Many myths exist to explain why the people of Madrid are referred to as gatos (cats). The most common answer dates back to 1085AD, when Alfonso VI and his soldiers tried to scale the giant wall that originally surrounded present-day Madrid. As the story goes, one young soldier, very quick and agile, ran towards the wall, pounced with a bounding leap, and scaled to the top. As he scrambled up the wall someone yelled, “He looks like a cat!”, and somehow, the name stuck.
No one knows if this is truth or fiction, but no matter what the truth is, the tale is accompanied by a famous expression – “un gato no naces, un gato te haces.” The literal translation reads: a cat you aren’t born, a cat you become.
Meeting the gatos may seem intimidating at first, but they are actually some of the most approachable, outgoing, and free-spirited people you’re likely to encounter. Despite this, knowing where to go in such a cosmopolitan city to get away from cliques of English-speakers and diving into a true Spanish conversation with a local Madrileño may not be that easy for the untrained visitor.
Throughout the city, you’ll find Madrileños enjoying cafés, tapas, and good conversation! Madrid is covered with endless tapas joints, bustling cafes and zany locales prime for you to practice your Spanish skills and meet new people.
So where in Madrid can you go to become an authentic gato of the city?
Here are 7 of the best local Madrileno establishments to meet gatos:
1. El Palentino (Calle del Pez, 12) –
Run by old Spanish men, it is by far the cheapest place in town with an unlimited amount of people to meet. This is an unsurpassable place, especially for those with small budgets. Their special claim-to-fame, is that the El Palentino was inspired by and featured in Manu Chao’s music video, Me llaman calle. If you make it to El Palentino, locate the newspaper clipping of the video-shoot hidden somewhere along one of the numerous dust-covered walls.
2. La Blanca Paloma (Calle de Espíritu Santo, 21) –
A typical but atypical tapas bar. Full of Spanish themes, including a threatening bull’s head mounted on the wall. Just sit down, order a café, and watch as the tapas keep coming and coming, free of charge! A great place to “have dinner,” (a.k.a. tapas till you drop!), especially if you’re broke!
3. El Petisqueira (Calle Churruca, 6) –
This Galician cafe, tucked along the border of the Chueca and Malasaña neighborhoods, is the best place for an early evening snack. Order a beverage from the wait staff, take a seat (if you’re lucky enough to find one), and enjoy the featured tapas of the day that they will bring seemingly endlessly, free of charge.
4. El Respiro (Calle de las Infantas, 34) –
This is the perfect place to watch a Real Madrid match with some rowdy locals. Grab a seat and test different tapas to your heart’s desire!
5. Picnic (Calle Minas, 1) –
With some of the most hipster décor around, Picnic is a two-floor lounge with low lighting that creates the perfect atmosphere to hone your Spanish conversation skills. Take a seat on one of the antique couches or grab a table and get wrapped up in conversation with the locals.
6. La Musa (Calle de Manuela Malasaña, 18) –
For a chic venue with an artistic touch, this classic Madrid joint is the perfect place to have a coffee with friends. If you listen to the conversations around you, you’re not likely to hear anything but Spanish being spoken.
7. Café Manuela (Calle de San Vicente Ferrer, 29) –
This traditional Spanish hovel is commonly recognized for one thing: board games! Inside, apart from its splendid antique furnishings, you’ll discover Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, and a cluster of other well known games. The best part: all of the games are in Spanish!
If these places don’t make you feel Spanish enough, try finding an intercambio partner at conversationexchange.com, where you’ll be sure to find plenty of eager españoles looking to improve their English and help you out with your Spanish. As another Madrid saying goes, “si estás en Madrid, eres de Madrid” – If you are in Madrid, you are from Madrid. So, why not embrace where you are, stretch out your paws, and really strive to become a full-blooded gato!