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Four volumes of SUITCASE Magazine, with a new issue delivered to your door each quarter
The striking 70’s exterior of Balius Bar in El Poblenou hails from the building’s days as a hardware-come-drugstore run by the local Balius family. Today, the neighbourhood hangout – locals still outnumber tourists – retains a nostalgic feel thanks to the traditional nineteenth-century hydraulic floor tiles and unpretentious cocktail and small-plate menu.
After spending many hours waiting in laundrettes, Gerard Navas and Marta Pérez decided to open Eixample’s LaBar, part launderette and part bar. To the combined smell of coffee and fabric softener, locals hang out while their clothes spin – although anyone is welcome, of course. Musicians perform every Thursday evening while emerging artists such as Lidia Anaut grace the brick walls.
Hotel bars weren’t a thing in Barcelona, until now. By day, Libertine in hotel Casa Bonay is the ideal spot for a breakfast meeting or a casual lunch, but by night the music is cranked up a few notches as people swap Japanese tea for cocktails. With pine-green walls, overhead brass lighting and rattan tables and chairs, the space exudes old-school Barcelona glamour without a hint of pretension – hotel owner Inés Miró-Sans wants patrons to feel like they’re in their own living room. Jazz musicians set the soundtrack at the weekend. Settle into a sofa for a quality nightcap or head next door to new club Nice to dance until the hotel’s breakfast menu rolls out.
Just off La Rambla, this bar is by no means a secret spot. But if you want to grab a drink in one of Barcelona’s most famous and beautiful squares, Plaça Reial, make sure it’s at Ocaña. This spacious bar and club serves up some of the best cocktails in the city in a beautiful setting. Inside it’s moody and romantic with red and pink-washed walls and dim lighting, but it’s all about the terrace here where large wooden tables spill out onto the plaza.
A small bar down a side street in El Born serving up specialty cocktails. A favourite amongst tourists and locals alike, the bar is split onto two levels with a large, well-lit bar on the bottom and a hidden mezzanine on top with around four tables with leather armchairs and stools. Lighting is low as is the music, so you can hear yourselves think. The place is pretty small with space for a table of four or five max, so best to keep this one intimate.
If you’re tired of dive bars and cheap beer and craving a bit of glitz and glamour, head to the upmarket cocktail bar Boca Chica. Housed on two floors above the restaurant Boca Grande, this bar has an old-world, colonial feel with stag heads, elephant tusks mixed with Persian carpets and old vintage photographs lining the walls. There’s a charming summer terrace for smokers and the craziest bathroom – where you’ll find a DJ booth, photo booth, wall of mirrors and bar – breaking the seal has never been more satisfying. Ask someone from Barcelona and they’ll probably use the word ‘pijo’ to describe it meaning posh or preppy so expect high prices, doormen and one of the only spots in the city where you will see stilettos. Open until 2AM.
Once a haunt of Picasso and Hemingway, this absinthe bar is one of the oldest venues in Barcelona and its antiquated charm seeps out of the walls. With its vintage bottles, chandeliers and constant hum of Catalan voices, it’s no wonder Woody Allen chose to shoot a scene from Vicky Cristina Barcelona here. When you ask for an absinthe they’ll give it to you in a tall glass with a sugar cube, spoon and bottle of water with a perforated top. Place the sugar cube on the spoon and pour the water over the sugar cube slowly, watching the green liquor turn white and milky. It’s a classic absinthe ritual and adds to the charm and experience (and stops you looking like an absinthe newbie).
The reason Apolo is on every tourist guide to Barcelona is because it has one of the best music programmes in the city, playing everything from hip-hop to dubstep and techno. It’s made up of two venues, Apolo 1 and Apolo. The former is a more dramatic theatre-like setting with high ceilings and red velvet and the latter a smaller, darker and edgier room with a great sound-system. It’s important you check the programme as Apolo club nights vary drastically – one night you’ll have a renowned international DJ, the next a burlesque night and the following a dancehall star from Jamaica.
As surprising as it sounds, Manchester Bar is filled with young Catalans. It’s a small dive bar in Raval where trendy locals congregate on small wooden tables and chairs to drink €1.50 beers and cocktails named after Manchester greats. On the weekends you’ll find the place packed with people dancing wildly to music from North West England. We’re not kidding.
The counterpart to restaurant Bar Brutal, Can Cisa is an informal bodega-style wine bar that attracts a cool, young crowd of locals and tourists alike. They stock 300 wines, all from organic or biodynamic producers around the world without chemicals or additives (read: less of a hangover). Pull up a seat at the cosy bar or take a pew at one of the wooden tables to enjoy some of their Venetian-style sharing plates. Owned by the twin brothers behind Xemei, arguably Barcelona’s best Italian, the food here is excellent. The kind of place you can put a couple of bottles of wine away without anyone batting an eyelid.
