The Hat, Madrid

Agreed: we all wanted to go back to The Hat, Madrid. Just for one night before flying home on New Year’s Day.

Why?

“Because of the Rooftop Bar!” says No. 3 (aged 10) wistfully.

“It’s shut in the winter”, I explain with a sigh, sipping my morning tea and thinking Like mother, like daughter – is that a good or a bad thing?

“Oh no – where will we have breakfast?” hungry No. 2 interrupts my internal incertitude.

“In the Cave!” I explain, dishing out some porridge.

Oooooh! That’s the cool place downstairs with loads of mirrors and funky lights!” No. 3 smiles at her memory of exploring The Hat with me.

“And the toilets with that giant basin.” No. 4 lowers the tone then sinks his spoon into the yoghurt pot.

A “Hostel”

A fluke find via Google led us to this hip hostel last August. Its slick and stylish website is balanced with a relaxed and warm inviting tone that makes you feel like Travel is the Only Option and Madrid is the Perfect Starting Point. Equally enticing are photos of bright and clean rooms with coolly industrial touches.

As I sat entranced by the images on my screen early last year, I reflected that hostels seemed to have changed a great deal since I was backpacking way back in the 20th century. But with a price tag that still spoke of hostel, it took just a couple of clicks for me to book a 6 bedded room at The Hat. 

Is there a catch?

Back to our chaotically uncool arrival in Madrid in the heat of the Spanish summer. Our car comes to an awkwardly abrupt stop right outside the entrance of The Hat. My husband tips out endless bags that are tinged with the beautiful red earth of Extremadura. With a snapped adiós he zooms off to park, leaving the kids and me in a sea of dust and bags on the pavement. The finale to a long old drive that’s best forgotten.

Dragging our disheveled selves and bags into The Hat, I note the hip young people hanging in the lobby, chatting, consulting guide books or smart phones, connecting with home via laptops. The airy space is contemporary and chic with suspended filament bulbs, funky murals, and clean lines. I sense my teenaged son shrinking back – his instant liking for The Hat’s ambience marred by the excruciating shame he feels for the shambolic family that dare name him as theirs.

I agree that we are a tad conspicuous, and perhaps out of place, but no-one cool cares and we are warmly welcomed by the smiling staff at the front desk. They are expecting us and help with our bags. One of the murals depicts a Hat with the words “Wherever I lay my Hat, that’s my home.” I start to relax. I like this place.

So far no catch.

The Room           

White sheets, big wooden bunk beds (by Spanish company Aaprile), a good-sized shower room and toilet. Each bed has a handy shelf with power point and night light, and ample storage – we lose No. 4 for a time inside “Storage for Bed 2”.

A gift of a lolly (happy kids) and The Hat canvas bag lies on each of our beds – the shopping bag being a reminder of the sustainability that keeps The Hat going (literally).

Eugenio at the front desk tells me: “Sustainability is one of the most important things for us.” Every light bulb is LED, and paper is used sparingly. But coolest of all is that The Hat is the first of Madrid’s hostels and hotels to run with biomass produced from olive pits and almond shells. Waste is also recycled as much as possible, and guests are invited to dispose of breakfast waste into three differently labelled big bins.

Up to the Rooftop Bar

The kids discover the Rooftop Bar first. Stairs leading upwards with tempting murals on the walls can only encourage a person to keep going.

We follow suit, grateful for the free beer we’ve been offered for booking online (the kids have a soft drink). And the inviting wall art is right – the Rooftop Bar is the place to be. We sit and sip, and gaze at the Spanish red roofs around us, and the blue, blue sky above us. Like the rest of The Hat, the Rooftop has a uniquely appealing design full of minimalistic retro quirkiness. It’s hot but chilled out up here. Central, but above all the tourist buzz on the streets and piazzas below. I can’t think of anywhere we’d rather sit to enjoy our first taste of the Spanish capital.

Others agree. This place is popular with locals too. We want to eat there after exploring nearby food market Mercado de San Miguel one night. After seeing the queue for the lift as we leave, I sense a reservation might be in order. I send No. 2 up to see what he can do.

Five minutes later he returns, breathless with his triumph. No tables left for tonight, he tells me. Seeing my downcast face, he rushes on: “But this really nice guy winked at me, and said if we turn up at 9pm he’ll sort something out.”

