Ratings Key (0-10)
Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!
|El Bosc De Les Fades *||Barcelona||7||9||8||8||6||8|
|Bar Pastis *||Barcelona||6||10||9||7||7||9|
|La Fontana De Oro||Madrid||7||9||7||8||6||8|
|Taberna De Antonio Sanchez||Madrid||6||9||8||7||4||8|
|De La Ardosa||Madrid||6||9||8||7||6||8|
|Pub Momo||Santiago de Compostela||7||8||8||8||7||8|
|Modus Vivendi||Santiago de Compostela||6||9||8||7||7||8|
|Avante||Santiago de Compostela||5||8||8||7||7||8|
Over the last few years Spain has become a gradually more interesting and enjoyable place to go for a beery night out. In the past such an activity inevitably involved locating a bodega or a tapas bar, both of which usually only sold one beer on tap, and a few uninteresting bottles.
The Northern and Central European idea of solid beer drinking, without any obligation to consume food, almost didn’t exist outside of the odd hole-in-the-wall sports bar and the usual Irish themed pubs.
Spain has become switched onto craft beer, as similar to Poland, the local offerings were so muted that the sheer exposure to the many other styles available was like someone pulling back a curtain they hadn’t even recognised was there.
Now there are decent places to go for an ale in the major cities, the appeal of tapas bars is limited even further, as they routinely don’t follow the décor of what makes a good pub, and there is too much going on to make beer any more than a sideshow. The only way around this is to do dedicated tapas/beer pubs, which as a concept doesn’t appear to exist currently, but I could see working well.
Bodegas on the other hand are a slightly different proposition. These can be the most atmospheric places, the traditional, aged, candlelit venues with the local pub atmosphere you crave when you visit a new place. They are a bit one paced, to be sure, but I have been to a few that can drum up a lively chatty atmosphere. Some of these tend to do decent bottles of imported German lager and Spain’s only real original hand in the beer scene – double malted pilsners. Most of the major Spanish lagers do a turn in premium double pilsners, most of which are a darn sight tastier and not rough like many of the Italians. If you’re stuck in an unexciting venue that only seems to serve Estrella Damm or San Miguel, get the drinks card and scan for a premium beer.
In the major cities you will find some kooky, off-beat alternative bars that match up well to the European bar scene. Barcelona is a typically good example of the range of options you’d almost demand as a prerequisite for visiting these days. Fortunately it does live up to the hype.
Service is nearly always pretty pleasant – as good as an at times better than English service, while the price of drinks in Spain varies enormously depending where you are. I hear a drink and a tapa in Granada can be found for a Euro, whereas a craft ale alone in Barcelona can tip 5 euros, though you won’t find too many above that price. In touristic places there is a harder job for bars to price their drinks to appeal to locals out of season and rinse tourists for all they’re worth in season.
It almost goes without saying that rural Spain is far more about wine, and even then, in the baking hot summers you’ll be wanting to use some of that light tasting Estrella even if it’s just holding the glass to your forehead.
P.S -Clearly there are lots of holiday resorts in Spain which have become near-enclaves for English/German/Russian people. If you find yourself there, then they will usually have the tackiest impressions of their own sorts of bars and pubs. It’s arguable whether any of that is really ‘Spain’, particularly as no-one serving there is Spanish or speaking Spanish. I will accept submissions in the cases of really good pubs and bars on these resorts.
Barcelona, pop. 1,615,100
A large city with a diverse selection of bars, it is unlikely anyone who enjoys a drink on an evening will fall short in their pursuit. Whether you’re a craft beer fan, looking for brewery taps and multi-tap venues, a purist looking for historic bodegas or an alternative looking for a quirky refuge from the busy city, your needs are amply catered for in Barcelona’s central districts. As this is a tourist hub, the hours of service are wider too, so it’s perfectly possible to have an enjoyable night out and be home by midnight, in comparison to other Spanish towns and cities where things are barely getting going by then. Prices are on a par with most major cities in Western Europe, meaning double or triple what you can expect to pay in other parts of Spain. The fun of exploring the wildly different venues makes up for this.
Madrid, pop. 3,174,000
Rarely have I been anywhere with so many bars. There seems to be no economic limit, thousands of venues, the majority of which are small one-room affairs on the ground floor only. So many of them are packed full – Spaniards have no qualms at all about close congregation, even while eating. Yep – eating – these are largely tapas bars, a format which dominates Madrid. Unlike Barcelona the hours are less relaxed – you will find some of these do not even open until 10pm onward. Tapas bars demand a certain level of understanding of the format, along with – in Madrid at least – a reasonable grasp of Spanish to ensure you get what you want. In some venues a beer will secure you a giant plate of food, while in others the beers are cheap and the plates get larger the more you spend. The ‘classic’ set up is a brushed aluminium bar top and single beer tap serving Spanish lager – usually Mahou – the pouring of which is taken to near religious levels (no-one pausing to ask why the beer itself has to be so awful).
Madrid has a host of reasonable ‘pubs’ in the centre, which have a nice lived-in character, but are not especially Spanish, while they also have a thing for Belgian & German beer (who doesn’t), and you can find some terrific bars which focus on those.
It’s incredibly busy out in town and sometimes a bit too stressful for its own good.
Palma di Mallorca, pop. 404,700
Bland tapas/pintxos bars and non-descript cervecerias are the order of the day in the centre of Palma, a place where you could easily spend an unenjoyably bland night out without doing your research. However, such places usually provoke a backlash and that comes in the form of the nascent beer movement in Spain, which in tandem with the alternative crown yields a clutch of more characterful, distinctive venues. In addition to this, there are some enjoyable historic bodegas to be found.
Santiago de Compostela, pop. 95,207
Literally a pilgrimage site; in the height of the ‘Camino’ season, thousands of outsiders arrive, having completed ‘The Way of St. James’, often staying in Santiago for one night only. Given this night is universally one of celebration, having made it the whole way (or cheated), many bars are needed to absorb and accommodate these daily spasms of revelry. Outside of the peak season, this dies down to the extent that locals rediscover and reclaim these venues. There is an enjoyably low-key atmosphere which provides space and ambience sometimes lacking later night in some permanently busy-busy Spanish cities. The bars themselves are a mixed bag, but several stand out, with varying themes and influences: Galician independence, courtyard/ruin pubs, antiques and haberdasheries, civic exhibitions and folk music. This adds up to a successful and intriguing combination. As with several other Spanish cities, don’t even bother visiting these venues until after 10pm, or even later in some cases.
Toledo, pop. 84,282
A tightly controlled conveyor belt of tourists arrive from Madrid by train, making their way up the hill to this extraordinarily beautiful hilltop town. Currently Toledo is still raking in money from their association with Game of Thrones, but it has been a honeypot for tourists for a lot longer than that. This is not an extraordinary city for bars, however. While you will find some tolerable English/Irish style pubs, and an enjoyable brewery tap, the hordes of middle classes seeking cafes and restaurants and – one can assume – spiralling rental costs, suppress any chance this place may have of becoming a hotbed of nightlife.