The best places for flamenco in Madrid
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
This article is part of a new guide to Madrid from FT Globetrotter
Raw, fiery and emotional, flamenco is an art form best experienced up close. And it’s in Madrid’s tablaos — dark, intimate venues where the audience gathers around a small stage — where you can see the country’s most revered artists perform just a metre or two away.
“You can see these artists in the most important theatres, but [you won’t be able] to listen to their breathing, see their faces, their sweat . . . And flamenco is mainly this,” says Juan Manuel del Rey, owner of Corral de la Morería, one the city’s oldest tablaos, and president of their national association.
Flamenco originated among Roma communities in Andalucía around the 15th century, fusing gypsy, Moorish and Jewish cultural influences, and became popular throughout Spain during the 18th and 19th centuries.
While southern Spain is where flamenco was born, Madrid has played a pivotal role in shaping its development. For emerging artists in the 1950s and ’60s, the capital was the place to be — with the newly established tablaos attracting the likes of Camarón de la Isla, Lola Flores and Enrique Morente. Madrid developed its own flamenco culture, becoming a hub for artists to test out ideas and hone their craft.
Flamenco can be tragic or celebratory, expressing the emotions of love, life and death through three core elements: dance (baile), guitar-playing (toque) and song (cante).
A typical tablao performance is one-hour long, normally with a drink included in your ticket, and the option to have light tapas or dinner beforehand. While there are basic structural elements to flamenco, artists have freedom within this to show their own style, to evoke the kind of spontaneous music and dance that springs up in family gatherings in flamenco culture.
“We want it to be a pure, intimate flamenco — flamenco de casa. There’s nothing scripted; from the beginning to the end it’s improvisation,” says Laura Abadía, singer and artistic director at Cardamomo. “The tablao should be like one of our fiestas, like when we [as gitanos, or gypsies] get together. And as our life is flamenco, it’s always at the centre of any gathering of family or friends . . . so what we want to do is project our life up there.”
The city’s tablaos are only now coming back to life after being hit hard by more than two years of Covid, with some historic venues, such as Casa Patas, being forced to close for good.
While the venues listed below do cater for international tourists (some, for example, offering sangria on arrival), the fact that the quality of the programming and performances has vastly improved across the board in recent years has helped to draw in more Madrileños and visitors from around Spain.
For the artists, tablaos are a place to experiment with each other, within the “codes” or shared language of flamenco. “The tablao is absolutely essential. It’s where you find out how much you know and how much you don’t know,” says Ana Romero, dancer and co-founder at Las Carboneras. “In the beginning it’s like being thrown into a pit. There’s a lot of provocation in flamenco, in a good sense. We work with the intuition and energy of each of the components — the dancing, singing and clapping. We want to offer art that is alive every night. We need it to be true.”
If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of that elusive duende — a transcendent state of emotion that takes over the artist, which the poet Federico García Lorca described as the “spirit of the earth”.
Small, intimate spaces like tablaos are where this mysterious magic is most likely to arise, says Antonia Moya, co-founder/dancer at Las Tablas, but that doesn’t mean it’s in any way guaranteed. “Duende either comes or it doesn’t . . . it’s when all the elements come together 100 per cent, creating an incredible energy. It’s something special.”
“Flamenco is visceral,” says Marisol Navarro, also of Las Tablas. “If it puts your hairs on edge, that’s what we’re trying to achieve . . . to transmit those emotions to the audience. If they feel something from the performance, then that’s what matters.”
Corral de la Morería
Calle de la Moreria 17, 28005 Madrid
Good for: A special occasion. This is one of Madrid’s most prestigious tablaos, with high-quality cuisine and service
Not so good for: Your budget — it’s one of the pricier options
FYI: The wine list is excellent
Prices: Dinner and show, about €98–€125 (dinner is €49.95–€77.95 depending on which menu you choose, and the show is €47.95). Just a drink and the show is €49.95
Performances: Daily. Dinner and show at 5.45pm, 6.15pm, 6.45pm and 9.25pm. Drink and show at 7.45pm and 9.45pm
Corral de la Morería is a family-run tablao with a rich history. Located in the city’s historic centre near the royal palace, this is where Andalucían guitarist Paco de Lucía played “Entre dos aguas” in public for the first time, and where a shy 13-year-old Camarón de la Isla would come at night to listen to flamenco maestros perform. John Lennon spent a night here, hanging back with the artists to jam together after watching the evening show. Salvador Dalí, a regular, once tried to come in with his pet panther. And yes, many of these feature in the framed photos on the wall in the entrance.
If you are looking for both top-quality flamenco and fine dining, this is an excellent choice. The Corral takes its gastronomic offering so seriously that it has a Michelin star, with menus by chef David García. When the current owner Juan Manuel’s parents — restaurateur Manuel del Rey and his wife Blanca, a celebrated flamenco dancer and now artistic director — founded the Corral in 1956, they combined their expertise into what, at the time, was a novel format: dinner plus flamenco performance.
