Like many definitely cool neighborhoods, TriBall—which stands for Triángulo de Ballesta—was once a district avoided by locals. In those days, this was a triangle of drugs and prostitutes in Madrid’s now-trendy Malasaña district. After 20 years of looking the other way, two entrepreneurs swooped in to transform the area and the brothels tucked between Grand Via, Corredera Baja de San Pablo and Calle Fuencarral into a booming barrio of restaurants, bars and boutiques, making it one of the best places in town to spend a day creating your own moveable feast.
A new favorite in the neighborhood, La Bicicleta is part café, part co-working space with cycling motifs scattered throughout. For those who actually arrived by bike, there’s a DIY bike corner complete with tools for any quick fixes you need to make. The café opens around 10 a.m., the time most people in the city think about heading to breakfast, and draws a crowd late into the night who gather both indoors and in the Plaza de San Ildefonso just out front, craft brew or cocktail in hand. While the free Wi-Fi, communal tables and lockable drawers make it a prime spot for freelancers, it seems like it’s a better meeting place than workspace with a soundtrack of soul and funk blaring through the café, and a menu boasting drinks stronger than just artisanal coffee.
A few doors down, Bodega de la Ardosa isn’t as hip as its new neighbors, but that’s not the point. The 19th century tavern is now run by a mother and son duo (mom’s the master chef) who whip up traditional tapas like croquetas and tortilla de patatas in a pub-like space. To escape the crowd, go under the counter and take a seat at one of the tables in the back. If you’d rather get caught up in the chaos, carve out a spot at the bar or huddle around one of the giant wooden barrels doubling as tables while sipping a glass of vermouth or one of the many draft beers the restaurant is famous for.
Walk down Corredera Baja de San Pablo toward Gran Via and you’ll come across the charming restaurant and bar Maricastaña, with its all-white exposed brick walls, and cozy, country chic décor. The lunch crowd flocks here on weekends, so the only way you’ll score a table is by reserving in advance. But most of the diners streaming in don’t seem to mind the wait, opting to pull up a seat at one of the high tops or the bustling bar and start with one of the trendier spins on tapas, like the pumpkin and ham croquettes or the diced tuna in soy and alfalfa sprouts. What’s great about the menu is that despite how gourmet the main dishes look and sound—like the confit of duck with apple sauce and pears in red wine—most of the plates hover at just around 11€.
Set on the same street, Gorila Café throws more city grit into its design with industrial-style lamps, exposed pipes and street art of gorilla heads and rhinos painted on brick walls. Vintage furniture and elementary school-style chairs add a café feel to the bar, known for its craft bottled brews and gin and tonics, which seems to be having a moment in Madrid. The four-hour happy hour goes on until 10 p.m., making the watering hole a favorite for locals stopping for a pre-dinner drink, since most meals at nearby restaurants don’t start until 11 anyways.
The narrow Bar Galleta, or cookie bar, pays homage to owner Carlos Moreno Fontaneda’s ancestors who founded Maria Fontaneda cookies. The desserts and décor also play on the nostalgia factor, aiming to transport diners to another time with items like mom’s chocolate cake, crafted with a cookie base. Fusing Mediterranean and world cuisine, the menu starts with shared plates of salmon tartar, prawn and cod carpaccio, and burrata with chips, tomato salsa and guacamole, then works its way into fish grilled à la plancha, cod-stuffed tacos and veal cheeks with fried yuca. Besides a sign on the wall with lights forming the words Bar Galetta, it’d be easy to walk right past the restaurant—until you realize the narrow space inside is packed. The spot’s full almost every night until closing time, with limited reservations for the few tables scattered around the room. Yet despite how busy it is, the servers are some of the most attentive you’ll find in the city (but still quick to remind you not to linger too long, since you only have the table until the next round of reservations).
A neighborhood teeming with nightlife wouldn’t be complete without an after-hours food option, and even this kind of TriBall eatery teeters more on the trendy side than the typical kebab or pizza joint. The gourmet grocery store Greek & Shop offers takeaway fare in the form of pitas and Greek pies that won’t leave you regretting this late-night decision the following day.
Top photo: Tonymadrid Photography, CC-BY
Lane Nieset is Paste’s Jet-Set Bohemian columnist and a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.