You don't mess with intrepid barman Javier de las Muelas. In fact, you don't mess with anything about this legendary cocktail bar that's internationally recognised as one of the best on the planet. They're very clever behind the bar, where the most complicated choreographies are staged, and all dedicated to the cocktail. Whatever you do, don't leave without trying the house concoction, the Dry Martini, which is unbeatable in Barcelona, and one of the most masterful creations of De las Muelas. Despite crowds and the barman's bark, Dry Martini continues to be a benchmark cocktail bar. And that, good readers, isn't just a cocktail bar. It's a church.
Solange is run by the Pernías, a family of mixologists who are already well-known for their Tandem Cocktail Bar. Their newer venture is a a delightful golden space where vintage sofas, a stately wooden bar, liquid gold and exquisite decorating taste are the ingredients that go into making this such a superb cocktail bar. The Pernías have stuck with the classics when it comes to their concoctions: no modern ornaments, no exotic flowers sticking out of your glass to poke your eye out. After all, why change a back-to-the-basics approach that has kept clients coming to their establishments for years.
Back in their day, today's Catalan elders used 'aigua del Carmen' as a universal remedy for what ailed them. Just a sip of the herbal concoction of lemon, rosemary, mint, clove, and cinnamon was enough to combat boils, migraines or any other common ailment. They wouldn't have believed that, half a century later, this ancient potion would be the name of a premium cocktail bar, or that they would even be able to find traces of the cure-all in the house cocktail made with lemon juice, sugar, apple liqueur, gin and a few drops of blue curacao.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t appreciate lemon thyme or vodka infused with beets in your drink (and you don’t want to pay more than €6), steer clear of La Martinera, the bar attached to restaurant Casa Chelis. If you understand cocktails to be a form of fine art, however, this is the place to go. Now they’ve included luxurious hors d’oeuvres created by chef Sebastían Mazzola.
It's worth getting to know Balius, a cocktail bar that specialises in top vermouth and cocktails made with vermouth, and when you're feeling peckish you can order from a repertoire of cured foods, tapas and small dishes that have their origins mainly in Aragon and Castilla. For example, the 'lomo de orza' is finely cut pork loin marinated with 'alioli' (garlic mayonnaise) and lemon, and the 'atascaburras' is a salted cod dish that has the fame of being mentioned in 'Don Quijote'. During its operating hours, the kitchen is open non-stop, and they use quality local products that are organic whenever possible. They're also specialists in sustainable fish.
This is not a place where you'll find molecular cocktails but those made with natural herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil and lavendar are favourites) in delicate and sensual concoctions that might be a few steps from the classics but are still well rooted in them and have a deep respect for them. You'll also find cocktails made with mezcal – a clear sign that Bitter is on trend – as well as a drinks menu that says, 'Hey, how's it going? Would you like to see the menu or would you prefer to chat about what you like?' You see, Nacho's also one of those old-school waiters whose value is more in what they don't say than what they do, the kind who just has to look at you to know, before you even know yourself, exactly what you want.
The stunning cocktail lounge of the Boca Grande Restaurant is one of the most chic night spots in Barcelona. Aside from the Parisian prices, I have only words of excitement for their Hendrick’s gin and tonic with cucumber slice: the best I've had in a long time. You’ll have to strangle your Visa card, sure, but with top-shelf labels, luxurious décor, and select and polished clientele, it’s worth it. It’s not uncommon to rub elbows with Catalan nobility, famous athletes or elite models. They’ve even taken care with the details in what could be considered the best toilet in town. Believe me when I say it’s a magical space located in the catacombs of the bar; it’s a five-star WC with DJ-programmed tunes and dance music that brings together the concepts of latrine and dance floor with originality and elegance.
That sentence written in all the guidebooks about the 'incomparable setting' was likely invented to talk about Torre Rosa. Drinking a cocktail in a house formerly owned by one of the 'indios' or 'Americanos' (Catalans who left and made good on the other side of the pond and then returned to spend their wealth) can have a hand in making your heart skip a beat or two. This is possibly one of the most perfect places in Barcelona. Behind the bar you'll find Jordi Reig, who will tell you everything anyone could ever want to know about the different types of rum and how to mix a good mojito. If you aren't in the mind space for explanations and would rather imagine yourself in Havana, just head out to the terrace and do a bit of moon gazing.
This Gràcia spot is itself a massive exhibition of reused cycling materials. Wheels have been turned into tables, handlebars are doorknobs, spokes provide a place to put your drink, there's a traffic signal over the DJ booth, collector's bikes hang on the walls as if they were Picassos ... But that's not all: notice the posh recycled furniture in the form of Chester sofas that are jewels of homemade industrial design (the door-table and the stools are delicious) that give a nod to the most original that Gràcia has to offer. They pour an excellent glass of Moritz Epidor and have a cocktail menu as well, with a list of gin and tonic creations with names that carry the theme through, such as Anti Doping and Fixed Sprocket.
If you know the place, you may remember it as a rundown bar where you felt like you were in a brothel waiting room, but now it's safe to go back to San Trop, guilt-free. The décor, though it's been given a good spring cleaning, is virtually the same, something of a cross between a hat shop and the Munsters' living room. Just the spot to knock back a refreshing cocktail or two.