Conde Duque is Madrid’s next big neighborhood

Although I reside in Malasaña, I do a lot of living in Conde Duque.

The two barrios may share some of the same street names, but cross San Bernardo to the west and a different tune is playing.

Less gafapastas and more blue collar, Conde Duque has an attitude all its own. Whenever I head this direction for quotidian errands such as returning library books, buying bread, and catching up with friends over a mid-week caña, I am struck with how ripe the area is for exploring new bars, restaurants, and cultural offerings.

Given its unique meeting point between Argüelles, Chamberí, Plaza de España, and Malasaña, Conde Duque is poised to become the next big barrio.

Of course, location alone does not a tempting barrio make. Much as surrounding neighborhoods have done over the past fifteen years, Conde Duque is also in the process of reinventing itself.

Business owners have come together to promote the area, such as in the case of a ruta de tapas earlier in the year.

This past Saturday saw a Conde Duque “re-inagauración,” which local businesses celebrated with live music, discounts, and special exhibits to encourage visitors. Conde Duque supporters believe in the barrio — but will the rest of city feel the same way?

Conde Duque neighborhood cultural center

In the 19th century the cuartel was not only used for military training but also as an astronomical observatory and a telegraph office, hinting at its modern-day use as a place in pursuit of knowledge.

However, the building’s splendor began to unfurl in 1869 after a terrible fire destroyed two upper floors and mangled a tower. In 1969 the building finally concluded its time as a military hub, and the Ayuntamiento began to use the site for cultural projects.

Despite a 1975 plan to tear it down, the building escaped unharmed when it was declared a Monumento Histórico-Artístico the following year.

It seemed an unlikely rebirth — would the Cuartel de Conde Duque, a former military enclave in the midst of Madrid, have one last chance by being transformed into a cultural center?If you’ve walked around here, you know that the neighborhood’s most emblematic building takes up a significant chunk of Calle Conde Duque.

This large, blocky building, called the Cuartel del Conde Duque (originally the Real Cuartel de Guardias de Corps), dates back to 1717.

It used to house army barracks — according to Felipe V’s specifications, it needed enough room for 600 soldiers and 400 horses. Traces of the military history can still be seen today; emblazoned on the imposing brick wall is the Latin inscription “SOLVIT FORMIDINE TERRAS,” which was the motto of the Spanish Royal Guard. Meaning “He delivers the world from terror,” one can imagine soldiers marching back and forth behind the walls, honing their skills for king and country.

Conde Duque Cultural Center’s website asserts that they want to become a “punto de encuentro, parada y destino” for those in search of new cultural ideas.

It also reveals that they aim to complete the cultural offering started by CentroCentro and Matadero Madrid. Just as with its two artsy predecessors—contemporary cultural spaces housed in a former slaughterhouse and a palace, respectively—Conde Duque is equally fascinated with the balance between contemporary enlightenment and a deep-rooted connection to the past.

The Ayuntamiento has thrown an impressive bet on the table: the Conde Duque Cultural Center. After going under the knife (er, hammer) from 2005 to 2011, the belly of the old cuartel reopened with one heck of a face lift.

Newly reinvented to provide an auditorium, gallery spaces, live musical and theatrical performances, and an expanded library, the center proposes to become the go-to space for your artsy fix. In addition, the former barracks are also home to many archival collections including Spain’s very first newspaper library (hemeroteca).

Eager to show off their prime location, the center even boasts a mirador. This detail reveals how highly they think of the center and the neighborhood as a whole—indeed, what is a mirador other than a place to kick back and simply admire?

While the neighborhood is certainly enhanced by the cultural center, the other attractions are also worth a trip. Conde Duque is hip, affordable, and full of prospects; with all of the renovations and changes brought about by the revitalization of the old cuartel, it is an exciting time to visit.

If you know the area as one to quickly pass through on your way to somewhere else, here’s your introduction to Conde Duque, split into the categories of Living, Shopping, Eating, and Imbibing

Living in Conde Duque neighborhood

As briefly mentioned above, the cultural center aims to be your punto de encuentro of all things art, literature, and music-related.

Check the website to see what exhibits, plays, and concerts are on offer. Take advantage of the library, which offers not only books but also magazines, movies, and music. (It’s free to become a card-carrying member, and your membership allows you access to Madrid’s entire library system.)

Bring your laptop and set up shop in one of the cushy chairs or join the ranks of stone-faced students churning out term papers at the desks.

And, of course, don’t forget to check out the mirador to round out your Cultural Center experience.

