Walk in the Footsteps of Don Ernesto: Hemingway’s Madrid

This tour of Ernesto Hemingway’s Madrid is a bit of a pub crawl but, hey, if you’re going to follow in the footsteps of Papa, you’re gonna get drunk.

Wine cellar at Botin in Madrid

I am a huge fan of getting to know a city by way of wandering and an even bigger fan of Ernest Hemingway (or Don Ernesto as he was known in Spain). So on a trip to Madrid for the Mad Cool Festival with my friend Sarah, it was a no-brainer to design my very own walking tour of Hemingway’s Madrid.

El Retiro Park is mentioned in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and is part of this walking tour of Hemingway's Madrid
El Retiro Park is mentioned in For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sarah was a trooper and followed along on this adventure where we matched Hemingway drink-for-drink on this fun and rather debaucherous way to explore Madrid.

map of this walking tour of Hemingway's Madrid
A walking tour of Hemingway’s Madrid

Tip: If you want to start with brunch instead of ending with dinner, start this tour at Botín and end at La Venencia. Either way, make sure to get a good food base!

Here we go!

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Nights in Hemingway’s Madrid begin at Museo Chicote

We are starting at Museo Chicote, but this isn’t a museum; it’s a cocktail bar with as much history as a museum.

Pouring drinks at Museo Chicote in Madrid

Museo Chicote first opened its revolving doors in 1931 and its cozy booths welcomed people like Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner alongside journalists like Hemingway who describes the bar in those pre-war days in his short story The Denunciation:

“In those days the snobs among the rich young men of Madrid hung out at something called the Nuevo Club and the good guys went to Chicote’s. A lot of people went there that I did not like, the same as at The Stork, say, but I was never in Chicote’s that it wasn’t pleasant. One reason was that you did not talk politics there. There were cafés where you went for politics and nothing else but you didn’t talk politics at Chicote’s. You talked plenty of the other five subjects though and in the evening the best-looking girls in the town showed up there and it was the place to start an evening from, all right, and we had all started some fine ones from there.”

Having cocktails at Museo Chicote on a tour of Hemingway's Madrid
My friend Sarah and I enjoying our Hemingway inspired cocktails at Museo Chicote

The Denunciation takes place, however, in November 1937 as the Spanish Civil War is raging. Hemingway goes on to describe the bar like this:

“They were shelling up the Gran Via and I went into Chicote’s to wait it out. It was noisy and crowded and I sat at a little table in one corner against the sandbagged window with the meat on the bench beside me and drank a gin and tonic water. It was that week that we discovered they still had tonic water. No one had ordered any since the war started and it was still the same price as before the revolt.”

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Museo Chicote is the setting of The Denunciation by Ernest Hemingway and part of this walking tour of Hemingway's Madrid
A much more light-hearted experience at Museo Chicote

We had a much more light-hearted experience at Museo Chicote, but the gin was just as refreshing, and while we weren’t ducking shells, the cool, dark bar was a welcome place to escape the summertime heat of Madrid.

Address: Gran Vía 12

El Retiro Park is a peaceful place in Hemingway’s Madrid

El Retiro Park is a peaceful place in Hemingway's Madrid
El Retiro Park

El Retiro is a peaceful place in the mind of one of Hemingway’s most famous characters, so I imagine it was a place of repose for the man himself.

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In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan tells Maria that he will take her to Madrid where they will walk in the park and row in the lake. He knows he is dreaming, or spending time in “unreality” as he calls it, but the daydream calms them both even as they know they will face a bloody fight against the Fascists the next morning.

Where Hemingway's Robert Jordan dreams of rowing Maria in the lake at El Retiro park in Madrid
Where Hemingway’s Robert Jordan dreams of rowing with Maria at El Retiro Park

Address: Plaza de la Independencia 7

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Next up: Cervecería Alemana

Hemingway's table at Cerveceria Alemana
People watching from La Alemana

A group of Germans opened this beer hall in 1904 and Hemingway came here often. He describes Cervecería Alemana as a “good cafe and beer place on the Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid” in a Life magazine article.

He came to La Alemana so often, in fact, that he has his very own table near the window looking out over the plaza.

Hemingway's table at La Alemana in Madrid
Hemingway’s table at Cervecería Alemana

I can see why he liked it. It’s unpretentious with cheap beer and a jolly atmosphere.

Address: Plaza Santa Ana 6

Sobrino de Botín: Dinner in Hemingway’s Madrid

If you want to eat like Hemingway, you must try the roasted suckling pig at Sobrino de Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world where Hemingway would often dine and write at an upstairs table.

Sobrino de Botín is the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records
The Guinness Book of Records declaration of the “earliest restaurant” for Sobrino de Botín

In The Sun Also Rises, Jake and Brett experience Hemingway’s favorite Madrid meal: “We lunched upstairs at Botin’s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta.”

We weren’t able to get a table upstairs, but we did follow the winding, spiral staircase downstairs where we found plenty of wine.

The staircase at Sobrino de Botín where Hemingway ate suckling pig
The staircase at Sobrino de Botín
the wine cellar at Sobrino de Botín in Madrid, Hemingway's favorite restaurant
The wine cellar at Sobrino de Botín

There were also plenty of plates of suckling pig and the paella that the owner says his grandfather tried to teach Hemingway to make (unsuccessfully).

Dining at Sobrino de Botín in Hemingway's Madrid
We clean up nice

Address: Calle de los Cucchilleros 17

A nightcap Hemingway style: La Venencia

A walking tour of Hemingway’s Madrid would be wildly incomplete without a stop at La Venencia. I have no photos of this place because none are allowed. The old Civil War rules still apply: no pictures, no spitting on the floor, and no tipping.

