At the heart of history
So, you have visited the unmissable Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, the Prado museum and, of course, the Reina Sofía museum with Picasso's iconic masterpiece Guernica. Now leave the well-trodden thoroughfares of Madrid behind and head to the neighbourhood of Malasaña, in the north-west of the capital. A maze of small, narrow streets lined with cafes, bars and boutiques awaits. Roam around this labyrinth overflowing with charm and open to alternative ideas as well as a certain spirit of resistance. Could this be a nod to the very name of the area, dedicated in honour of Manuela Malasaña, a young 17-year-old woman who was shot there by French troops during the popular uprising of 1808?
History likes to repeat itself and as you reach Calle del Pez, you come across a young woman with books in her hand. This is After Julia, a statue created by Antonio Santín and unveiled in 2003. Besides the bronze's attractive looks, the sculpture is a tribute to the first woman who dared to defy the ban on studying at university in the 19th century.
The Calle del Pez, or Fish Street, has been around since the 17th century and it tells the tale of another young woman who rebelled against authority. To start with, a father bought a piece of land to build a house and on the original site, there was a pond full of fish. However, they all died because of the construction work, except one, rescued by Blanca Colonel, the daughter of the new owner. Despite her lavish care and attention, the surviving fish also perished. In an attempt to console her, the father had a fish carved in the stone facade, which can still be seen at number 24. And this is the fish that gave the street its name today. Over the centuries, the atmosphere has changed and life here is now all about partying, meeting up with friends and unbridled cultural and artistic expression.
In the realm of lowbrow art
To understand the rich cultural heritage and special character of Malasaña, take yourself off to La Fiambrera art gallery. The interior, which looks like a simple shop, has plenty of surprises in store for you. Start on the ground floor: all the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with illustrations, adverts, graffiti and comic art with often funny, sometimes ironic and even caustic overtones. You are in the realm of lowbrow art or pop surrealism. Stroll around, drawn from one exhibit to another and yet another, then go down to the gallery's vaulted basement. The simple stone surroundings show off works by international artists to their very best: with works by the likes of North American Danny Heller, Argentinian Dr. Alderete and local boy, Joaquín Rodríguez, the collection is as colourful as it is cosmopolitan. When your pop art extravaganza comes to an end, stop by the gallery shop. There you will find books, original decorative items and posters to take home as a fitting souvenir of this out-of-the-ordinary visit. And if you are feeling peckish, order a cup of coffee and a delicious homemade pastry.
La Fiambrera art gallery
Calle del Pez, 7
+34 917 04 60 30
A delight for the senses Madrid-style
All this artistic exploration is hungry work indeed. To eat like the locals, opt for Pez Tortilla, a restaurant you will find at 36 Calle del Pez. It is one of the favourite places of Malasaña residents. And when you read the menu, you will immediately understand that it was well worth the wait: tortillas or Spanish omelettes with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and basil – a fabulous Spanish-Italian combo, or what about with brie and truffles or even mackerel…? Whether you choose a classic or novel version, these specialities are all creamy, set just the way you like them and very tasty. If you fancy, you can wash your tortilla down with a beer from the restaurant's exacting and international selection.
To discover a different type of ambiance, go back to the start of the street. At Amargo, in its subdued decor with light brickwork and velvet furniture, you will enjoy a sophisticated and bountiful cuisine. Tuna tataki with diced tomatoes and white garlic or beef with porcini mushrooms, you have the choice of dishes from the land and sea. The menu also ensures that there is always a vegan option on offer. Every weekend, the restaurant invites musicians to come and perform, providing a musical side order to your dinner.
From the restaurant, you are only a few doors away from Zombie Bar with its off-beat atmosphere and focus on comic book art. The golden rule here is never take yourself seriously, just like the menus which are set out like comic books or the bill which arrives at your table in an old VHS video cassette box. Here, you will meet Malasaña regulars: DJs, avant-garde musicians, photographers, designers, artists in the making, hipsters... These Zombie Bar aficionados meet up, chat and put the world to rights in a buzz of excitement that lasts until the small hours. Because here, as elsewhere in Malasaña, life is lived day and night to the beat of music, bars and friendly encounters.
Calle del Pez, 36
+34 653 91 99 84
Calle del Pez, 2
+34 910 84 79 90
Calle del Pez, 7
+34 910 11 19 52