Madrid's Dani Brasserie Is One Bar Worth Traveling For
Some bars feel like home… but these aren’t just some bars.
Wanderlust is a condition with many potential causes. For some, it stems from cultural curiosity—an earnest attempt to know and experience a place other than their own. Merely seeing it is just window dressing. Sure, white sands and turquoise seas can make for enviable social media content, but it’s not necessarily going to satisfy a craving for interaction, for complete immersion.
For my money, there’s no more intimate way to spark this conversation than by getting to know the cuisine and cocktails of any given destination. You’re literally absorbing the flavors of the place—its smells and tastes. And these offerings are so frequently presented alongside personal accounts, delivering the sort of context that’s near-impossible to convey via Instagram posts. It’s difficult enough using actual words…
Yet, that’s the business we’re in. In an effort to spread the travel gospel, Thrillist Travel is launching a column spotlighting bars so amazing, so perfectly appointed, and so rich with local ambiance, they justify braving flight delays, long layovers, and even a hit to the bank account. These are bars worth traveling for.
First up: Dani Brasserie, an elegant, semi-al fresco outpost positioned atop the Four Seasons Madrid. The property itself occupies a 130-year-old cultural heritage monument in the heart of the Spanish capital, just a block away from Puerta del Sol. More on the hotel later—we’re here for the drinks and, most vitally, the vermut.
Vermouth acts as a modifier in some of the world’s most celebrated cocktails (we’re looking at you, Martinis and Manhattans). But in many parts of Spain, this aromatized wine is the star of the show, particularly during aperitif hour when it’s often served on the rocks with nothing more than a spritz of soda and a twist of citrus.
The Four Seasons showcases the cultural significance of the drink by stocking their very own proprietary label—or barrel, more specifically. Bodegas Barbadillo, located in Somontano de Barbastro, crafted an exclusive version of its Atamán Vermouth just for the hotel, which is kept in a sherry cask propped above the lobby bar. It’s a relatively dry offering despite the hints of cinnamon and orange zest characterizing its rounded body, flavors mined from a recipe unused since the 1960s. Up on the rooftop at Dani, these tasting notes pair wonderfully with the afternoon sun shimmering off the historic colonnades of Puerta del Sol.
But if you’re committed to enjoying Spanish vermouth in cocktail form, beverage director Raúl Navarro has just the preparation—or four—for you. The seasoned barkeep weaves the native juice into several numbers on the drinks menu. Known locally as the “bearded bartender of Barcelona,” Navarro most recently spent a six year stint behind the stick at the Four Seasons Kyoto. There, he honed a knack for the subtle compositions familiar to the Far East bar scene, working on inventive ways to rework standards.
My personal favorite is the Leyenda, a bitter-forward, slightly herbaceous tipple that riffs on the Tailspin.
“It's a seemingly simple take on the classic, but by replacing gin with agave spirit it creates a significant departure from the original,” explains Navarro. “This is a cocktail with strong personality and passion. At the beginning, the different flavors might have a strong impact, but after some sips, the different nuances give way to flavors you never imagined before.’’
It shines even brighter when served alongside another Spanish staple: acorn-fed Iberico ham. At Dani, the dish is prepared both traditionally—with a simple pan con tomate—or in funkier fashion, combined with a creamy béchamel in croquette form. Either way, “la hora del vermut” is an unforgettable one here as evening descends on the city and a warm breeze blows across the verdant outdoor space.
Through and through, the Four Seasons Madrid is an exceptional addition to the luxury brand’s global portfolio as well as to the landscape of the city itself. It is among the largest and most expensive hotels in all of Madrid (the most modest of its 200 guest rooms start at $700 a night). But it also had the misfortune of opening in September 2020 at the heart of the pandemic, and so it’s only now starting to hit its stride as a hub for high-end food and shopping. That status has been cemented with the opening of Galeria Canalejas, an adjoining collection of designer stores—plus a basement food hall—spread across more than 15,000 square meters.
While all that will surely tickle the fancy of travelers who allocate spare luggage space for trinkets, again, I’m here for the drinks. And for avowed beverage enthusiasts such as myself, the new Four Seasons is a destination in its own right. And its coordinates within the city gives way to yet another boozy gift: La Venencia—only the best damn sherry bar on earth—sits less than two blocks from the hotel’s lobby. What makes it so special? Well, that’s a story for another day.