EXCLUSIVE | Three Gay Days: Madrid Part Three
DAY 2: THE ROYAL TREATMENT
By now you're probably beginning to understand why Madrid wakes up so late. Nevertheless, it's time to drag your weary bones out for the ritual morning cortado and head west to the Palacio Real/Royal Palace (Callede Bail?n/Plaza de Oriente; +34-91-542-0059), which offers tours through its sumptuously furnished rooms. The armory is not to be missed. Pause in the newly renovated Plaza de Oriente before heading to the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Plaza de las Descalzas Reales; +34-91-521-2779), a rich art collection -- fabulous tapestries -- in this 16th-century Monastery of the Royal Barefoot Franciscans.
After your second day of cultural experiences, pop in for lunch at Restaurante Miau (Plaza Santa Ana, 6; +34-91-429-22-72; 30 EUR, but with a lunch menu available from 10 EUR), a charmingly designed restaurant that serves some of the finest Madrile?o cuisine. It's also great for tapas in the evening, or dinner in the dining room downstairs. After eating and a few of the local sangrias you'll be ready for your daily siesta and you know you'll need it for the night.
As evening falls, wend your way back to the Chueca to XXX Bar (c. San Marcos, 8), a popular meeting spot in the heart of the Chueca. Locals gather here to reconnoiter before heading off to dinner and their late-evening plans. Despite its provocative name, it's just a pleasant neighborhood bar. If you've got a hankering for paella, you're in luck. The gay-owned and gay-staffed Arroceria Gala (Moratin, 22; +34-91-429-2562; from 20 EUR) has a lovely atmosphere with a covered courtyard, which gives the impression of being outdoors, but is heated in winter. All shades of the Spanish rice specialty are served on an inexpensive fixed-price menu.
For the requisite post-prandial bar stop, feel free to return to XXX Bar, where you can watch the parade of Chueca boys milling around the district, or stop into Coraz?n Negro (CalleColmenares, 5). This is the comfiest spot in Chueca, with a scattering of sofas, offbeat art that changes before your eyes (watch your waiter arrange a bizarre creation in between your drink orders), and a cozy but chic feel. After, Ohm (Plaza Callao 4; +34-91-531-0132; Entrance fee from 12 EUR) is a classic gay dance party held at Salsa Bash every Friday and Saturday night, though the crowd is increasingly more mixed these days. If you enjoy house music, go-go dancers and good ambience, this is the place to be.
Royal Dance Coolture (CalleIsabel la Catolica, 6; +34-91-542-3439) is held at the event venue/ballroom known as Cool, and is just a five-minute walk from Ohm. It is one of Madrid's nicest with two floors, sleek d?cor and retro lighting. The entrance and stairway alone will grab your attention as you come in. The crowd is somewhat mixed, with the greater majority being gay men on Saturdays. Don't stop there if the sun isn't up yet, go instead to Pasapoga (Gran V?a, 37; +34-91-532-1642).
DAY 3: FLEA MARKETS AND FASHION MALLS
Wipe the crumbs from your eyes, drag yourself out of bed and get yourself adequately caffeinated to tackle the day. You've seen many of the cultural highlights of the city, and now it's time to go shopping.
While many of the big stores like El Corte Ingl?s and FNAC are centered around the Puerta del Sol, if you want a single orgy of spending, go to Goya and nearby Serrano and Vel?zquez streets in the chi-chi Salamanca district. El Jardin de Serrano (Calle de Goya 6-8) is an elegant shopping center in Salamanca; its exclusive stores include Llanes, a well-known jewelry purveyor, Azul for classic men's clothing and Aghata for accessories and costume jewelry.
While on this posh street, Imelda Marcos wannabes should check out the great shoe selection at Geltra (Calle de Goya, 65, +34-91-576-4073), while raffish men flock to Massimo Dutti (c. de Goya, 73; +34-91-431-3900), a sophisticated clothing store. ABC Serrano Centro Comercial (entrances at La Castellana 34 and Serrano 61; +34-91-577-5031), a newer arcade located in the former ABC newspaper headquarters, houses such shops as Musgo for accessories, housewares, and gifts, and a popular branch of Zara (+34-91-575-6334), a fashionable men's and women's boutique.
If it's Sunday, remember that little will be open. Still, there's shopping to be had. El Rastro (in the area around c. Ribera de Curtidores) is the huge weekend flea market, sprawling through the streets of the area. You'll see everything here from antique bric-a-brac to original artwork. Get there early for the best action. Also on Sunday in the Plaza Mayor is an impressive and interesting flea market of stamps, coins and ephemera.
If you grow tired of Spanish food -- and you will -- there are a handful of serviceable Italian restaurants in town. Pasta Nostra-Pizza Notra (Jovellanos, 5 or Carrera de San Jer?nimo, 32; +34-91-360-0827; from 20 EUR) offers handmade pastas and authentic pizzas for lunch and dinner, although their "prosciutto" looks suspiciously like jam?n serrano. And of course, be sure to make it back to your hotel room for the siesta, lest you fall face-forward into your pizza margherita. Tonight is your last night to enjoy Madrid.
If you haven't done so already, spend some time just admiring the city, appreciating the myriad fountains and ostentatious, Baroque architecture. After dark, the fountains are spectacularly lit. If you're feeling particularly highfalutin, stop in for a sherry under the stunning rotunda at the Westin Palace. Restaurante Botin (Cuchilleros, 17; +34-91-366-4217; 40 EUR) is the place to go for those who can't resist a Hemingway haunt. Both the food and service are excellent. Open since 1725, it's one of the oldest restaurants in the world.
Baires Caf? (Calle Gravina, 4; +34-91- 532-9879), back in the Chueca, is a caf?/bar, with a slick, modern interior bathed in blue light and a hip crowd. It's popular both for pre-dinner drinks and late-night lounging. On Sunday nights, visit the Shangay Tea Dance (+34-91-308-4539), sponsored by the local gay paper and drawing a young, mixed crowd. Only in Madrid would a tea dance begin at 9 p.m. -- and it doesn't start to get crowded until just before 10:30 p.m. when the free passes available aound town expire. Hope your flight isn't too early the next morning!