Blanca Berlín Galería 

A contemporary art gallery with a smart set of changing collections, Blanca Berlín makes a great stop for checking out the latest in photography and visual art.

The gallery features artists from Spain as well as those from abroad; currently featured are exhibits by a madrileño and a Hungarian.

The evolving exhibits maintain a sense of novelty and excitement, and the gallery’s late weekend hours make it a perfect stop to rendezvous with friends before heading out for Friday-night cañas.

Ábrete Sésamo 

Filling a much-needed niche in the Madrid recycling scene Ábrete Sésamo operates on trueque, or trade. The system allows customers to exchange unwanted clothes, books, and other knick-knacks for points.

These points can then be exchanged for items that others have brought into the shop. The business owners, a Spanish and Italian husband-wife team, believe very strongly in the service they provide.

They aim to educate locals with the hope of turning those piles of left-on-the-curb bags of used goods into a renewable way of life.

Best shopping in the Conde Duque barrio

peSeta

Looking for one-of-a-kind handmade gifts such as wallets, bags, and passport holders? peSeta has you covered. This playful shop oozes craftiness, not just in their finished products, but in raw materials. Interested in scooping up some fabric for your next craft project? Peseta sells that as well, and will even teach you how to cut, pin, and sew it up into the product of your dreams.

Companyvino

Joining the neighborhood in fall of 2012, family-run Companyvino enticed customers in with the honest scent of fresh-baked bread. This small but carefully-maintained shop aims to fill local bellies with all sort of Spanish deliciousness—these conservas, wines, patés, and olive oils are not found on the shelves of nearby Carrefour Express. And then there is the star product—the bread.

Pan here is Galician-style, and the family is not only proud of their barras but also the range of empanadas on offer. Pick up a slice of what’s on today, or pre-order your empanada for a later date

Tabernillo del Gato Amadeus 

Let’s get straight to the point: the croquetas. Ham, cod, or a mix, you can’t go wrong. The first time a friend and I tucked into these golden gems, we had not even licked our forks clean before we asked the waiter for another round.

No, I don’t want to hear about how your mother/abuela/brother–in-law makes better ones — give me croquetas from Tabernillo del Gato Amadeus any day.

García 

At first glance, the modern, minimal interior of the restaurant will have you wondering if you’re going to find the Spanish food that the menu board out front first tempted you with. But provide it does, and swimmingly. If the dishes here seem both homey and exotic, it’s because the owner does his own remakes of family recipes.

This is a fabulous place for menú del día — expect friendly service, a calming interior, and, best of all, high-quality produce that reflects seasonal offerings. Chowing down after dark makes for a hipper experience, and García makes an inviting stop for small groups to dine as well as a place to grab an after-dinner cocktail, wine, or dessert.

Imbibing in Conde Duque neighborohood

If you wanna get tipsy, Madrid has lots of places to do it. La Latina is great on Sundays… but so is Conde Duque, any day of the week!

Bodegas el Maño

Stepping across the tiled floor at Bodegas el Maño, you’ll feel transported back to an older version of the city. However, there is a youthful vibrancy to the bar, an immediate warm welcome that can be felt when your drink slides into view with a thoughtful tapa.

The clientele comes here for many reasons—to lazily catch up over cañas, to share raciones with friends (the patatas pajas con queso are the plato of choice), or to sip from a generous list of wine or spirits.

Indeed, Bodegas el Maño is one of the old Madrileño institutions with cool vermú on tap.

Not sold on vermouth?

Order the tinto de verano which is made with vermouth, to fix that.

Terraces – To be discovered

This isn’t the name of bar, but rather a call to arms—go out and discover your own slice of Conde Duque! There are a few lovely terrazas to discover, the most obvious starting point being Plaza de las Comendadoras.

This is the most spacious square in the neighborhood, so chances are you’ll snag a seat. In this plaza you’ll find a playground for kids, a Mexican restaurant, and a handful of Spanish cafes and restaurants.

Another option is Plaza Guardias de Corps, which, although smaller in size, enjoys a prime location right across from the Conde Duque Cultural Center.

The wonderfully peculiar mix of old-man bars and gastro pubs ringing the square attracts everyone from families to young couples to old friends.

Note from Mr Chorizo: Thanks to Cassandra for this guest post. We’ve got a few other articles about neighborhoods of Madrid here… most recently, this one about Usera, the next Lavapiés. What’s your favorite place in Conde Duque? Let us know in the comments… I’ve heard Jack Percoca, the Italian place, is pretty good – but I’ve never managed to get a table.

Daniel
 

How did I end up in Madrid? Why am I still here 12 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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