Don't even think about going clubbing without first visiting a few of the city's tapas bars, where well-to-do Madrid can be seen sipping aperitifs and nibbling choice morsels, talking and laughing enthusiastically. Local custom requires an aperitif or appetizer before dinner, and then a coffee afterwards - but no one says that everything has to be consumed in the same establishment.
Madrid locals’ bar- and café-hop with a vengeance, and you should, too! Los Gabrieles is worth checking out for its décor alone; this classy, friendly joint boasts some of the most gorgeous azulejos in town. Also worth a look is El Espejo, with its Art Nouveau decoration. A bit of wandering will turn up plenty of other inviting options.
One good anytime address in Chueca is La Sastreria, a stylish, high-design (orange and blue!) bar, whose offering includes a selection of excellent coffees and teas for those not in the mood for anything stronger. This place has it all, including higher prices if you take a table.
XXX Bar (c. San Marcos, 8) is a popular meeting spot in the heart of the Chueca. Locals gather here to reconnoiter before heading off to dinner and their late-evening plans. Despite its provocative name, it's just a pleasant neighborhood bar.
Baires Café (Calle Gravina, 4; +34-91- 532-9879; ), back in the Chueca, is a café/bar, with a slick, modern interior bathed in blue light and a hip crowd. It's popular both for pre-dinner drinks and late-night lounging. On Sunday nights, visit the Shangay Tea Dance (+34-91-308-4539), sponsored by the local gay paper and drawing a young, mixed crowd. Only in Madrid would a tea dance begin at 9 p.m. -- and it doesn't start to get crowded until just before 10:30 p.m. when the free passes available around town expire.
Liquid is a video bar (similar to Sidetrack), and located at Baroquely, 8. and Cool is a great dance club at Isabel La Catolica, 6. Strong Center is the largest dark room in Europe at Veneras Trujillos, 7.
Pop in for a drink at Why Not? (c. San Bartolomé 7); it opens around 10:30 p.m., but things don't get going until much later at this funky, subterranean bar that features good music and a mixed, friendly crowd. If you've still got the stamina to go dancing, Refugio (Calle Doctor Cortezo 1; +34-91-369-4038; 7 EUR), in its cave-like setting, is hottest on Friday nights. And remember, if you're in bed before sunrise, you're not getting the full Madrid nightlife experience.
Most of the bars and clubs revolve around Calles Infantes and San Marco. A couple of good addresses are the old and very classic Figueroa Café, whose great originality lies in the fact that it isn't a bit cool or crazy. Go there to play a game of billiards, to chat, and to chill out. Montero 33 is another interesting place. Its steely metal interior attracts a young, hip crowd and, because it's so totally mixto (gay and straight), it would be difficult to identify as a gay niche at all if you didn't know better.
Corazón Negro (CalleColmenares, 5) is the comfiest spot in Chueca, with a scattering of sofas, offbeat art that changes before your eyes (watch your waiter arrange a bizarre creation in between your drink orders), and a cozy but chic feel.
After, Ohm (Plaza Callao 4; +34-91-531-0132; Entrance fee from 12 EUR) is a classic gay dance party held at Salsa Bash every Friday and Saturday night, though the crowd is increasingly more mixed these days. If you enjoy house music, go-go dancers and good ambience, this is the place to be. Royal Dance Coolture (CalleIsabel la Catolica, 6; +34-91-542-3439; ) is held at the event venue/ballroom known as Cool, and is just a five-minute walk from Ohm. It is one of Madrid's nicest with two floors, sleek décor and retro lighting. The entrance and stairway alone will grab your attention as you come in. The crowd is somewhat mixed, with the greater majority being gay men on Saturdays. Don't stop there if the sun isn't up yet, go instead to Pasapoga (Gran Vía, 37; +34-91-532-1642).
A couple of fun Chueca-area possibilities are La Bodega de Roberta el Pirata -- a bar enlivened by passionate conversation and debate around the pirate ship that serves as the counter -- and Houdini, an intriguing place where magic shows and collective hypnosis séances play out in a truly fantastic decor.
If you haven't done so already, spend some time just admiring the city, appreciating the myriad fountains and ostentatious, Baroque architecture. After dark, the fountains are spectacularly lit. If you're feeling particularly classy, stop in for a sherry under the stunning rotunda at the Westin Palace . Restaurante Botin (Cuchilleros, 17; +34-91-366-4217; www.botin.es; 40 EUR) is the place to go for those who can't resist a Hemingway haunt. Both the food and service are excellent. Open since 1725, it's one of the oldest restaurants in the world.