Ava Gardner's Madrid

  • Mapa cultural ilustrado El Madrid de Ava Gardner


An illustrated map of Ava Gardner's Madrid There was a time, back in the 1960s, when the night air of Madrid was infused with the smell of Ava Gardner. That smell was a medley of alcohol, Chanel and tobacco, compounded by a whiff of sweat following a night on the town in some flamenco fiesta. Everywhere she went, the actress would leave that scent in her wake. Eva was even more beautiful when she was as high as a kite, and she was beautiful indeed in those nights in Madrid when she would exercise her freedom to the utmost, accompanied by gypsies whose clapping would ring out, as if being free was a spectacle in its own right.

If you hadn’t lit a cigarette for Ava Gardner in Chicote, in the Corral de la Morería or in Villa Rosa, then you were a nobody. But if you went looking for her in any of the watering holes she usually frequented, they’d tell you she hadn’t arrived yet, or she’d just left, or she hadn’t been there for a while. The pursuit of that elusive roe deer had marked out an itinerary in that otherwise grey and lacklustre Madrid where Hollywood artists making movies in Spain would hold white-tuxedo parties by the sides of mentholated swimming pools. Unlike them however, Ava Gardner was not a bird of passage. She had installed herself in this city where waiters, taxi drivers, valets, and beggars asking for handouts at the doors of flamenco tablaos would tell you that they had never seen a more beautiful woman, even with her mascara running down her face at the end of a bender.

She had arrived in Spain in 1953 to shoot the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman in Tossa de Mar, on the Costa Brava. She knew right away that this was an exotic country full of colourful people who would admire and protect her. In some of her first images, we see her descending from her Iberia flight in Barajas, a bouquet of flowers in her hands, or at the barrier of the Ventas bullring wearing sunglasses and a straw hat, or at a capea with renowned bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín. She would sometimes be seen with Hemingway or Orson Welles at the Cervecería Alemana in the Plaza de Santa Ana or at the Cock Bar with Sinatra, or perhaps at Oliver or El Comercial with some journalists or people from the show business world, but she always reigned supreme and on her own at Los Gabrieles in Calle de Echegaray, at the terrace on Calle Riscal, at the Florida Park or the Pavilion in El Retiro Park, and of course at all the flamenco tablaos. When she first arrived in Madrid, her lair was suite 716, the presidential suite of the Castellana Hilton. In the early hours of the morning, once the party was over, besotted admirers would gather by the elevator hoping for a last glimpse of their beloved. She then moved to a chalet called La Bruja, The Witch, in the La Moraleja neighbourhood and finally and most famously, to her spectacular penthouse duplex at 11 Calle Doctor Arce, where on many a night the guitars and the stomping of flamenco dancers threatened to bring the house down. In the mid-sixties, her light began to fade and then one day, in 1967, she moved to London and in Madrid the scent of her perfume gradually vanished into thin air.

Manuel Vicent (Villavieja, Castellón, 1936). In 2020 he published the novel Ava en la noche (Editorial Alfaguara)

Download the illustrated cultural map of Madrid in English (1.3MB) to discover all the places the renowned actress frequented.

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