Unless you're a regular (in which case, what are you doing reading this?), the service will probably be a bit indifferent, if polite - but that's not the point. You didn't come here to get pampered. You came here to enjoy one of the best literary and artistic cafés in the world. History is of such importance that in fact, the expanded name of the establishment is "Gran Café de la historia de España".
Opened in 1888, it quickly won itself a place in Madrid's political and artistic life by becoming the site of regular "tertulias" (informal group discussions on everything from art to politics) and also the favored place for scientists, writers and poets searching for inspiration. Among its customers were Santiago Ramón y Cajal (the winner of the 1906 Nobel Prize in Medicine) and later, writers and poets such as Camilio José Cela, Federico García Lorca, Antonio Machado, Rubén Darío and Pérez Galdós.
When selling the café in 1913, its original owner, Don Gumersindo García stipulated that the establishment not be changed either in its core business orientation or in its name. Apparently, the new owners honored the restrictions (and went further by not changing the decor that much) - the café is still basically the same as 100 years ago.
A colorful character named Alfonso sells tobacco next to the entrance - in fact, he did so for a big portion of the 20th century, as well as a smaller portion of the 21st century. Although Alfonso is not dead (at least, he wasn't when I visited last year), he is already commemorated by a plaque stating: "Aquí vendió tabaco y vio pasar la vida Alfonso, cerillero y anarquista. Sus amigos del café Gijón" [Here, Alfonso - a tobacconist and anarchist sold tobacco and watched the world (lit: life) go by. His friends at Café Gijón]. The story with that plaque jumping the gun by at least a few years was somewhat strange and probably not worth getting into, but suffice it to say that the past tense was chosen to assure Alfonso that his name would be written into Spanish history when he leaves us for a better place.So, come one afternoon, try to get a table next to the window, order your coffee or tea or whatever you want (Gijón is also a restaurant offering a complete dinner menu) and do what Alfonso did all those years - watch the world go by. It's fun!
Café Gijón is open until 1:30 am every day (3:00 am on weekends)
Address: Pº de Recoletos, 21. (Metro: Colón or Banco de España).