Working as a Spanish correspondent for Monocle magazine, Liam is always on the look out for the latest shops, restaurants or bars that pop up in Madrid. Liam Aldous, an Australian-born journalist in his thirties, is also a social and cultural trends hunter. He loves the friendly and welcoming vibe in Madrid and we couldn’t think of anyone better to explore the city with.
I moved back to Madrid four years ago, but I used to live here about 8 or 9 years ago. I came to learn Spanish. I was meant to stay for six months and ended up staying for a year and a half. I just had this urge to come back to Madrid. I missed the people and the spirit of the city. So I came back in 2011 with an internship at Monocle magazine.
The friendliness of the people. I am from Australia, a country where people are known to be quite relaxed and friendly, but in Madrid I just found that everyone is itching to start a conversation with each other. To this day, people still say hello and goodbye getting in and out of elevators, which I still think is quite cute actually. In a big city like Madrid, that can be quite frenetic and overwhelming, it helps the city function from one day to the next.
I think it’s the fact that no one or almost no one is really from Madrid, so everyone that lives here welcomes in anbody, no matter what they look like or where are they from. Maybe it’s because there are only a few ‘gatos’,what they called the third generation ‘madrileño’. I think that helps you to integrate. You can live here for a couple of months and call yourself a ‘madrileño’, even if you are not Spanish, and people don’t really have a problem with that. Besides, although Madrid is the third biggest city in Europe, it’s still like a small village.
If I look back to 2005 or 2006, when I was first here, the city has changed completely. The crisis made people stop and think and try new things. A lot of people that couldn’t find work just decided to open a business and to make things that they loved. I think you can live and breathe that spirit as you walk around the city.
For instance, Kike Keller, the co-owner of the place we are now, had worked for the film industry before he opened this amazing studio to sell the furniture he designs. It’s also a gallery and a bar. There are so many of these places around the city. It’s been a creative explosion of energy.
I’m living in a district called Conde Duque. It’s in the centre of the city but it’s quite quiet, with a lot of nice shops, bars, cafes and vibrant plazas. I hang out a lot in my district but also in Malasaña. I also really like Las Letras, which is where I used to live. I go to Lavapiés when I can because it’s also constantly changing.
People are surprised when they see that the restaurants and terraces are full. I just say to them that the Spanish really like to enjoy life when they have the opportunity. I mean, it doesn’t mean they don’t have problems getting a higher salary or finding a job, but it’s a hot spot for opportunities.
I usually like to take them to places that really show off the personality of the city. If I’m taking them for something to eat, I’ll go to a ‘tasca’ called Celso y Manolo, which is traditional simple Spanish food done well in a very authentic space. I also love a restaurant called Sala de Despiece, which is a bit flashier but also serves pure Spanish cuisine. If I want them to experience the eccentric character of the ‘madrileños’ I take them to a theater called the Microteatro. It is an amazing space, built inside an old butcher’s.
You have to see the Prado and the Reina Sofia Museums, but there are also good exhibitions at the CentroCentro. The Matadero is also a must see. There’s this beautiful little cinema called Cine Doré, which is the Filmoteca of Spain and amazingly preserved. You must also visit the foodmarkets. Everyone who comes here goes to San Miguel, but I like to take them to markets like San Anton or Anton Martin. Places like Platea or San Ildefonso are also really authentic food experiences.
I actually prefer to go to small authentic Spanish eateries where you can get really traditional well-made tapas without too much fuss. I prefer to take people to those places because you can’t find them anywhere else.
What I like about Madrid is that every district has a very distinct personality. I also love that castizo traditional Spanish personality that you find in Chamberi or in Barrio de Salamanca.
Definitely. Actually it’s one of the cities in Europe with the most shops. The diversity of shops has really expanded in the last few years as well. You’ve got a lot of little jewellery, leatherwork or shoe brands that have just appeared in the last few years. A lot of shops, like Andrés Gallardo or Helena Rohner, have showrooms in districts from La Latina to Conde Duque to near Tirso de Molina. In Barrio Salamanca there is a beautiful men’s tailor-made shoe brand called Glent.
I would say maybe a little bit bipolar, eccentric on one side and conservative on the other, but you have a lot of the inbetween too. Madrid is very carefree, excentric, friendly. It’s a lot of things, actually.
I think the city is on the verge of a new movida. There’s a lot of creative energy here. Maybe Madrid is the new Berlin. It’s creative, cheap, there are a lot of things happening and it’s the second sunniest capital in Europe. I think people should come to Madrid if they are looking for a good lifestyle but also to start a new business. They’ll find a city that is very welcoming and with a lot of opportunities. That’s how I’d describe Madrid.