Director discovers an elegant jazz age-inspired hotel, set amid upmarket bars and restaurants (and a truly head-turning street sign) in Madrid’s Salamanca district
F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned tells the tale of a wealthy young couple enjoying their money and youth in jazz age New York. The casual hedonism in which they bask is not the sort of thing associated with Salamanca, one of the most upmarket districts of Madrid, but one known for a mix of shopping and seriousness; Armani, Gucci and Yves Saint-Laurent are all here, but so are many embassies and arts organisations.
But Fitzgerald’s novel serves as inspiration for Tótem, a new four-star boutique hotel in the heart of the district, aiming to capitalise on the area’s high times as well as high incomes. The restaurant and cocktail bar are nicknamed ‘the beautiful’ and ‘the damned’ respectively, with dishes and drinks paying homage to Fitzgerald’s work and quotes from the book decorating the walls. The hotel aims to become a destination venue for cocktail drinkers, with a target age range of 30-35 in the bar.
Not that Tótem is exclusively for late-night Long Islands. The manager Manuel anticipates a 50-50 business-to-leisure split in the guestrooms, designed for elegance rather than decadence. The wooden floors exude a warmth to match the Madrid weather and the light-soaked corner junior suite where Director stayed offered as much space as any business leader could need to both work and rest.
The area itself is adjusting. Shopping still dominates, but, explains Yann, the manager of Babelia Café, six new restaurants have opened on this tiny mews and its neighbouring street in the last few years alone. Babelia is bustling when Director arrives at 8.30pm for some international bar food (dried goat’s cheese, salmon sashimi with wasabi ice cream), though he says that it doesn’t really get going until around 10.30 when the DJ plays dance and disco and the atmosphere slowly shifts from food to drink and music.
Diners seeking more secluded eating should visit the French-inspired Hortensio in neighbouring Fortuny. This is a small but serious restaurant; the menu containing such classically rich delights as foie gras and oyster topped with caviar. Director tried both, before walking it all off in the still-luxuriant late-evening heat. Salamanca borders Madrid’s wonderful Buen Retiro Park. The northern end of the park is dominated by a boating lake, but the ubiquitous trees provide welcome respite from the relentless summer heat (locals tell Director it should count itself lucky that it is only 35°C).
The main shopping action is on Calle de Velázquez, Goya and Serrano. The last of these is said to be Spain’s third priciest street, and just off there sits one of the area’s most controversial features: Plaza Margaret Thatcher was named after the late prime minister in 2014 by then-mayor Ana Botella, wife of another former PM, José María Aznar. The sign was almost immediately vandalised and there were reports – officially denied – that her socialist successor wanted it renamed in honour of a gay rights campaigner. Beautiful to some, damned to others: Fitzgerald’s protagonists would drink to that.
Iberia flies to Madrid from Gatwick, Heathrow and London City from £62 return. Read Steve Yates’s review of his flight here. Other airlines that serve the Spanish capital include British Airways, Air Europa, easyJet and Ryanair. iberia.com
Madrid’s Salamanca district: accommodation
Rates at Tótem start at €145 (£126) per night for a double room, with deluxe penthouse rooms from €198 and suites from €308. totem-madrid.com