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December 15, 2017
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Best Kept Secrets

Benny Room, Madrid. Photograph by Erin Ridley.

Tourists in Madrid tend to flock towards the main sightseeing magnets, such as Puerta del Sol, and key shopping hotspots like Calle de Serrano and Calle de Preciados. However, style mavens and adventurous trend dabblers know better. Instead, they go to the often-overlooked clump of traditional barrios, which are centrally nestled between Gran Vía and Alonso Martínez. Here, residents push boundaries socially, as well as in their fashion and lifestyle choices.

The conglomerate of neighbourhoods offer a mishmash of names, but "Soho of Madrid" probably serves as the most all-encompassing, albeit rather uninspired, moniker. Whether its namesake comes from New York City (SoHo) or London (Soho), its up-and-coming vibe, liberal slant and healthy helping of fashion likely contribute to the flattering nickname.

Renowned for being a gay-friendly, forward-thinking district, Chueca is the most iconic barrios in this area. Overlapped by the nearby Justicia, these progressive neighbourhoods offer a varied collection of everything from couture clothing to sex shops and funky restaurants. Occasionally racy? Sure. But consider it as a little spice for the sweet finds you'll score in nearby stores and hangouts.

Freedom of expression was the name of the game, and endless boundaries were pushed.

A short walk across the main shopping avenue of Calle de Fuencarral will lead you towards the equally eclectic Malasaña. Officially called Universidad, the barrio fittingly got its rebellious jumpstart from the young Spanish seamstress Manuela Malasaña. Legend has it that she was assassinated for wielding a pair of scissors whilst the French troops were trying to rape her during the uprising on May 2, 1808. Her youthful, rebel-with-a-cause mentality left such a strong impression that she became a local heroine and her name stuck. Although this neighbourhood is unique, the alternative creative culture leads many to align it with Shoreditch in London and the East Village in New York City.

But it was the La Movida Madrileña movement that most notably gave Malasaña its artistic and edgy flare. The cultural turning point began after the death of long-term dictator Francisco Franco in 1974. During the '80s, the post-Franco counterculture movement ushered in a new generation that redefined Spanish identity after the constraints of nearly four decades of dictatorship. Art, music, movies and even drugs; freedom of expression was the name of the game, and endless boundaries were pushed. Unsurprisingly, locals still encourage this mindset.

Oliphant. Photograph by Erin Ridley.

These days, the roots from that era still run strong through the classic cobbled "Soho" streets, where everyone from hipsters to hippies define an environment that doesn't always fit within traditional Spanish norms. As such, local shops and hangouts scattered across the barrios reflect the still-alternative mindset. From fashion to art, books and wine, residents of this area define a Spanish lifestyle that is worth getting to know - if not embracing.

Get in the modern Madrileñian state of mind by checking out this collection of the key shopping hotspots and hybrid hangouts.

Shops

Oliphant

Calle de Santa Teresa 7, 913 193 594

Ladylike types get their style fix at this girly shop located in the Justicia neighbourhood. Across two floors, this quirky store sells its own line of vintage-inspired jewellery, along with a mixture of designer clothing. Head downstairs to get your hands on even more clothes, as well as children's attire and various homewear pieces like dishes and furniture.

El Ganso

Calle de Fuencarral 2, 915 235 437, and Fuencarral 20, 915 224 759

This uber-Spanish brand tends to skew towards the popular preppy look that the locals are obsessed with. Think plaid and primary colours, all embellished with a generous splash of posh. And with two locations in the Chueca area, you might just find yourself visiting the shop twice.

Malababa

Calle Santa Teresa 5, 912 035 951

If you're eager to splurge on high-fashion Spanish leather, then Malababa has got it for you in spades. Oozing with modern clutches and androgynous laced kicks, the local brand also sells other irresistible accessories, like hats, jewellery and knits.

La Realidad. Photograph by Erin Ridley.

Benny Room

Conde de Xiquena 17, 917 022 529

This boutique shop offers a lustworthy selection of international designer brands, ranging from angular dresses to fringed boots and floral tops. If you've still got room for more, head down the street to Benny Room's sister store, YUBA, which caters to both men and women.

Scotch & Soda

Calle del Barquillo, 38, 912 900 012

Although it is originally from Amsterdam, Scotch & Soda's swoon-worthy clothing shop in Madrid is worth perusing. With only a handful of official stores, the Dutch line isn't the only international brand worth staking out while in this area though; just down the way, Marc by Marc Jacobs awaits.

Hybrid hangouts

Tipos Infames

Calle San Joaquín 3, 915 228 939

One of the most talked-about joints in this part of town is this bookstore meets café meets wine bar. Just over a year old, Tipos Infames buzzes with bookworms from across the globe, whilst locals sit chatting over a glass of carefully chosen wine. At night, the shop often comes to life as a new art exhibition debuts in the downstairs gallery. Beyond the cool factor, the industrial-chic atmosphere makes it an ideal place to relax or find inspiration whilst free WiFi offers an opportunity to spread your creative net.

Do. Photograph by Erin Ridley.

La Realidad

Corredera Baja de San Pablo 51, 915 328 055

When a regular coffee shop or restaurant won't do, there's always La Realidad, where every few months a local artist covers the walls with a different funky creation. More than just decoration, the temporary urban masterpieces are meant to be interactive, such that customers can participate by adding a colour, or even text. Between the quirky rotating artwork and the promise of a line of micro poetry at the bar, it's hard for culture lovers to stay away.

DO

Fernando VI, 13, 913 106 217

Art, design and fashion - DO seeks to integrate all these passions into one modern, homely space. The shop features clothes, a rotating art gallery and even a café at the front, should you wish to mull over everything with a cup of tea.

Válgame Dios

Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 43, 917 010 341

Dine or grab drinks at Válgame Dios while drooling over the delectable wardrobe combinations that hang from the walls like fine works of art. As one of the new extra-fashionable destinations to sip on cocktails, don't be surprised if you end up rubbing shoulders with a Spanish someone that you didn't even realise was famous.

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