Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Madrid: Eating in the Museums & La Libreria de Lavapies

La Libreria de Lavapies

Madrid's three most noted art museums are the Prado, the Thyssen, and the Reina Sofia. The Prado is huge and magnificent, with an enormous collection of mostly European art. This is the place to see the works of Goya and Velazquez, and important works by other great artists such as Bosch, El Greco, Raphael, Tintoretto, and Rubens. With a collection of over 8,000 works, and the capacity to display 2,000 works at any time, a visit to the Prado is certain to satisfy.

The collection in the Prado is limited to work through the 19th century. For more modern work, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen must be visited. The Reina Sofia is most famous as the home of Picasso's "Guernica." This masterpiece, an immense depiction of the attack conducted by Adolf Hitler and his ally Francisco Franco in the north of Spain in 1937, was kept outside of Spain during the long years of Franco's dictatorship. After Franco's death, and the restoration of democracy, the work returned to Spain, first residing in a special exhibition space, and then being moved to the Reina Sofia, where it can be seen today. Many other great Spanish modern artists, such as Juan Gris, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, are well represented here.

The Thyssen is a more idiosyncratic collection, as it was privately collected during the 20th century by the Thyssen-Bornemisza family. The collection contains artists as varied as Titian, Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, and Picasso. It holds over 1,600 works.

There are many sources available to guide you through these museums, but few of them will focus on one important aspect: the cafeterias. After an exhausting visit to the museum, or as a break in the middle, the cafeterias are an appealing option. The main advantage the cafeterias have is location.

In the Prado, the cafeteria is located in the main lobby. It is large, with many tables, and offers both a la carte options and a menu of the day. The food is very good here, if somewhat overpriced. The whole neighborhood is overpriced, though, so unless you are ready to travel before eating, you might as well have a bite here. The coffee is terrific. There are also tiny sandwiches which are very good.

At the Thyssen, the cafeteria is located in a glass room near the main lobby. It has a menu of the day and a bar where one can have coffee or beer, and sandwiches. The food here has never looked great to me. Somehow, the space seems unappealing. I've had a quick snack here, but every time I've gone in hungry, I've left without actually having a meal, deciding instead to try and find something else on the outside. They do make very good fresh squeeze orange juice.

The Reina Sofia has a new restaurant that is stylish and surrounded by glass and which looks very impressive. It is run by Sergi Arola, one of the great chefs of Spain. It offers cutting edge cuisine and runs from 70 to 90 euros per person for a meal. There is also an area where you can get food at a bar, small dishes like sandwiches, or even somewhat larger ones, like a cut of beef and french fries. However, I was not positively impressed when I visited. The space is large and impersonal, and even though there was room for many people, there were only tables for a few. The music was loud, and the food looked good. I opted not to stay, and took a walk around the neighborhood. There I found a place I can recommend without reservation.

That place was called La Libreria de Lavapies, also known as La Libre. A tiny place, tucked on the corner of Argumosa, selling second hand books in Spanish and English, it had a warm and welcoming atmosphere. We sat comfortably, ate delicious muffins and drank excellent coffee. We had bread with cream cheese and salad and hummus. We had fresh squeeze orange juice, made from organic oranges. It was a cozy and fun. It was everything that you could ask for in a place for a nice mid-afternoon snack.

Museo de El Prado: Calle Ruiz de Alarcon, 23, 28014 Madrid.

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Paseo del Prado, 8, 28014 Madrid.

Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia: Calle Santa Isabel, 52, 28012, Madrid.

La Libreria de Lavapies: Calle de Argumosa, 39, Madrid 28012. 91 527 8992. http://www.lalibreriadelavapies.com/

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