For dinner you can choose from five set menus before watching the show. Another option is to try the chef’s nine-course tasting menu in the small, separate gastronomic restaurant, but best to arrange at least one or two months in advance as it’s often fully booked for weeks ahead. The tablao seats 140, with good views of the stage, or you can request a premium table up close by email or telephone.
Calle del Conde de Miranda 1, Madrid
Good for: Friendly staff, and flamenco artists propping up the bar
Not so good for: If you’re looking for an old-style traditional venue. This one has more of a contemporary style
FYI: They’re generous with drinks
Prices: Dinner and show, €78. Drink and show, €42
Performances: Monday–Saturday. Dinner and show at 6pm and 8.30pm. Drink and show at 7pm and 9.30pm
This tablao takes its name from the Convento de las Carboneras next door, a convent of cloistered nuns (also known for selling homemade sweet biscuits). The five founders, of whom three were flamenco artists, set up Las Carboneras in 2000, in the basement of the Palace of the Count of Miranda.
The idea was to set up a tablao with a more modern feel, says co-founder Ernesto Díaz, a Mexican who has lived in Spain for 30 years. Unlike some of the older venues there would be “no bull heads, or columns in the way of the stage” and, instead, bright lights so that the action was clearer to see. And flamenco artists Ana Romero and Natalia González (known as La Tacha) try to make every night different, with a show that is mostly improvised and a programme that rotates monthly.
It’s a fairly large space, with seats surrounding a square stage. At the back, regulars lining the bar are mainly flamenco aficionados and artists themselves who come to see their friends, says Díaz. This may account for the encouraging cries or jaleo (Olé! Toma! Así se baila!, etc) you’ll hear from the crowd as the performance is under way — all part of the experience.
Las Carboneras is generous: while one drink is included in your ticket, if you come as a group or in a couple you may well get the bottle — or a free refill — along with a tapa of jamón or cheese. There are also set dinner menus if you want something more substantial.
There is a large international crowd and, although more local residents have come through the doors since the pandemic (aided in part by promotion from Madrid city council), Díaz says his Spanish friends sometimes need some convincing to come along. But they always love it when they do: “They say, ‘I didn’t know it would be like this’ — I don’t know what idea they have about it [beforehand], it’s a bit odd.”
Calle de Echegaray 15, 28014 Madrid
Good for: An intimate, informal space that regularly attracts flamenco stars. A good one for children too
Not so good for: You may feel like a tourist, but this is still the real deal
FYI: I like sitting right at the front for the best view in the house, but keep in mind this puts you close enough to feel the swish of a dancer’s skirt or get hit with the odd splash of sweat, so watch your drink
Prices: Drink and show, €39-€49
Performances: Daily at 6pm, 7.30pm, 9pm and 10.30pm
Not far from Plaza Mayor is Cardamomo — a small venue with a big reputation for attracting a strong, diverse programme of flamenco artists, such as Raimundo Amador, Estrella Morente and Tomatito.
If, like me, you try to steer clear anywhere trying to pitch too hard to tourists, this place’s zealous promotion efforts might deter you, but don’t be put off. Since it was founded in 1994, Cardamomo has built up a reputation as a tablao widely respected by flamenco aficionados and as a training space for young artists.
The line-up of performers changes each month and shows are mostly improvised. Food isn’t the main priority here, but you can order a plate of decent Spanish cheese and ham if you wish, or opt for one of the set menus.
The driving force behind Cardamomo is owner Ivana Portolés, whose passion for flamenco culture has made the venue one of its hubs, offering support for developing artists and — before the pandemic put them on hold — classes for children, special events and art exhibits. Information about flamenco’s history and photos of artists who have passed through are up on display.
Inside the tablao, comfortable chairs at small round tables seat an audience of up to 85, with tickets priced according to proximity to the stage (some right up close, then leading back on a theatre-style raised floor), although visibility is good overall.
Tablao Flamenco 1911
Plaza de Santa Ana 15, 28012 Madrid
Good for: The Andalucían style and colourful tiled walls give this place character, and it has mythical status in Madrid’s flamenco scene
Not so good for: The up-close intimacy that you get in smaller venues
FYI: The tablao started life as an Andalucían chip shop, built on the site of an old chocolate mill
Prices: Drink and show, €39–€49
Performances: Daily. Monday–Thursday at 7.30pm and 9pm. Friday–Sunday at 7.30pm, 9pm and 10.30pm
With its striking façade of illustrated tiles and mosaics created by Sevillian tiler Alfonso Romero Mesa, this tablao lays claim to be the oldest in the world. Until recently known as Villa Rosa, the name immortalised in the tiles, it first opened in 1911. It became popular in the 1920s when Antonio Chacón, an acclaimed flamenco singer from Jerez, began to host shows here, bringing with him an entourage of fellow artists and fans.
This summer, the tablao found itself in a battle over the rights to its name. Forced to close during the pandemic, it had just been reopened in May by Ivana Portolés (who also owns Cardamomo a couple of minutes away) and flamenco dancer Antonio Canales. But the name had been trademarked by the previous manager, triggering a public callout for a new one.
