Why Madrid was beloved by Hemingway (and many other artists)
obody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night,” said Ernest Hemingway. And he followed that credo to the letter in the taverns and cocktail bars of the Spanish capital. The American writer was so besotted with Madrid’s charm that he “killed” the night here on countless occasionss. Ever since his first visit in 1923, the city welcomed him as it does any outsider, with open arms, and baptized him Ernesto.
Among his friends was Emilio González, owner of the Sobrino de Botín restaurant, “the oldest in the world”, according to the Guinness Book of Records and, as the author declares in his book The Sun Also Rises, “one of the best.” Hemingway loved cochinillo (roast suckling pig), one of the most iconic dishes of this traditional restaurant. From their incomparable location just off the Plaza Mayor, Emilio’s heirs intend to continue pampering their customers “for at least the next three hundred years.”
Hemingway’s last refuge in Madrid
During his last stay in the city, the writer stayed at Casa Suecia, which today’s pays tribute to him with a clandestine cocktail bar accessed only through the bathrooms. The décor is styled to the time of the prohibition, although the cocktails couldn’t be more contemporary.
Talent attracts talent, and Madrid absorbs it like a sponge. That’s certainly the case at another of the essential haunts of the author of The Old Man and the Sea, the now-legendary bar Museo Chicote, a meeting-place for intellectuals and celebrities right on the Gran Vía. Since it opened in 1931, a whole host of artists have graced the bar. Buñuel described it as the “Sistine Chapel of cocktails” and Ava Gardner was a regular during the 50s, when she fell in love with the Spanish culture—and a bullfighter or two. It continues to be one of the most glamorous places to feel the Madrileño spirit of openness.
But these artists didn’t just leave their mark in the bars. The essence of their time spent in Madrid lives on, above all, in their creations. In their chronicles and films, in the poems of García Lorca and the paintings of Dalí. These last two shared a social circle with friend and film-maker Luis Buñuel in the 20s, a time of creative and societal fever in the capital. It was the Silver Age of Spanish culture.
The Golden Age had come and gone several centuries earlier, not far away, in the timeless Barrio de la Letras. Fragments of writings by authors who shaped the city’s literary history (Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Bécquer…) punctuate the streets; the printing press where Don Quijote first saw daylight can still be visited. Cervantes, the best-known author of Spanish literature, lived and died in this part of Madrid. Like so many artists through its history, he chose the bustling neighbourhoods of the Spanish capital to nurture his creativity. Today, Madrid’s penchant for reinvention and cultural embrace continues to attract new talent. The proof is in its museums, like the Reina Sofia, which specializes in 20th century and contemporary art, and where you can see masterpieces from Picasso’s Guernica to a 35mm screening of the surrealist Un Chien Andalou, with the original screenplay by Buñuel and Dalí.
Madrid is where friendships are forged. Dalí and Buñuel, Neruda and Lorca, Hemingway and all the rest. Geniuses seek each other out here, and the city welcomes them heartily. Ernesto was right when he wrote that it “is the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people…” In the end, Madrid was a party.