A Night Out on the Terraza in Madrid

TERRAZAS, or terraces, are not the slice of real estate hanging off an apartment building in Madrid. The word refers, reverentially, to an outdoor cafe culture that arguably means more to Madrid than sidewalk dining does in Paris or New York. Each year brings more and more. And, in the latest sign that terrazas have become a civic fixture, they are now staying open long past summer, after the sweaters and coats appear.

Maybe it was inevitable. Terrazas encapsulate Madrid’s personality perfectly: nocturnal, communal and endlessly outgoing. The arrival of new terrazas is greeted with no less urgency than the celebrity magazine Hola!’s coverage of Princess Letizia’s second royal pregnancy. They are written about, parsed and blogged with an obsession usually reserved for soccer teams.

Which is the quirkiest? Everyone has a favorite. El Mundo, the large daily newspaper, points to terrazas like Ananda, curiously located at the Atocha train station (Avenida Ciudad de Barcelona; 34-91-781-9540); El Guía del Ocio, an entertainment magazine, favors Realcafé Bernabéu at Gate 30 right behind a goal at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, home of the Real Madrid soccer team (Calle Concha Espina, 1; 34-91-458-3667).

But the most stylish terraza is clearly at the Hotel Urban (Carrera San Jerónimo, 34; 34-91-787-7770; www.derbyhotels.com), where a bottle of mineral water goes for 10 euros ($13 at $1.30 to the euro) and a cocktail for 16 euros. The deck features white leather seats and gorgeous views of the Gran Via, though the fashion-conscious crowd doesn’t seem to notice. This is the terraza for the fabulous.

Like the address but not the dress code? Then head to the new rooftop bar at the Hotel de las Letras (Gran Via, 11; 34-91-5-23-7980; www.hoteldelasletras.com). White sailcloth billows around white leatherette couches and molded plastic cocktail tables. The drinks — around 4 euros for a draft beer — are more reasonable.

For the latest in terraza design, ride the elevator to the top of the Hotel Puerta América (Avenida de América, 41; 34-91-744-5400; www.hotelpuertamerica.com), where each floor was designed by a celebrity architect. The rooftop terraza, Bar Skynight, features smooth bossa nova beats, pricey drinks (martinis start at 10 euros) and well-heeled locals who don’t mind being mistaken for tourists.

Not all terrazas are new. Writers and artists have gathered around the tuxedoed pianist at Café Gijón (Paseo de Recoletos, 21; 34-91-521-5425) for a century. And at the bars around the Plaza del Dos de Mayo in the grungy Malasaña neighborhood, two generations of bohemians have drunk cheap beers since Franco died.

Many Madrileños, in fact, prefer their terrazas old-fashioned, low-key and neighborhood friendly, like those found in the Plaza de las Comendadoras. During the day, the plaza is a children’s playground. But at night, Café de las Comendadoras (Plaza de las Comendadoras, 1; 34-91-532-1132) and La Taquería de Birra (Plaza de las Comendadoras, 2; 34-91-523-2806) set up tables and chairs and turn the square into a block party. The nightly ritual is taken very seriously.

“Terrazas,” said Jesús, a teacher who sees them as quintessential Madrid, “are for talking, not tourism.”

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