Of all the neighborhoods in Madrid, without a doubt one of the most emblematic is Universidad, or Malasaña, as it’s more commonly known. A bastion of hipster culture and fashion, this neighborhood is bursting with small boutiques, vintage clothing shops, bohemian cafés and alternative bars and nightclubs. Although often compared to somewhat similar neighborhoods in other European cities such as Camden Town in London or Bairro Alto in Lisbon, Malasaña has a distinct flavor all of its own; a mere stroll through its narrow streets in the afternoon — or especially at night — attests to its unique vibe.
Namesake Manuela Malasaña
The neighborhood receives its name from one of its former residents — Manuela Malasaña — a young woman who was killed during the popular uprising against Napoleon’s troops on May 2nd, 1808. There are several versions of the exact circumstances surrounding her death, although one of the most accepted accounts tells that the young Manuela was arrested and executed for bearing a weapon in the street, when in reality she was merely carrying the scissors she used to carry out her trade, as she was a seamstress. Whatever the case may have been, she would later be considered a heroine by the neighborhood’s residents and revered as somewhat of a folk hero. Originally known as Barrio de Maravillas, the area would later become known as Malasaña.
La Movida Madrileña
Close to two hundred years after the Napoleonic invasion, Malasaña once again played an important role in the history of Madrid. During the late 1970s and 1980s, the neighborhood became the epicenter of the cultural movement known as La Movida Madrileña. Upon the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Spaniards began to enjoy social liberties to an extent which had been unimaginable during the fascist regime. This newfound freedom gave free rein to creativity, resulting in new trends in music, cinema, fashion, and so on. This gave rise to figures such as the famed film director Pedro Almodóvar, singer Alaska, and a whole host of others.
Right in the center of the neighborhood is the Plaza 2 de mayo, a public square named to commemorate the events of that historic day. A rather large open space, it serves as a gathering place for those meeting in the neighborhood. Right in the center of the square is a monument which consists of the original arched doorway of the former military barracks, as well as representations of Luis Daoíz and Pedro Velarde, artillery captains who participated in the popular revolt which took place.
As far as nightlife is concerned, perhaps the most emblematic bar in Malasaña is La Vía Láctea (the Milky Way), which is located on Calle Velarde, 32, adjacent to Plaza 2 de mayo. Opening its doors in 1979, itis one of only two bars from La Movida in the neighborhood to remain open after all these years. La Vía Láctea was founded by Marcos López Artiga, who styled it after musical bars in New York.
Among the many cafés in Malasaña, one of the most well-known is Pepe Botella. Located right on the square, this café opened its doors over twenty years ago. Open from 10am to 2am, this is an excellent place to have a coffee in the morning, a light snack in the afternoon, or a drink in the evening.
Of the many restaurants in the area, perhaps the most unique is Ojalá. Despite offering a varied and delicious menu, what really calls your attention is that the downstairs dining room floor is sand! Being that the decoration is so unique and the food rather tasty, this is a spot you won’t want to miss next time your in the neighborhood.
Past, Present, and Future
After hundreds of years of history, Malasaña still forms an integral part of life in Madrid. Only time will tell what role it may play in the future..