I’m a wine guy. Wine through and through. I love everything about it, and taste and drink hundreds, if not thousands, of wines a year. But like most wine people, I also love booze. (Well, and beer, but that’s for a different post.) We all love a good cocktail. Many a party have I been to where after many good wines has there been a group request for Negronis. Like a pitcher of them – sometimes you just need a cocktail!
I’ve really loved exploring the cocktail bar scene here in Barcelona. It seems fairly youthful in terms of its evolution, and it’s especially great to see young bartenders striving to make a name for themselves or their bar. They are all “dressing the part” with the crisp white shirts, fancy aprons with leather-straps, and those weird elbow band things (what do they do anyway?!). They all generally have good knowledge of the primary rule of bartending which is to make the customer feel welcome and warm. For the most part they like their flair, doing lots of twirling and tossing and the like, some more than others.
But like many nascent cocktail scenes with the young and energetic, many of the bartenders are trying to show off with fancy signature cocktails. Okay, fine, think you can improve on the classic? Go for it. I’m down with trying it. And when you succeed, you get my mad respect, for sure. But remember the second rule of bartending – your drink has to taste good! Balance, people, balance! So many (all?) of the signature cocktails I’ve had in Barcelona are just so damn sweet! Never mind the 8 ingredients, but why do you have to put in three of them that have sugar?! And if you’re using top shelf booze in it, why dominate that lovely flavor with other stuff? Okay, rant over.
There are definitely good cocktails in Barcelona, for sure. And bars that are beautiful cozy places where I want to camp out all night. (A local dive bar like I had at home – Mission Bar – I haven’t found yet, but that’s a tale for another post.)
So come visit! Check out our favourites! We’d love to join you!
Collage. Deep in the Born is this lovely cozy hyggelig spot with the friendliest set of bartenders around. The leather-strap apron clad bartenders have just the right amount of flair, and know to balance it with the first rule of bartending – make your customer feel comfortable. Again, stick to the classics. There are generally at least two barrel aged cocktails to choose from too.
Tuxedo Social Club. A speakeasy style spot that has just a button on the door, leading to a fake library with a hidden door that leads to a cozy tiny bar. Don’t worry, its not overly contrived. Due to licensing rules you must become a member, which takes 2 minutes and really is just about their two rules – no phone calls, and no pictures that include a person’s face. The boys that own the club, and who also pour the drinks, are super convivial and love nothing more than to explain the heritage of one of the drinks on their menu. They really only make classic cocktails here so don’t fear any sweet mess. Reservations essential on busy nights, which will soon be every night as they gain popularity.
Two Schmucks. One of the greatest neighborhoods in town is El Raval, home to more recent immigrants to Barcelona. A strong student crowd, lots of grit, and therefore some great bars! Two Schmucks was opened by two, well, um, schmucks who thought it a good idea to open a bar with no outside investors. Grit and hard work, and an ability to make awesome cocktails in a super hip environment. I guess the lack of outside investors allowed them to do crazy things like have a huge neon sign that says “cunts”. Truly. Can’t miss it. But the cocktails are amazing, staff and owners amazing, and the food is amazing! The food is very non-Spanish – fried chicken and waffles, biodynamic salads, ooooh. Do it. Oh, and on weekends they’re open during the day for serious day-drinking.
Bobby Gin. In a town full of bars serving GinTonics, there is an ocean of bad ones. Over-adulterated with weird extra elements (like essential oils!) that destroy the essence of a good GinTonic. But not at Bobby Gin! This lovely friendly spot in the heart of the Gracia neighborhood (go there not just for the bars, it’s a great neighborhood to explore!) has perfectly crafted GinTonics and super nice (and pretty attractive) boys working the bar.
Old Fashioned. Barcelona is all about the GinTonic. Gin everywhere. Unfortunately there is a dearth of Bourbon or Tequila focused bars. That’s where Old Fashioned steps in to fill the gap. Founded to focus on Bourbon, they also make cocktails with all spirits, but Bourbon is what I go for when I go there. Start with the classic Old Fashioned, of course (as it’s their namesake!), and move on from there. (And, um, who’s starting up the Tequila bar that is so so needed!)
Caribbean Club. Many cocktail bars in Barcelona limit their occupancy to the number of seats there are in the bar. This allows for close attention from the bartender and hopefully not significant waits for your cocktail. Caribbean Club, smack dab in the middle of the Gothic quarter is probably one of Barcelona’s smallest cocktail bars with just 16 seats. Focusing on rum (um, it’s called Caribbean Club!), go first for the Daiquiri, the test for all bartenders to check their skill. Then branch into one of their more exotic classic rum cocktails – don’t worry, none of them are sweet. A super fun and intimate spot.
Boadas. Okay, it’s only 10 feet off Las Ramblas, which is usually a serious negative. And it’s kind of threadbare. And the old bartenders are kind of surly. And the quality of booze is pretty low – they use Cinzano vermouth? That stuffs horrible. And they use bright pink, super artificial maraschino cherries – so 10 years ago. But the bartenders are in tuxes, the drinks are super strong, and it’s got this beautiful back-in-the-day feel to it that is so damn lovely and honest. Love Boadas! Though we call it Bad-ass in our house!
Spots worth checking out after you’ve tried the above
Dry Martini. You know those white lab-coat clad bartender places with the nogahide banquettes? That’s Dry Martini. But they’re not stuffy, rather the opposite – they’re super friendly. It’s definitely on the concierge list so there are lots of tourists and convention goers, but it’s still a decent spot, with pretty solid classic cocktails.
Paradiso (/Pastrami Bar). This was the first “fake frontage” speakeasy bar in Barcelona, and it’s not hard to see that the pastrami place out front isn’t really the place this is supposed to be. A bouncer (!) stops you and you have to wait 15 minutes to get into a place that about half empty. Maybe they’re pacing out entry so the bartenders can take their time? We were there for a guest barman, some famous guy from somewhere and unfortunately the cocktails we had were really sweet. Melinda got one that was in a glass the shape of a bird and she had to drink out of straw that was shoved through the birds ass. Novelty factor at least!
We need to give it another try, as the place is clearly very popular and the owners are super nice people.
Popular spots we haven’t liked too much:
Hemingways. Super cozy tiny spot in the Eixample, this place has so much potential! Energetic owners, great top shelf booze, hyggelig space. But ugh, too much flair and the cocktails are so sweet. Sitting at the bar is a recipe for distraction. The tossing and twirling of bottles could give you a seizure and the banging of mixing containers is really shockingly loud and annoying. And the cocktails we ordered were too sweet to be drinkable, and were served in crazy glasses with too many accoutrements, and took at least 10 minutes to arrive. We should probably give them a second chance and ask for a classic cocktail, but I think the flair and noise would still drive me crazy.
Solange. Sweet, awful, unbalanced cocktails, in a space more suited for Russian billionaires. Nuf said? Actually, can I tell you my cocktail had a melted chocolate rim? Ewww.