Los Mesones de Madrid

Category: Madrid

Are you in the process of planning an exciting and eye-opening vacation to Madrid, the capital and largest city in Spain? If so, you are no doubt looking forward to visiting the city’s many historical monuments, breathtaking landscapes, art museums and galleries. Visiting these popular tour spots, of which there are hundreds, is a great way to explore the city by the day. However, try not to get too worn out from all your touring, because after the sun sets is when Madrid really begins to come alive, as hundreds of people, mostly locals, begin their evening with the tradition known as el tapeo at scores of Los Mesones, small restaurants and out-of-the-way bars situated around the city. Below we will explain this tradition in a bit more detail, and provide some interesting facts regarding the establishments that host it.

Los Mesones and El Tapeo

Of all the customs and traditions that make Spain and its capital city of Madrid so appealing, el tapeo takes the cake, at least as far as this writer is concerned. Each night after work, at a time that most of us Americans would dub as “Happy Hour,” scores of local Madrilenians can be seen walking the streets and ducking into their local mesons or los mesones, for a refreshing drink and some fresh tapas. El tapeo, as this process is called, is the act of sampling a variety of very small, yet tasty snacks—snacks that are served at no charge with the purchase of a drink. These could include hot snacks, such as deep-fried seafood or heavily-seasoned meatballs, or cold treats such as pickles and other vegetable combinations. The menu of tapas is typically changed daily at the hundreds of friendly mesons throughout the city, which allows customers to “bar-hop” if they so desire and sample many different types of tapas each night. This tradition is rather unique to Spain and the Spanish region, and while the locals may view it as commonplace, it is without question a very refreshing and welcome treat for tourists and visitors.

So why is this tradition so popular?

Unlike much of North America, where the final meal of the day is served anywhere between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, the people of Spain generally eat dinner between 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm, sometimes even later. This leaves an awful lot of time between the close of the workday, usually 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm, and the final meal of the day. This is where los mesones come in. These establishments, with their drinks, tapas snacks and good conversation, help people pass the time in a social manner before supper and have thus become central in the lives of many locals.

Madrid is a friendly and extremely social city, and nowhere is this more apparent than at los mesones during el tapeo. Los mesones are much more than just places to eat and drink, they allow people to come together and socialize with one another after a long day. Many los mesones may look run down or even unappealing from the exterior, but do not let that deter you. Once you walk again you will immediately begin to feel the warmth and goodwill in the air, just as you will in each of the mesones throughout town.

The word “tapas,” the items served at los mesones, is Spanish for “little plates” or “samples.” These dishes are set up in the bar in a way that encourages movement. This is half the fun of visiting these friendly spots, allowing people to walk around the establishment and converse with each other, saying hello to old friends and meeting new ones.

After a long day touring the wonderful sites and attractions of Madrid, be sure stop by a meson at Calle Cava de San Miguel near Plaza Mayor for some tapas and sangría. It’s an experience that must be lived to fully appreciate, but once you do you will likely want to return to Madrid over and over again.