Barcelona: More than meets the eye
Say no to cava and cervesa
There's hardly a shortage of bars in town, and on a warm summer's night it's difficult to resist the lure of the nearest free table and cold bottle. But resist it you should: chances are that one of Barcelona's finest watering holes lies close at hand, hiding its neon light under a bushel.
Take Coctelería Boadas, hard up against La Rambla and right in the eye of the tourist storm, it's dark, anonymous and overlooked. Barcelona's first cocktail bar, it was opened in 1933 by Miguel Boadas, who'd learned his trade mixing up Hemingway's daiquiris at El Floridita in Havana. The louche sophistication he cultivated survives: jaded roués and glam couples, all having a stylish stiffener in a triangle of deco panelling, rich with the patina of rare old nights gone by. There's no menu, each of the bar staff holding the recipe to 680 cocktails in his head.
These days, the supervisory presence is Miguel's daughter Maria Dolores, who, at 75, is an immaculately turned-out fixture. 'What we do here is like an art,' she says. 'I once heard my father say to an actor, "What you do on the stage, I do at this bar."'
A couple of left turns away is a rather more wholesome time warp - Granja M Viader, a family-run milk bar that's been lining local stomachs since 1870. Spain's leading brand of sickly-sweet chocolate milk was concocted here, but the current Viader signature drink is a Llet Mallorquin, an improbably successful blend of cinnamon, lemon juice, sugar and milk.
Just up the road lies the splendidly dishevelled Bar Marsella, late-night hangout of choice for the city's bohemians and, um, colourful street characters since 1820. As befits the ambience - cobwebbed bottles, peeling varnish, chairs that Picasso and Miró might have wielded in a bar brawl - the house speciality is absinthe. A glass of green death, a sugar cube and a box of matches: if you don't know how to combine these ingredients, you've most probably come to the wrong place.
Towards the docks, Barcelona's neat grid of boulevards fractures into a crazy-paved compaction of ancient alleys. Bar-crawling around here after dark is a navigational challenge: the key is to find the Carrer de la Mercè, and then stay on it. This tight cleft through the steepling old warehouses is clustered with bars that date back to the drunken sailor's heyday. La Sucarrena is a hole-in-the-wall sidrería whose USP remains as it ever was: drink anything you like, as long it's a large bottle of Asturian cider. The fizz-free scrumpy is a neat fit with the barrel-vaulted interior, and with the hearty tapas on offer, flambéed at your table with pyromaniacal relish. l Boadas Coctelería is open from 12pm-2am, Monday to Saturday (00 34 93 318 9592; Carrer dels Tallers, 1; Metro: Catalunya). l Bar Marsella is open from 10pm-2.30am daily (Carrer de Sant Pau, 65; Metro: Liceu). l Granja M Viader is open from 9am-1.30pm and 5pm-8.30pm Tue-Sat, 5pm-8.30pm Mon (Carrer d'en Xucla, 4-6; Metro: Liceu; granjaviader.cat). l La Sucarrena is open until 2am daily (Carrer de la Mercè, 21; Metro: Jaume 1).
- Boadas Coctelería is open from 12pm-2am, Monday to Saturday (00 34 93 318 9592; Carrer dels Tallers, 1; Metro: Catalunya).
- Bar Marsella is open from 10pm-2.30am daily (Carrer de Sant Pau, 65; Metro: Liceu).
- Granja M Viader is open from 9am-1.30pm and 5pm-8.30pm Tue-Sat, 5pm-8.30pm Mon (Carrer d'en Xucla, 4-6; Metro: Liceu; granjaviader.cat).
- La Sucarrena is open until 2am daily (Carrer de la Mercè, 21; Metro: Jaume 1).