A massive sign on Madrid’s City Hall read “Refugees Welcome.” A cynic could take it as being a bit glib; but in truth, the statement was genuinely characteristic of Spain. It was particularly poignant, as our time there coincided with the onset of Trump’s divisive attempts at instituting a travel ban.
We were actually there to check out the impossibly cool new Only You Atocha hotel. And the visit just happened to be timed with their pop-up promotion with NYC’s Katz’s Delicatessen – incidentally, a proud, 128-year-old symbol of 19th Century Jewish immigration to New York’s Lower East Side. This sort of internationalism was very much a part of the allure of the hotel.
The brand itself had launched in 2013 with a very different sort of property – the Only You Boutique hotel in the trendy Chueca district. There, an aristocratic 19th mansion was converted by star designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán into a surreal but drop-dead stunning maze of differently themed public areas and plush guest rooms. He was enlisted again for the Atocha, this time giving a distinctly Spanish context to the lobby-as-hip-playground concept familiar to guests of hotels like The Ace.
And indeed, everywhere you might turn, there was something to grab your attention. To the right of the entrance, The Bakery by Mama Framboise, which serves decadent Tartaletas MF, a dozen flavors of macarons (goat-cheese-figs-pralines!), and Iberian ham toast all day. To the left was the Latin-Asian Trotamundos restaurant, with its buzzy corner cocktail bar. And just beyond is a dramatic atrium where nouveau jazz concerts take place regularly.
But probably our favorite part of the day was lingering over a lazy breakfast and the spectacular views at the 7th floor YOUniverse – where in the evenings DJs soundtrack the Panoramic Drinks Sessions.
In those rare moments when we actually did not have something to do, upstairs the rooms packed a great deal of charm and style considering the very approachable rates: smartly patterned bedspreads, exposed brick walls, white tiled bathrooms. For a special splurge, consider booking the magnificent Terrace Suite.
Madrid itself comes especially to life as winter passes into spring, with its scores of pavement cafes, its teeming plazas for people watching and its streets that buzz late into the night. The food is divine, the nightlife is some of the best on The Continent, and it grand boulevards and its grandiloquent baroque architectural icons make it a city that glitters in the springtime sunshine.
The thing about classical art in Spain…it’s just different. It’s a country that still has a king, after all. And so a great deal of la historia de España is still told in a place like The Prado. It’s a very Spanish museum, and even if you’re a contemporary art geek, you’ll find yourself drawn in to the narrative as told through the dramatic works of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. The astonishing collection also includes Rubens, Titian and Hieronymous Bosch’s proto-surrealist masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights.
The Reina Sofia, just a short stroll from the hotel, is Spain’s most important museum of 20th Century art, with works by Miró, Juan Gris, Pablo Serrano, and, of course, Picasso. The latter’s war horror masterpiece Guernica is here – and an exhibition (Pity and Terror) dedicated to it, runs through September 4. The museum also holds works by Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Man Ray, Julian Schnabel and Richard Serra.
Madrid’s contemporary art scene has genuinely started to garner international attention, with its annual ARCO fair having become one of Europe’s most important. This is your best bet for getting to know the inside story, with tours of specific districts like the hip Letras and posh Salamanca. They will also curate private tours to suit your taste. You can add a wine drinking element, should you wish to pontificate on what you’ve seen over a glass or two of Rioja.
Also a short stroll from the hotel, Las Letras is just that sort of neighborhood that defines Madrid: an atmospheric place where charming little bars and cool indie boutiques reign, and there’s not a chain outlet in sight. The outdoor cafes on Plaza de Santa Ana and the narrow streets around it are great for lingering and people watching.
Atop the spectacular municipal building on the Plaza de Cibeles is a hidden away 6th floor restaurant and terrace. There’s a full gourmand’s menu – but come for cocktails, views and to soak up the vivid afternoon Madrid sunshine.
Just being in this gorgeous hotel is an indescribable aesthetic pleasure. Its signature restaurant is a particular delight for a long, lazy lunch (Is there any other kind in Madrid?), with octopus salad, jamon coquetas, and lamb terrine with couscous all beautifully presented. Ask for a table in the verdant, art-adorned garden. The YOUnique Lounge is a stunning setting for evening cocktails.
Spain’s is a wine-beer-sherry drinking culture. The cocktail thing, mercifully, did not sweep into its major cities and strap all of its bartenders into old-timey suspenders. 1862, for instance, is distinctly Spanish bar, not some Brooklyn imitation. A crowd of urbane Madrilenos come to sip updated takes on the classics (Gimlet, Sazerac, Manhattan) by drinks wizard Alberto Martinez. Spread over two floors, it’s one of the city’s buzziest scenes.
Flamenco is way hotter than you might actually think – and five decades after opening, Corral de la Moreria is still one of the hottest tickets in Madrid. In a classical but sensual setting, with Arabic touches, watch some of Spain’s top names in the genre heat up the stage (and the audience) with their visceral, passionate performances. It’s actually quite an intense, even somewhat aphrodisiac experience.