Swoon! That font, those tiles! If I was on holiday in Madrid, this is the kind of cafe-bar I like to discover.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, here at Ellie & Co, we enjoy celebrating overlooked local gems, shouting out for the underdog, and exploring the sides to cities most tourists are unlikely to see. This is why we’re enjoying the blog Madrid No Frills, written by English girl, Leah. She moved to the Spanish city five years ago, fell in love with it and spends her time “exploring the Madrid that nobody else will”.

I wrote this post at the start of the pandemic, when I was supposed to be in Spain on holiday, and took a virtual trip to Madrid via her blog, instead. I completely lost myself in her beautifully written and photographed posts. So until I rebook my trip to Spain, I picked out a few favourites that caught my eye and created this mini guide to unique, unusual and overlooked Madrid, so you’re ready for the next adventure, and to get you in the mood to dip into her blog. Enjoy!


Drink in one of Madrid’s 100s of no-frills bars

madrid no frills bar

You’ve probably noticed these small pockets of Spain’s past on every street in any Spanish city or town. They’re unpretentiously beautiful, full of charm and soul – but they’re endangered, at risk of disappearing due to gentrification which is why they need our support. They’re usually family owned, the staff know their regulars inside out, they’ve been serving up cold beers, coffee and tapas for decades. They’re the perfect choice for curious travellers who need a mid-treasure-hunting pitstop. They’re also where Leah’s blog, Madrid No Frills, was born, while she was propping up the bar with a caña and a tapa and listening to the owner’s story. She loves them so much, a few years ago she started documenting each one she ever visited here.

bar fatima madrid no frills

madrid no frills

Read more here.


Chocolate and churros at a local favourite cafe

chocolate and churros madrid

According to Leah, an indicator you’ve found a good place for chocolate con churros is the crowd: the more elderly ladies enjoying la hora de los churros together, the better and Los Pinchitos is one of those places. In so many other establishments you often have to queue to be served, but you never have to wait more than a few seconds at Los Pinchitos, even if the waiters didn’t know you were coming. Side note: The menu is in Spanish so brush up on the local language because the chocolate, churros and porras are so cheap you don’t want to miss out.

Read more here.


Tapas with a twist in a charming local gem

Set in a cute one-storey building in Tetuan – one of the oldest on this particular street – that stands out architecturally from all the others is this little tapas place using charm offensive to stay afloat. The food served at Casa 42 extends beyond the traditional Spanish bar selection all of it home made by owners Willy and Susana who like experimenting with food from around the world – even curry occasionally features on the menu. They’re doing a good job at keeping up with Madrid’s changing tastes and habits while maintaining the bar’s innate charm and soul. There’s even a mini library in one corner to keep you entertained.

casa 42

Read more here.


Visit a timeless Ice cream parlour serving up daring flavours

Heladería Napoli is basically a beautiful no-frills bar that serves ice cream – with a twist: think wasabi and matcha tea; olive oil; beer (Amstel and Cruzcampo Gran Reserva), tomato, cuttlefish, foie gras, Parmesan, szechuan pepper, cosmopolitan, whisky, asparagus and dozens more flavours depending on the day. What’s also incredible is its interior which remains practically unchanged from the day it was laid out in 1983, with its round pink-granite table tops and simple bar area with classic Spanish bar stools, but for a few additional kitsch ornaments and neon lights.

Read more here.


Magic after dark

For a date night with a difference head to a dark cellar underneath La Escalera de Jacob in the neighbourhood of Lavapies. This is where you’ll find magician Carlos performing magic tricks to small, sold-out magic audiences, three nights a week. His 19th-century-inspired magic, which has been updated for modern audiences, constantly leaves you lost for words while you desperately attempt to figure out the logic behind his tricks.

Read more here.


Jazz nights in a secret club

Despite its beautiful façade, even most locals walk on past Café El Despertar and think it’s closed, let alone realise it’s the setting for regular atmospheric jazz nights. Push open the heavy wooden doors from around 7pm on any day of the week, and you’ll discover a secret jazz club. Visit the Café El Despertar’s website to find out who’s playing. Tickets cost €5-6 and can be booked in advance, although it’s not usually necessary.

Read more here.


Browse a living museum of odd collectibles

Casa Postal is a tiny shop, not far from Plaza Chueca, filled with around a quarter of a million objects, all of which once held a place in someone’s day-to-day life. “When elderly relatives die or move into a nursing home and they don’t know what to do with the collections they’ve built up over the years – their children usually don’t want them so they give them to me!,” Belen, the owner, tells Madrid No Frills. There are thousands of handwritten postcards from all around the world, plus hundreds of books, magazines and old maps to browse. Not to mention, collections of miniature bottles and tins, Art Deco lamps, large baubles, vintage metal signs, ornate spoons and more.

Read more here.


Shop for unusual wines and spirits

Bodega Rojos lies tucked away on a residential street, unbeknown to most. Although it doesn’t look like much from the outside; inside it looks as though you’d be stepping into a bohemian uncle’s drinking den. Archival row upon row of wine, vermouth and spirit bottles line each wall. A few wine casks sit at the ready, to be served at a moment’s notice, alongside little plates of chorizo.

Read more here.

Find the House of Vintage suitcases!

house of suitcases madrid

In the El Rastro area of the city is this tiny shop filled with around 1000 vintage suitcases. It’s been open for 16 years and is run by a lady called Isabelle and her two sons, who all wearing white jackets, to handle the bags. They hire the suitcases out to film shoots and everything is for sale!

Read more here

This is just a taster of what you’ll find on Leah’s blog, so if you ever find yourself in or planning a trip to Madrid, be sure to use Madrid No Frills for recommendations of where to eat, drink and explore so that you experience the real Madrid – the one that tourists rarely get the chance to see.

1 Comment

  1. Chantal Mazur Reply

    Aaah! I now want to go back to Madrid! The font in the first photo is very reminiscent of fonts used for shops and restaurants in Communist Poland back in the 60s/70s. I remember them clearly (they were still there in the 80s).

    I miss Spanish churros with the delicious thick chocolate. We have plenty of churros available here in Canada, but it’s mostly in Mexican restaurants. Sadly they are mostly served up dry, covered in sugar (the Mexican way).

    And that suitcase place takes the cake! 😂😂

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