This was once a place for Republicans to sip sherry and swap war stories. To this day, no pictures should be taken because the wartime patrons wanted to drink sherry without being identified and marked by the Fascists.

This Hemingway haunt, where your tab is drawn in front of you in the form of white chalk tallies on the bar, takes the American equivalent of a “dive bar” to a whole new level.

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I can definitely picture Hemingway here, drinking his sherry and soaking up all of the news from the front.

As for us, we stood at the bar (which is what you do here) despite the fact that we were barely standing after a day in Hemingway’s Madrid!

This was one of my favorite stops, but every one of Hemingway’s favorite places in Madrid is packed with history and good booze.

Address: Calle Echegaray 7

Where to stay near Hemingway’s Madrid Haunts

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Cheers!

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50 Comments on “Walk in the Footsteps of Don Ernesto: Hemingway’s Madrid”

  1. I love Madrid, and on my first visit I went to many of Don Ernesto’s haunts, including each you have named. A further one of Casa Alberto, just off of Plaza Santa Ana. I also remember a bar in Plaza Mayor which had a banner in the window stating “Hemingway Never Drank Here,” which I thought was quite funny.

    • I saw that banner and had a good laugh as well! I am putting Casa Alberto on the list, thank you! I’m returning to Madrid in July (pandemic permitting) and can’t wait to explore even more of his haunts! Thank you for reading!

  2. Enjoyed reading this post, Jen. I’ve always been a huge fan of the old grumpy man, even more so when I was a kid. I didn’t quite get the same sense of adventure out of any other author’s books. Pity I missed out on all the Hemingway spots in Madrid every time I visited.. my main memories of Madrid are rowing a boat in El Retiro and eating tapas and drinking wine until early mornings…

  3. Now I am in suspense. What are the other 5 topics you can discuss in a bar? Are we limited to 5? This looks like a fun pub crawl and the last place sounds intriguing. Guess I’ll have to see it from the inside myself.

    • That was Hemingway for you. He loved the suspense! He doesn’t list his five topics, but I’m going to guess it is war, women, sex, booze, and…politics. Because that’s just how he was. If he says that it shouldn’t be talked about, he means that it should definitely be talked about.

  4. Pingback: A Mad Cool Festival Review with 2020 Updates I The Lens of Jen

  5. Omg I absolutely love this!!!! Hemingway is one of my favorite writers. I will definitely have to recreate this itinerary in the future! ?

  6. What a great tour! I’m not much of a drinker, so I might skip some of the booze, but I’d love to see these sights! Especially El Retiro, it looks so peaceful! Thanks for the great guide, I can’t wait to get to Madrid and try it out!

    • Yeah, if you’re not much of a drinker a Hemingway tour might not be your jam. But El Retiro is everybody’s jam. I hope you will go when you go to Madrid!

  7. I love your style Jen. What a fun way to walk in the footsteps of Hemingway. I’d really like to try the roasted suckling pig at Sobrino de Botín. I’m definitely going to do this when we’re next in Madrid.

  8. It seems Hemingway not only took Robert Jordan and Maria to Madrid, but also the rest of us, where we walk along the park, row in the lake, drink and get tipsy and end up guessing For Whom the Bell really Tolls.

  9. Suckling pig at Sobrino de Botin sounds wonderful! I also love that they named a German bar after the Germans! El Retiro is one of my favourites, this was a fun ‘crawl’!

  10. This sounds like so much fun! I fell in love with Madrid the first time I arrived, and the suckling pig at Botin was magical (somehow I missed the wine cellar!). Lately, I am more intrigued by Hemingways travels, so I will definitely do this tour next time I visit Madrid.

  11. What a fun way to to follow his steps, learn about history and enjoy many, many cocktails! Hopefully no hangover the next day! Lol. I’d love to try the roasted suckling pig at Sobrino de Botín! I bet it’s delicious snd with that ambiance!

  12. I am sure doing the tour this way will be even more uniquely memorable to you! I am assuming this is the same Hemingway that was in Key West.. I did not know that he was referred to as Don Ernesto.. I love learning new things!

  13. This is such a cool idea! I love that you created your own walking tour and that it took you to such cool places (and even that it included drinks, dinner and such a gorgeous wine cellar!) Sarah was really lucky to travel with you for this. 🙂

  14. This is such a great way to discover the city! I can’t believe I haven’t been to Madrid yet, I definitely need to go some time this year 🙂 I really want to explore Parque El Retiro.

    • Yes! Please do go to Madrid! It is truly one of the most beautiful places. Or, as Hem would say, the most Spanish of cities.

  15. What a unique and beautiful way to experience Madrid! I love creative ways to travel like this. THank you for putting this together and sharing! – Linzey @thefamilyfuntour

    • El Retiro is a beautiful place to find peace. Robert Jordan is my favorite literary character, so going to his place of peace was really meaningful.

  16. This is such a fun alternative to a walking tour in Madrid! The next time I’m in Madrid I will definitely be doing this, it covers a lot of great spots!

  17. What an appetising account. Joins my list of must-visit-places for sure. Relished reading about it.

  18. OMG!! All this in a day? It looks like a great plan! I am not sure that I would make it all the way to La Venencia. No photos allowed?? That’s no fun. Are they trying to remain mysterious?

    • Since it was founded as a bar for the Republicans during the war, they were very secretive. (Being discovered could mean being shot.) They continue with the secrets!

  19. What a fun idea, I learnt a lot about Hemingway when I was in Cuba actually. This definitely sounds like a great way to spend the day

  20. I would love to take this tour of Ernesto Hemingway’s Madrid! I’ve visited his Key West home so this would be perfect!

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