The Spanish Game (Alec Milius 2) - Articles

Walking tour from www.undergroundmadrid.com

People who have read my novel, The Spanish Game, a spy thriller set in Madrid, ask if the bars and restaurants visited by the hero, Alec Milius, really exist. The short answer is: yes.

Here’s a chapter-by-chapter guide to the book. Think of it as a walking tour of Madrid with me in tow – only I’ll be stuck in west London while you’re eating tapas and sinking glass after glass of Ribera del Duero. Suerte.

Chapter One: Alec meets his lover, Sophia, at the Hotel Reina Victoria in Plaza de Santa Ana. The Spanish Game is set in 2003, before the Reina Victoria underwent a complete refurbishment. There were rumours that this legendary bullfighting hotel was going to be turned into a Hard Rock Café, but I’ve just had a look at their website and thankfully it looks as though this hasn’t happened. There’s a beautiful sculpture of Lorca outside the Teatra de Espana at the bottom end of the square.

Chapter Two: I used to live at Calle Princesa 16, just to the west of Plaza de Espana. By coincidence, Alec lives there to – on the fourth floor. There’s no plaque.

Chapter Five: Alec and his friend Saul play a game of chess at Café Commercial, a great Madrid institution, situated at the junction of Carranza, Fuencarral and Luchana, right beside Bilbao metro. If you go upstairs, most evenings during the week you’ll find old men playing chess on the first floor, and they probably won’t mind if you ask for a game. Non chess players will prefer the main café itself, which is at its best in the mornings and early evenings. Try to make one of the waiters smile. You could be there for a while…

Chapter Six: Alec and Saul have dinner at a fantastic Galician fish restaurant called Ribeira del Mino on Calle Santa Brigida, just off Fuencarral, about five minutes walk from Café Commercial. They do great pimientos de pardon, and a house speciality of prawns, razor fish and crab piled eight inches high on your plate.

Chapter Seven: Then they go for a drink at Pez Gordo, in Malasana. You’ll need a street map, but it’s only about ten minutes away, heading south-west. Alec mentions that he once saw Pedro Almodovar in here, which I did. Saul says he’s over-rated as a director. Which he is. By the way, if you turn left and immediate right out of Pez Gordo, there’s a fantastic nightclub – El Perro – in a basement opposite the church.

Chapter Fourteen: Alec agrees to meet the Basque politician, Mikel Arenaza, in Museo Chicote, arguably the most famous bar in Spain. This is largely because – like most bars that are famous in Spain – Hemingway drank there. It’s on Gran Via.

Chapter Fifteen: Most mornings while living in Madrid I went for breakfast at Cascaras on Calle Ventura Rodriguez, where Alec has his first meeting with the Basque journalist, Patxo Zulaika. It’s just down the road from his/my apartment on Princesa. They do the best caña I’ve ever tasted. Maybe that’s because I was tasting it at 9 o’clock in the morning.

Chapter Sixteen: This is the bit of the walking tour most people might choose to skip. Peñagrande, the suburb where Alec stakes out Arenaza’s mistress. Believe me, there’s nothing to see here. The bar is based on a real place, but I’m not going to tell you where it is. You have better things to do.

Chapter Nineteen: The Irish Rover. A big Irish pub near the Bernabeu. Apparently David Beckham used to go there for a pint every now and again. I never saw him. It’s big. It’s Irish.

Chapter Twenty-Three: This is a great thing to do on a hot day. Head to Lago metro station in Casa de Campo and have lunch at one of the outdoor restaurants beside the lake. Alec and Bonilla, a private investigator, have lunch at Urogallo, where the food is excellent. Afterwards, you can go rowing on the lake itself, or have a swim at the two huge outdoor pools nearby.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Alec tracks Abel Sellini to the Hotel Carta off the Castellana, a few blocks north of Plaza de Colon. This place exists, but I changed the name for legal reasons. (To the best of my knowledge, doormen at the Villa Magna hotel don’t accept bribes in return for information about paying guests…)

Chapter Thirty-Five: Alec orchestrates a meeting with Carmen Arroya at a bar opposite the Alphaville cinema on Martin de los Herros. The bar isn’t named in the book and, to be honest, I can’t remember which one I set the scene in (there are about five of them all in a row on the south side of the street). Next time I’m in Madrid, I’ll check it out.

Chapter Thirty-Six: Alec and Carmen go on a date to Huertas and have tapas at the Cerveceria Alemana in Plaza de Santa Ana, just a stone’s throw from the statue of Lorca. Hemingway used to drink there.

Chapter Forty-Three: Alec has just beaten up Carmen at her apartment in La Latina. He runs into a bar near Plaza Mayor with a sign outside saying “Hemingway never ate here”. This is my favourite sign in all Spain.

Chapter Forty-Four: Finally, he ends up in Bocaito, on Calle Libertad, just to the north of Gran Via in Chueca. The tapas here is fantastic, but you’re better off eating at the bar rather than taking one of the tables at the back. If they suspect you’re a tourist, they’ll treat you like one. I once tried to get a free dinner by telling the manager that I’d publicised his restaurant in the Spanish Game. He smiled, brought me the visitor’s book to sign, then handed me the bill…