So we return at 9pm, and the really nice guy whispers to the really nice lady at the Rooftop Bar. Both are super busy carrying plates of delicious tapas, but the lady smiles and indicates that we should follow her as she takes an order to a table. She leads us through the throngs to a cosy little corner table surrounded by mirrors. We can see the entire Bar, and each other, no matter where we sit. Best table in the Rooftop Bar on this balmy Spanish evening – I congratulate No. 2 and tell him he has a great future ahead 😉

We place an order. Wine and juices arrive. Goat’s cheese with caramelised onions, ibérico jamón and bread soon follow, but our friendly waitress clasps her hand to her mouth with embarrassment when she sees that my order of gazpacho has been forgotten. She zips away, then returns not only with my food, but also with a bottle of wine from which she sloshes a deep refresher of cold white in my nearly empty glass. Siento, she says.

Breakfast

A buffet style breakfast to rival any other. Head up to the cool of the Rooftop Bar in the summer, and the cosiness of the Cave and lobby in the winter. Here’s what you will find:

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Once you’ve toasted your bread, choose between some divine jams and huge jars of nutella. There’s good coffee and hot chocolate, all sorts of fresh juices, cereals, seasonal fruit (great slices of water melon in the summer) and yoghurt. Luminous yoghurt – that is my only plea to The Hat: please ditch the yoghurt? 

Good for families?

Yes. The Hat lies in the heart of the city (as you will see on the freebie Madrid map offered to guests in the lobby).

A hop, skip and a jump brings you to the famous Plaza Mayor (but I’d take your tapas in one of the two streets stretching down from the hostel into La Latina’s foodie district: Calle Cava Baja and Calle Cava Alta). The Hat’s central position enables you to easily pop back to your room for a break from sightseeing or a siesta after a late lunch.

The engaging informality of The Hat enables parents to relax, and we all felt at home. Eugenio told me that the rooms lend themselves perfectly to families, and they also take bookings from bigger groups of families and friends. However, hostels aren’t all about dorms these days, and The Hat’s private singles and doubles are also popular with business people and couples. There’s even a Suite 2 Much with air con, tv, balcony and breakfast.

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Community-minded

This is a very young hostel with a self-assured air. The murals (by illustrator Yembara) speak to guests’ spirit of adventure, and the friendly staff clearly wish to share their space and their city. The local community is welcomed in with art exhibitions, book readings and English lessons, and more.

Advice is easy to come by: on the slick website, with the free map (above), and in person. I received an enthusiastically detailed email in response to my queries about where to eat on New Year’s Eve: names of tapas bars, best times to eat, as well as top traditional tip of eating 12 grapes of luck (las doce uvas de la suerte) as the clock strikes midnight (one for each chime).

Quick Hat Facts

  • A 19th century townhouse (redesigned by architect firm Jesús Manzanares), The Hat can house up to 208 people in 42 rooms (each one different to the next). There are dorms for 4, 6, 8 and 10 people, plus double or single rooms. Dorm beds cost between 20-25€ on weekdays and between 25-30€ on weekends. Double/single rooms are between 55-90€.
  • Entrepeneur Alfonso López Roldán opened The Hat on 4th July 2014. He knows a thing of two about travel, notching up trips to 55 countries so far.
  • Wifi is free and excellent.
  • Free walking tours are offered every day, and there’s more, though with kids in tow we weren’t up for free entrance to late-night clubs.

The Catch?

Only the luminous yoghurt. Armed with a memorable name, a functional but creatively chic interior, superb location, and a super sound ethos, here is a “hostel” with a brand and concept that’s hard to resist.

Go on…you know you want to. It just takes a couple of clicks….

Last word for food lovers

Madrid hosts a multitude of diversions, most of which are within very easy reach of The Hat. Earlier I mentioned one of them: the Mercado de San Miguel. Originally built in 1916, the market was renovated then reopened in 2009, and now showcases the diversity and richness of Spanish cuisine…

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I know there are other markets that shout out to be discovered, like the Mercado de San Ildefonso and others listed here, so if you’re tempted, you will probably need a siesta afterwards….and now you know where you can lay your Hat 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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