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Madrid’s literary grand cafés

Barcelona, Paris and Vienna are renowned for their elegant grand cafés, where in days of yore the intelligentsia gathered to discuss literary masterpieces and current affairs over a good glass of wine. Madrid also had its fair share of grand cafés and some of these literary cafés have withstood the test of time in great style.

Ernest Hemingway described Café Gijón as a ‘clean, well-lit place’, Nobel laureate Camilo José Cela visited Café Comercial to indulge in ‘chocolate con churros’, and in Café de Oriente Salvador Dalí drew a portrait of Federico García Lorca in Indian ink. What these cafés have in common are the 'tertulias' – the Spanish word for informal meetings where the elite gathered to read and discuss poetry. Today’s guests flock here for a good cup of coffee or a meal. Every now and then the café still serves up a tertulia.

Picturesque café in Madrid
Picturesque café in Madrid


Café Comercial, literary hang-out since 1887

Revolving door as a time machine

Café Comercial, dating back to 1887, is Madrid’s oldest and one of its most beautiful cafés. The revolving door to the Glorieta de Bilbao acts as a time machine: step inside the interior of marble columns, ornate chandeliers and leather sofas to travel a century back in time. Several books and films have been set in this historic café that once served as a second home to many writers, poets, journalists and chess players. Now everyone is welcome and many are drawn by the house speciality: thick hot chocolate with 'churros', the deep-fried dough sticks.

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Café Comercial, Glorieta de Bilbao 7, Madrid

Hemingway was here

Café Gijón opened its doors in 1888 and was the home base of the Generación del 27 in the run-up to the Spanish Civil War. The group of influential poets and artists, which included Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel and Federico García Lorca, loved to gather there for their literary ‘tertulias’. It was at the address Paseo de Recoletos 21 that the Premio Café Gijón was born, one of the most important literary prizes in Spain. But more than a century of history does have its price: a glass of wine and a plate of tapas certainly don’t come cheap.

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Literary breeding ground: Café Gijón

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Café Gijón, Paseo de Recoletos 21, Madrid, 
Next to the opera: Café de Oriente

Dalí’s cellar restaurant

The terrace at the famous Café de Oriente offers lovely views of the neatly landscaped garden of the Royal Palace and it is popular among visitors to the adjoining opera house, the Teatro Real. The interior of the café is a Baroque haven with hardwood mirror frames, brass lamps and plush red furniture to sink back in with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. Writers, poets and artists once met in the vaulted cellar underneath the café, where today distinguished guests enjoy haute cuisine.

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Café de Oriente, Plaza de Oriente 2, Madrid, 

Photo credits

  • Café Comercial, literary hang-out since 1887: Francesc Esteve, Flickr
  • Literary breeding ground: Café Gijón: Jean-Pierre Lescourret, Getty Images
  • Next to the opera: Café de Oriente: Luis Rodriguez, Flickr