Located on Plaza Santa Ana, with its lively evening buzz of drinks and chatter, this tablao feels Andalucían. Its arches and columns are reminiscent of Moorish architecture, and tiled walls throughout — protected by Madrid’s city council — feature illustrations of bullfighting and flamenco.
The space is fairly large, so it’s better to pay for seats closest to the stage for the best experience. Upright wooden chairs are aesthetically fitting to the venue, though not the most comfortable. A simple tapas plate is available for €16.
As to be expected for a tablao this old, it has lots of stories, notably that King Alfonso XIII apparently attended performances via an underground passage connected to the palace. It was also a regular haunt of Ernest Hemingway and featured in Pedro Almodóvar’s 1991 film Tacones Lejanos (High Heels).
Plaza de España 9, 28008 Madrid
Good for: Good value, no frills and a personal touch. And as it’s very small, a great view of the stage
Not so good for: While fairly central, the venue is a little hidden on the corner of Plaza de España, but fortunately building works in the area have now mostly finished
FYI: The two co-founders are flamenco dancers, who often take to the stage themselves
Prices: Drink and show, €32. Dinner and show, €66-€76
Performances: Daily at 7pm and 9pm
When flamenco dancers Antonia Moya and Marisol Navarro founded Las Tablas in 2003, they wanted to create a tablao suited to their own tastes, with the focus squarely on the artists and performance — something they felt was not always the case in venues they performed at around at the time (where rowdy audience members would be allowed up on stage or the space itself was too restrictive).
It’s a simple, modern-looking L-shaped room, so everyone is close to the performance — lower tables near the front, high stools and tables at the back. And as it’s a small venue, Moya and Navarro can offer a personal touch. “For example, if someone is coming with their elderly mother and we know her name and any small details . . . it’s good for people to feel well looked after,” says Navarro.
The “freshness, improvisation and the fact that it’s all created in the moment” are what make tablaos special, says Navarro. The most famous, successful artists tend to pass through these small venues when they are putting together a new show, adds Moya, as it’s a way to test their work in front of an audience and develop it further.
Like most of the tablaos, Las Tablas relies a lot on tourism (both international and domestic) but is lobbying for government support to make it possible to offer a lower ticket price for local residents — as without this support, which Moya points out is offered to national theatres, it’s not economically viable. This would also help to pull in a younger crowd, which they believe is fundamental to sustaining the future of flamenco.
Not tablaos but worth a visit
Centro Cultural de Flamenco
Calle del Conde de Xiquena 6, 28004 Madrid
Good for: This is an elegant, simple option. Traditional flamenco with no distractions
Not so good for: If you know that having a vino tinto will add to the experience, try one of the tablaos above instead
FYI: Cultural centres like this one are often a safe bet for flamenco stripped down to the essentials
Performances: Wednesday–Monday at 6pm, 7.30pm and 9pm
If you would rather skip the drinks and food altogether to watch an hour of traditional flamenco with no distractions, try this cultural centre in the neighbourhood of Chueca. It’s a small, simple space with theatre seating (max capacity of 54), so visibility is excellent and the acoustics are good, without the need for loudspeakers.
The centre is a relatively new addition to the flamenco scene, but its founder Rosana de Aza built on 20 years of experience running La Casa de la Memoria in Seville — also a cultural centre and a great place to see flamenco in the Andalucían city. The venue changed hands this year to new directors (and flamenco artists) Lisi Sfair and Pedro Córdoba.
The building is a recently restored 19th-century mansion, but the theatre space feels elegant and modern. In addition to flamenco performances, the centre also offers a varied cultural programme, with book and music presentations, flamenco fashion shows and art exhibitions. There are plenty of bars in Chueca for a post-show aperitif, and legendary piano bar Toni2 is just around the corner.
Calle del Pez 10, 28004 madrid
Good for: A theatre experience, with high-quality lighting and production
Not so good for: As a more structured show, it might not feel as “free” or improvised, but for impact and the wow factor it’s a great choice
FYI: Keep an eye on the website for upcoming special guests and one-off events
Price: Drink and show, €35
Performances: Daily at 6pm and 8pm
In the heart of Malasaña, this was the first theatre to offer a full programme of flamenco in Madrid, and despite its larger size still manages to offer a level of intimacy akin to a tablao — with candlelit tables and chairs.
The theatre puts on a daily show called “Emociones”, so there’s a regular programme but artists change every week, which keeps it fresh. There are also special one-off performances and event series. For example, on some Sunday afternoons the venue hosts “domingos de vermut y potaje”, inspired by a tradition from a festival in Utrera in Seville. Guests are welcomed with a glass of vermouth for a performance featuring flamenco music, dance and conversation, all centred around the cooking of potaje (stew) on stage, which is served up afterwards.
With high production values, the theatre setting allows for ramped-up drama, such as amplifying the rapid toque of a solo guitarist, and maximising the splendour of a dancer’s elaborate bata de cola dress as it sweeps across the stage in a smoky haze of coloured lights.
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