Betty Ford’s is a favourite among trendy locals – a lively, atmospheric bar playing hip hop and soul and serving up cheap (but delicious) cocktails and one of the best burgers in town. The music is good, the lights low, the people attractive – and if you stay late you’re almost guaranteed to make some new friends.
Located in northern Barcelona, on a corner of the young, laid back neighbourhood of Grácia, you’ll find an even more laid back Cuban bar. Raïm has stood its ground for over a century and is still packed every night of the year (yes, they’re open all 365 days). Every inch of Raïm’s peeling walls are covered with paraphernalia from Cuba; black and white photographs of musicians, film posters from Havana, flags and even some token dust. Come for a start-of-night drink with friends or on a date set to a salsa soundtrack. Bring cash as they don’t accept cards.
For electro-heads, Moog is the club you have been looking for; a slightly edgier option in comparison to the more mainstream favourites of Apolo and Razzmatazz. Moog is a club dedicated to electronic music playing everything from house, drum ‘n’ bass, trance and classic techno. Wednesday night is the big night here when major international techno DJs come to play. The rest of the week (it’s open every night) sees lesser-known Spanish DJs and other upcoming international stars introduced to a Spanish audience.
Cava has a reputation for being cheap and somewhat nasty (at least, in the UK) but the real stuff is in fact a serious contender for Champagne. Named after the Catalan word for the homemade sparkling wine that it serves, El Xampanyet is the place to come for a glass of fizz in Barcelona. And despite being located beside the touristy Picasso Museum, the bar pulls in locals from lunchtime onwards everyday. It’s a quirky space lined with colourful Modernist tiles, wooden barrels and antique curios. Come here with a friend or two (it’s a small place and gets crowded so is not suitable for big groups) and order a litre of the good stuff.
We have found the perfect terrace in Barcelona. A hidden jungle at the Cotton House Hotel (a colonial-style hotel where Kendall Jenner stayed) with huge palms shading wooden tables and rattan rocking chairs. Open from 7AM to 12AM, come here for a juice in the morning, an afternoon beer or a sundowner cocktail. Expect prices that keep out the masses (around €12 for a cocktail).
The two main clubs in Barcelona are Apolo and Razzmatazz. The latter is the bigger of the two, located in a maze-like ex-warehouse in Poblenou and spread over five floors. It’s essentially five clubs in one, with indie rock at the Razz Club, techno at The Loft and Lolia and electro, pop and the occasional hip hop track at the Rex Room and The Pop Room. They host international performers and DJs (think Fatboy Slim and Breakbot) so check the line-up to see who is playing that week. Be prepared to fight your way through huge amounts of people and to sweat, like a lot.
Hidden in plain sight just off Las Ramblas, this art deco cocktail bar is the oldest in the city and caters to an older, more affluent crowd. Bar staff are bow tied and traditional, with the bowing and scraping air of the place’s 1930s beginnings. A patchwork of art, letters and newspaper clippings cover the walls – among which the most eagle eyed of drinkers will spot a couple of Miro sketches.
All under the same management, this trio of speakeasies specialises in eccentric cocktails with a clandestine setting. The most lauded sibling is Paradiso, into which you enter through the fridge of a functioning pastrami bar. Once inside, try to secure an invite to the inner sanctum of the private room – a secret bar within a secret bar. For less of a line, head over the plaza to the smaller Dr Stravinsky, or cross town to el Raval’s La Confiteria, named for its residence in a former sweet shop.
Forget the sticky floors and plastic cups of most of Barcelona’s late night haunts. At boutique hotel, Casa Bonay’s, brand new, design led music venue you can dance to the beats of a state of the art sound system while drinking organic wine from thin stemmed glasses. Be sure to snap up tickets quickly, as a roster of world class DJs plays to a maximum of just 200 guests – giving the intimate feel of a private party.
The best bit of this high-end Eixample restaurant is its beautiful, neoclassical bar, accessed via a doorbell system from the street below. Reputed mixologist Juan Serrano creates unique drinks while you snack on oysters and tuna tartare. For something a little less formal, take a trip through the wine cellar to find yourself in one of 3 private rooms, where diners knock back shots under a scuffed metal ceiling and industrial exposed plumbing. There’s even a tiny DJ booth for late-night frolicking.
Vermut is less a drink, more a lifestyle choice in Barcelona, and Sant Antoni’s Calle Parlament has long been known as the best place to adopt it. Amid the multitude of brimming bodegas, this neighbourhood spot is one of the best. Drinks are cheap and the tapas are plentiful – best enjoyed in the cul-de-sac of the cosy outdoor terrace.
Squeezed among the colourful façades of el Born’s Plaça de Santa Maria, this rose coloured wine bar occupies a prime spot overlooking the imposing entrance of the square’s eponymous Basílica. With over 300 references, the menu focuses on quality wines and cava, which means higher prices but more attentive bar staff – happy to educate you whichever grape takes your fancy. Arrive early for an outside table – or enjoy the old bodega charm of the tiny bar itself.
You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? That’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best bits and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local – it was written by one. Eat your heart out, shop until you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.
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