These days, opening a bar is a labour of love. Even more so if the owner has a hobby that’s almost a religion. They’re bars run by and for fans. Whoever you are, there’s a bar for you. A second home to the people who run it, a bar reflects the owner’s passions and aversions. Here’s my personal theory: outside work and the office, people in Barcelona don’t really have hobbies. And that’s why theme bars are thin on the ground. But the ones there are are lots of fun. Here’s where to go to...
...pay homage to the 600
If there's one car that inspires devotion and fanaticism across Spain, it's the Seat 600, popularly known as the 'ayga', an acronym of 'arroz y garbanzos' – rice and chickpeas, the cheap staples that were all that those who bought the car could afford. (An expensive imported car was known as an 'haiga' from the tortured grammar of 'lo mejor que haiga' – 'the best there is'.) Behind the bar at Taita (Mestre Nicolau, 11), the HQ of the Barcelona 600 Club, José Luis Santoll sings the praises of a car that, today, seems to have done as much for Spanish democracy as the whole process of the Transition. 'It was the first car that everyone could afford, and it got Spain on the road,' he says.
Taita is a friendly bar with the old-fashioned feel of a bodega, and the down-to-earth warmth that's so scarce in uptown districts. There's a dining room where fans of the Seat 600 hold their meetings. But what strikes you when you walk in is the front end of a Seat 600 presiding over the whole room. It looks like scale model, but it's real – a symbol of a whole country's economic development, and a reminder of how far Spain has come. It was the first 600 Santoll bought, way back in 1965. His father took over the bar in 1958, when it was an 'artist's bar', and he doesn't even remember when it first opened. The vision of the Seat 600 and a figure of Mr Spock heighten the sense of unreality. And there's something about ordering a 'carajillo' (coffee with a dash of liquor) in the same place where, legend has it, Greta Garbo once sipped a cocktail.
...get on your bike
If the Seat 600 was a great leveller, what about the bicycle? Any Brompton-wielding urban cyclist will feel right at home at El Ciclista (Mozart, 18), an elegant cocktail bar that's also a shrine to pedal power. The owners, Santiago and Fernando, are a designer and a cocktail waiter who taught each other their respective skills. 'This is an homage to the urban cyclist, without stereotypes,' they inform me.
All the décor is their own work, and although your humble correspondent has never understood the fetishistic appeal of the bike, he can't help being impressed by the handlebars mounted like hunting trophies, and admiring the functionality and style of a design scheme that's angular, metallic and, at the same time, inviting. 'We built it this way so that if you come in with your bike, you can't break anything,' explains Santiago. You can park your bike inside the bar on Thursdays and Fridays; they have live music, exhibitions and a nicely-thought-out and affordable cocktail menu. Anything that's not nailed down is for sale. A great place for a freewheeling night out.
...crank up your throttle
Sitting at the bar in Paddock (Paral·lel, 92), I watch beer pour from a tap mounted on a Yamaha engine. Chelo Miranda explains that around 1991, her brother and his friends, all motorbike-crazy, were banned by the police from racing down the hairpins on Montjuïc. Their passion for bikes was channelled into turning the family restaurant into a biker bar. Today, over two decades years later, Paddock is an institution. If you want to buy or sell a motorbike, share a trip, or just swap biking stories, this is the place for you. While the area in and around Avinguda Paral·lel seems to be losing its community spirit, this is a bar where fathers and sons drink together. The owners of Paddock are scathing about the latest so-called improvements: after all, what's the point of a biker bar if you can't park your bike outside?
...feel a little 'Lost'
In 2005, Carrer Pere IV, a diagonal slash through the urban fabric of Poblenou, saw the opening of Bharma (Pere IV, 93), a bar dedicated to the TV series 'Lost', an event so remarkable at the time that it became a mini sensation. As owner Rafael García explains, 'I wanted to open a theme bar, but I wanted it to be original.' He put it together during the second season of the series, before the hysteria struck. And it had its moments of glory: 'We used to show the episodes at the weekend. At first it was me and a couple of friends, and then news spread and we ended up with more than a hundred people.' They endured the series finale with the same stoic desperation as the cruellest Barça-Madrid match.
Those days of J.J. Abrams–induced anxiety are recalled by the tail of a plane protruding from the vegetation, the reproduction of the hatch, and the walls covered in papier-mâché rocks, as well as the signed photo from when Jorge Garcia, better known in the series as Hurley, dropped by to visit. As a bar for an evening drink, it's mysterious; as the venue for a lunchtime set menu, it's a winning proposition. You never know if the hatch could suddenly open while you're eating your noodles...
If there's one thing that defines Chilean Alex Schoihet and his business partners, it's that as well as being bar owners, they're rock fans. Hardcore, perfectionist rock fans. Their bars are mini theme parks that exude love for the music and an eye for detail. They are also incredibly conducive to getting drunk. Bollocks (Ample, 46) is a metal bar 'inspired by an abandoned subway station in Queens in the 1980s'. With hard rock and '80s metal at full blast, ice-cold beers and apocalyptic décor – graffiti, stained black leather, a life-size version of Iron Maiden's mascot squatting on the toilet hanging from the ceiling – you feel a street gang from 'The Warriors' could barge through the door at any moment.
Nevermind Raval (Tallers, 68) is even more radical: dedicated to skateboarding and street art, this skate bar has a half pipe at the back, a perfect U where you can bust out your best impression of Tony Hawk. More than a thousand broken boards adorn the walls and ceiling – they used to award four beers to anyone who brought one in.