When visiting a city, the first thing you need is somewhere to stay. But that’s not what this post is about. Yes, the Palace and the Ritz are two hotels. Two centrally-located, comfortable, exclusive, classic, punctilious and perfect establishments. But the aim of this post is to help us understand why these two emblematic hotels, both located on Paseo del Prado, one directly opposite the other, have been such an integral part of Madrid for over 100 years.
Both were officially opened by King Alfonso XIII, the Ritz in 1910 and the Palace in 1912. The intention was to have two great hotels in Madrid that could rival the best in the world in order to provide accommodation for important travellers visiting the city. But throughout the last 100 years, they have been so much more than that: they’ve been the setting for intrigues, anecdotes, History and stories that will never be revealed (the discretion of their staff is one of their greatest assets).
One visits the Palace and the Ritz even when not a paying guest. One goes there for afternoon tea, as expressed by variety singer Lilian de Celis in her song Las tardes del Ritz: “though I live to be a hundred and six, I’ll never forget my afternoons at the Ritz”. A foxtrot with saucy undertones set in a hotel where an unwritten law existed for many years preventing singers and film stars from staying there.
In the 1950s, James Stewart was refused a room at the hotel, but he took advantage of his status as a Coronel in the US army and they were forced to let him stay. Needless to say, this rule was rescinded many years ago and, as a point of interest for all mythomaniacs, the Ritz is now one of the most popular hotels among celebrities. The list of famous guests is endless. The Palace never had such scruples towards its guests, so the biggest names have traditionally stayed there.
A large part of Spanish history was also written within the walls of the Ritz and the Palace. They were both turned into hospitals duringThe SpanishCivil War(1936-1939). On 20 November 1936, the leader of the anarchist movement, Buenaventura Durruti, died at the Ritz after being shot during a battle inthe CiudadUniversitaria area of Madrid.The Palace’s location opposite the Spanish parliament has always made it a focal point, but never more so than on the night of 23 February 1981, when the fledgling Spanish democracy was almost ousted during an attempted coup. The hotel became the headquarters for journalists and observers alike, as it was the perfect vantage point to see how the events would unfold.
These hotels have hosted so many famous persons. Some frequented both, such as the artist Salvador Dali, who was a regular customer in their bars during his student years atla Residenciade Estudiantes. A wonderful document exists bearing the letterhead of the Palace along with a sketch by Dali and a short poem by Federico García Lorca in which they ask a friend for money for Luis Buñuel, who was a little hard up at the time.
So many stories, so many anecdotes, so many fascinating events… But the most important fact is that both hotels remain protagonists of daily life in Madrid. Places to stay as a guest or simply have a drink, dine or enjoy their Sunday brunch. Places to dream. To dream or to daydream. And never a truer word was said.