In Madrid, one could easily pile up a collection of ice buckets. Vintage Cubiteras, as they are called in Spanish, are everywhere. Many mid-century models combine materials such as lucite, chrome, brass, bakelite, leather or cork – stylish objects that are easy to imagine, on a pole within reach of Ava Gardner during their hard partying years in Spain in the late 1950s to rest.
Such enthusiasm is easy to indulge in in the Spanish capital, and not because people drink more (though they could) or have large apartments with extra closets (they don’t). Rather, it’s because El Rastro, the sprawling flea market that winds its way through a sizeable part of the city center, is always so well stocked with chic barware and other collectibles: books, furniture, china and ceramics, paintings and prints, vintage fashion and many more other things that you never knew you wanted to collect – often at bargain prices compared to other European capitals.
Located south of Plaza Mayor between Calle de Toledo and Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, the Rastro dates back centuries when the neighborhood was full of tanneries (curtidores). The name, which applies to the market and the neighborhood, refers to the “trail” (rastro) of blood that once stained the streets when animal carcasses were moved. The area remained a prime clearing house for the city’s offshoots. In the past decade, stores have gone from unheated Warren’s old furniture piled to the ceiling to gallery-like spaces with curated vignettes of beautiful, desirable items.
On the Sundays leading up to the pandemic, a sprawling outdoor market drew thousands of locals and tourists looking for antiques and visiting hundreds of stalls along the main streets and squares selling T-shirts, brand name underwear, flamenco CDs, plumbing fixtures, and more Handicrafts. The Sunday market closed in March and is now being brought back to life. In the meantime, the surrounding shops, which reopened in early June, have been given the opportunity to shine on their own (dealers and customers take the necessary safety precautions).
Despite the decline in foot traffic, many traders said the business had been stable. Some have converted old storage rooms into showrooms and most are open daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and receive customers by appointment. Shopping online is also an option, either through their websites or through Instagram feeds.
Rastro regulars have their own preferred routes through the dozen or so streets. However, if you don’t prefer to go uphill, start at the north end of the neighborhood, perhaps at Casa Josephine on Calle de Santa Ana, where furniture, ceramics and, lately, some groovy textiles from the 1960s, the line between rustic and art fancy. Nearby Olofane is a well-known source for lamps (from 80 euros), sconces, and other decorative lights that are restored in-house. La Recova has mid-century furniture, ceramics and glass from Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.
One block south, Calle del Carnero offers a particularly diverse mix of providers. Practically everything at Almoneda Txomin has amiable proportions in the country house style and the Art Nouveau thrives. A few doors down, the Andrés Serrano dealer is an important source of vintage porcelain and glassware.
Before the pandemic, strolling the Ribera de Curtidores on a Sunday morning was a kind of contact sport, and the crowd could be back soon. But from Monday to Saturday the tree-lined boulevard is wonderfully quiet, especially since the two biggest shopping destinations are pretty courtyards with several shops. The outstanding personalities at Nuevas Galerias include Pilar Ilusion, who sells glamorous vintage fashion and accessories such as a Balenciaga cocktail dress from the 1950s (€ 650), among other things, Spanish and international labels; and Verde Gaban, a Rastro newcomer with a wide range of nifty housewares.
Across the street, Galerias Piquer is a destination for local interior designers with around 20 stores. There are elegant Art Deco sculptures in Gorgona. Pan-European furniture from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries; and lacquered Asian chests (from approx. 400 €) at Isabel Martinez. You might also find these vintage ice buckets (50 to 80 euros) in Lagur and other elegant bars and crockery items in Juan Carlos Sancho.
Even if you’re in the market just for inspiration, a morning of window shopping in one of Madrid’s oldest neighborhoods, with its gorgeous tiled tavern facades, intricate iron balconies, and old-school workshops, offers a glimpse into the authentic soul of the city.