Go to Mamá Francisca enough times and you begin to be treated like family. As I walk in, Tarek, the bartender and staff manager, yells my name, blows a kiss and gets started on our Mojitos. They say that when you’re new to Madrid, you should try your best to become a “conocido” (or “regular”) somewhere—anywhere—and what better place than this delightful little Cuban corner.
Cuban owner Luisa María named the bar after her mother, Nena Francisca, who now reads fortunes at a competing larger Cuban bar, La Negra Tomasa. What Mamá Francisca lacks in size and fancy exterior, it more than makes up for in its lively atmosphere, delicious food and drinks, unbeatable prices and charming staff. Every now and then Regla, the restaurant Chef, will pop out of the kitchen with a dazzling smile and an impressive set of salsa moves. “I like to dance to add some atmosphere,” she says, “sometimes people here can be a bit dry, so I try and bring what I know from my culture.”
I ask Regla about the food and as she starts explaining it becomes quite clear that the menu boasts more or less every Cuban dish on the face of the earth. Regla jokes that I had better not steal her recipes as she disappears into the kitchen and quickly brings back a steaming plate of “arroz con gris”, a deliciously spiced-up mix of white and brown rice with beans. They are also known for their “Ropa Vieja”, or old clothes. Which, despite its name, is supposed to be a sumptuous saucy dish. The name comes from the way the meat is pulled and shredded before it is mixed with its typical sauce. “We make everything!” she laughs, “can you imagine? Everything! Ribs, tamales—do you know what tamales are?”
Over at the bar, Tarek practically flies back and forth, making drinks, running tabs and switching music. Saturday nights are always busy but he always makes time to stop, smile and say hello when anyone comes in. The drinks here are delicious. Try their signature Mojitos or choose from their vast tropical cocktail list. This list boasts the classic “daiquiris” and “piña coladas” but also has more adventurous choices such as the “passion colada”, the “green demon” and “Mamá Francisca’s Special”.
The tropical decor mixed with Cuban pop and salsa hits makes for a festive atmosphere. Tarek keeps the music flowing, occasionally showing series of Cuban music videos or a big football game on the television. The Salsa music makes it hard not to dance, or at least wiggle on your barstool. There isn’t a large dance floor, per se, but people always make room, especially when Regla busts out her moves.
The clientele is diverse and often changing, due to its location right in the heart of Madrid’s nightlife. Tourists often wander in, lured by the prospect of a free fruity shot. You will also see your fair share of regulars and of people stopping by for their Friday night Mojito. That’s probably where you’ll find me, at least.
Located just a couple of blocks from Puerta del Sol, Mamá Francisca is a perfect place for a meal or a couple of drinks with friends, or for a fun and tropical barhop stop around Sol. Even better, with “copas” at just 5 euro and cocktails between 5 and 7, you really can’t get any cheaper than Mamá Francisca. So next time you’re about to pay 12 euro for a mass-produced cocktail that tastes like fruity lip-gloss, stop yourself and head over to Mamá Francisca’s for a little taste of Cuba. You won’t regret it, I’m sure.
Calle Alvarez Gato, 9
Phone: 91 532 33 24
Hours: From 13:00 p.m. to 2 :30 a.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Monday.
Prices: Restaurant: Menu for 9 euro, Bar: 5-7 euro
By Chloé Rousseau