Located in a sort of cave under the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, El Mesón de la Guitarra may just be the perfect little bar to have some sangria, some tapas and listen to some authentic live guitar playing that is not for show, or only for tourists but for ambience, for fun. It gives you the the feeling you are no longer in your own country (assuming you are not Spanish), and that’s what most people are looking for when they travel abroad. Maybe that is why most people like the Guitarra the best among the 4 or 5 cave bars that line this street. (Well, Zarzamora across the street is fun too!)
As you descend to the bar from its entrance on the street Cava de San Miguel in which is actually the outside of the Plaza Mayor, you enter a dimly lit cavern with walls of bricks hundreds of years old. (The Plaza Mayor was inagurated in 1619) Walk past the bar and up the stairs at the other end. Don’t forget to greet the barmen who on a good night are really friendly. The bar opens at 7pm but doesn’t really get going till after 10pm. On many nights a guitarist will play flamenco and sevillana tunes and the clientele clap along to the hypnotizing beat. What makes the bar feel authentic are the nights when the guitarist invites his friends to have some drinks with him. They clap and sing along and there are real moments of enchantment, as they seem to get lost in the rhythm. They pass the guitar to each other and are spurred on by the audience participation around them.
As the night wears on you may begin to hear other guitar sounds from down at the level the bar is on. Look down and you might see a whole band of men dressed in sixteenth century outfits complete with the poofy shorts, tights, capes and various types of guitars. They are a group called a “tuna,” no, not the fish. They are on a break from playing for spare change and selling their CDs in the various tourist bars in the area by playing classical and not-so-classical songs. They may break into song at any moment, and they enjoy taking requests.
Add to this gregarious atmosphere good tapas such as fried chorizo, pimientos de padrón, and tortilla española, together with sangria served in clay pitchers and you get a great night out in Madrid.
Address: Cava de San Miguel, 13. (Just outside the Plaza Mayor)
Price: a little above average for Madrid but still not excessive.
Tel. 91 559 9531
Metro Stops: Opera, Sol