Going out for tapas in Chueca isn’t just a way to devour Madrid’s culture—it’s a way to honor the city’s history.
Chueca’s tapas bar scene symbolizes what the neighborhood stands for: modernity, diversity, dedication to quality and continuous evolvement.
In the 1970s, Chueca was considered a dangerous area that even the president of Madrid’s LGBTQ+ coalition described as “sad and lonely.” But that all changed in the early years of Spain’s democracy.
Chueca underwent a transformation, and the LGBTQ+ community was leading it. In a time when homosexuality was taboo, members of the community created a space of their own. Over time, abandoned buildings turned into nightclubs and crime decreased rapidly, making Chueca the home of Madrid’s best nightlife scene.
Chueca’s nightclubs gave way to businesses that opened all day long, including some of Madrid’s top tapas bars and markets. Here’s a curated list of where you can soak in the culture and celebrate the neighborhood while eating tapas in Chueca
1. Mercado de San Antón
Strolling through the aisles of Madrid’s food markets, inhaling the aroma of Spanish jamón and getting caught up in the back-and-forth of vendors interacting with regular customers is a true cultural experience worth living.
Chueca’s three-story Mercado de San Antón marries the classic and the vanguard of Spanish market culture.
The first floor is home to 10 traditional vendors where locals shop for the best produce, meat and seafood. The second floor offers a more modern experience with a variety of tapas bars and restaurants. And don’t miss the third floor for a panoramic rooftop view of Chueca.
2. Taberna La Carmencita
People from Madrid are known as “gatos,” or cats. Though it’s not part of the official story behind the name, we have a theory that it’s because we like to go out and grab a bite late at night.
Taberna La Carmencita is Chueca’s quintessential late-night tapas bar. It’s one of the few taverns in Madrid that prepare more than 75 traditional Spanish recipes. They pride themselves on serving the purest vermouth, croquetas and rabas (fried-to-perfection calamari).
Open since 1854, they’re also the second-oldest bar in Madrid, and they played a fundamental role in Chueca’s transformation.
3. El Respiro
If you’re feeling a little adventurous and want to stretch your comfort zone, treat yourself to a beer and a generous plate of tapas in El Respiro (Calle de las Infantas, 34).
We’ll be honest: it’s neither beautiful nor comfortable.
With only six tables, the chances of bumping elbows and making friends with those at the next table over are high. And you’ll leave with a belly full of the most delicious tapas you’ll ever taste for no more than €10.
4. Celso y Manolo
On the corner of Calle de la Libertad and Calle de las Infantas is Celso y Manolo, one of the most quintessential Spanish tapas bars in Chueca.
You know you’re in an authentic Spanish bar when the tables are made of real wood, and the counters are made of real marble, when the ham is from Huelva and a glass of beer is never served without olives. All of the above, luckily, are present at this beloved local spot.
The tavern has been reinvented and handed over to three generations of Spanish families, and has fed all the office workers of the Spanish national telephone company and the Bank of Spain, both of which are headquartered less than a 10-minute walk away. Is there anything more madrileño than that?
5. Baco y Beto
Baco y Beto‘s facade is understated and easy to miss; however, the experience of dining at this contemporary tapas bar is far from easy to forget.
Owner and chef Beto is committed to preparing dishes using only prestigious products with protected designations of origin. Quality and excellence are king for Beto, and it’s not uncommon for him to step out of the kitchen to ask guests how they’re doing and request feedback.
Our favorite tapas are the quail eggs with salmorejo (a chilled tomato and garlic purée from southern Spain), the ham with macerated zucchini and melted brie, and the breaded mushrooms with alioli. Be sure to ask for the daily specials—Beto is continuously experimenting and evolving the restaurant’s menu.