Just Back From... the Tapas Bars and Gardens of Madrid


Twenty years after her first visit, reader Audra Rooney returned solo to reacquaint herself with Madrid's key sights and neighborhood haunts.

Great local meal... Botín. On one of Madrid's most charming streets, Calle Cuchilleros, Botín claims to be the oldest restaurant in the world and specializes in suckling pig. A close second: fighting off jet lag by spending a lazy Sunday afternoon at an outdoor tapas spot on the pedestrian-only Calle Barcelona. [PHOTO]

My favorite part... Meandering through the city's parks and gardens, such as Plaza de Oriente and Retiro Park. Then, at night, getting lost in the backstreets of La Latina and stopping in for a glass of rioja at tapas bars that provided a plate of olives or even a jamón ibérico sandwich when I purchased a glass of wine.

Wish I'd known that... Madrid's nightlife is no longer every night of the week, so save your energy and plan your nights out for Thursday through Saturday. Art museums are typically closed on Mondays; one notable exception is the Reina Sofía Museum with Picasso's Guernica.

Worth every penny... Drinks at Café Jazz Populart on Calle Huertas. A Louis Prima cover band played the night I stopped in. I also loved the entertainment at Casa Patas: a phenomenal flamenco band and a powerful singer in the back room.

Fun surprise... In the Plaza Mayor, I caught a performance of regional dances, [PHOTO] with some women using a unique hand-percussion instrument, the castanet.

Overrated... I wasn't big fan of the Rastro Sunday flea market. It was insanely crowded, and I wasn't tempted by the merchandise for sale.

I'm still laughing about... The passionate fans seated behind me at a bullfight who were upset with the matador's performance. [PHOTO] They screamed at him, in Spanish, "Do you want to tango?!" Attending a bullfight is a captivating, on-the-edge-of-your-seat experience—that said, many of my friends found it more disturbing to watch than they had expected.

Hotel I liked... The ME by Meliá hotel (formerly Grand Hotel Reina Victoria) directly on Plaza de Santa Ana. It has sexy rooms, a swank see-and-be-seen rooftop bar, and the modern Midnight Rose restaurant—for when you need a break from tapas. The hotel's customer service is top-notch, too.

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