It is now called the Hotel Trypt Gran Vía. There used to be a second floor breakfast room named after him, but the concierge told me that they remodeled it a few years ago. To this day, a plaque hangs outside the hotel to honor his stay there. “From the Hotel Gran Via, Ernest Hemingway wrote in 1936 his best stories about the Spanish Civil War.” While he stayed there, he was compiling the stories that would become For Whom the Bell Tolls about the brutal Civil War.
There is also a plaque hanging outside the Hotel Suecia, honoring his stay there. The bartender at the lobby bar told me that the bar wasn’t there during Hemingway’s time, but there’s a cocktail bar in the basement that he did frequent.
The Suecia was a pleasant new hotel behind the old Cortes in walking range of the old Madrid.Ernest Hemingway, The Dangerous Summer
The Prado was Hemingway’s favorite museum and he used to spend hours wandering it’s halls. Hemingway once wrote that if Madrid “had nothing else than the Prado, it would be worth spending a month in every spring.” He used to stay at The Palace Hotel, which was just across the street, so he could go there as much as possible.
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.Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
Hemingway was famous for frequenting this poorly-lighted place while covering the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. It was one of the main spots that all the war reporters gathered. This famous cocktail bar is located in the center of Madrid on the Gran Via. It’s patron include everyone from Frank Sinatra to Penelope Cruz. But somehow, Hemingway’s name rises above the rest when you talk about it. The menu even pays an homage to him with a Hemingway-inspired cocktail.
The Venencia is hands down my favorite bar in 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. They won’t speak English to you. 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. But when I asked the bartender about the no camera rule, he simply said, “It’s just annoying for us.” Obviously they don’t have to worry about Fascist spies anymore, so currently it’s the last defense against the selfie brigade.
I asked the bartender about Hemingway and he shook his head, as if he was disappointed in me. “He did come here,” he explained. “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.Ernest Hemingway, 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 has an ornate façade and a swanky interior. In the final scene of The Sun Also Rises, Jake and Brett enjoy a martini in the hotel bar here 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.Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Check out the podcast episode I recored with Hemingway scholar Wayne Catan. And I created a YouTube video where I take you on virtual tour of Hemingway’s favorite bars in Madrid. Along the way, I have a drink or two in his honor at some of Don Ernesto’s favorite places to get drunk in Madrid.