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Poble-sec translates as ‘Dry town’, ironically named because of the abundance of bodegas it has boasted since time immemorial. Before listing the delights of the district’s fanciest gourmet aperitifs, we’ll start with the most down-to-earth. La Churre (Blai, 2) has a long pedigree: the family that owns it served churros – long fried-dough pastries – from vans on Avinguda Paral·lel from 1961 to 2005,and they’ve been on this corner since then. It’s one of the few bars in the city that serves churros; Dolors Álvarez tells me that ‘generations of people in this neighbourhood grew up with our pork scratchings and crisps’. A dish of crunchy corn chips with a draught beer is an aperitif that anyone can aspire to. Just to the right, Bar Darling (Blesa, 34) has a blackboard that lists their pickled and preserved delicacies, 'sepionets amb gules' (tinned baby cuttlefish with imitation baby eels), 'moixama' (sun-dried tuna), 'banderilles' (tapas speared on cocktail sticks) and anchovies, although locals know that their 'lacón' (pork shoulder) and mini sandwiches of Iberian ham are the real prize here. Students of musical history take note: a framed poster of Los Cheyenes indicates that the landlady’s dad was lead guitarist in the legendary garage rock outfit.
A hop to the right and we’re at La Tieta (Blai, 1), where they mark out their terrace with draughtsmanlike accuracy. And their tapas are lined up even more precisely: we’re tempted by the pigs’ trotter carpaccio, the piquillo peppers stuffed with 'bull blanc i negre' (black and white boiled sausage) and the tuna tataki banderilles with cheese, which crowd round the vermouth taps (they have Yzaguirre on tap, but also Peruchi from the bottle). And they have plenty of refreshing new ideas: they want to introduce small gin & tonics at midday, and sweet wines as an aperitif. All Poble-sec’s bodega owners know each other, and a frequent visitor at La Tieta is Eduard Borrull, from Celler Cal Marino (Margarit, 54; closed Mon). In just a few years, he’s established his bar’s reputation as the Holy Grail of the retro-bodega movement and the aperitif: wines both left-field and mainstream, from the barrel or the bottle, cold cuts from 'porchetta' to 'cecina' (cured beef), and artisan cheeses. From Tuesday to Friday, the €15 'pica pica' menu could easily become a light supper, with three glasses of wine and three tasting dishes, including hot treats such as croquettes and marinated ribs.
Obviously, some readers will consider it little short of blasphemy to suggest Celler Cal Marino could be a divine receptacle for the blood of Saint Vermouth; for many this title is reserved solely for Quimet i Quimet (Poeta Cabanyes, 25), the city’s ultimate shrine to gourmet tinned food. Everyone knows that this is where you’ll find the best tinned delicacies – at the most reasonable prices – in Barcelona. And that they put them together with unparalleled skill, to create haute cuisine on a toothpick, or tumbling seafood cocktails on a soft brioche. In need of something more substantial? They can oblige with a meat combo: Iberian ham, foie, paté, wild mushrooms and caramelised onions. The possibilities here are infinite: they have the best vermouth on tap ever, wines from all corners of Spain and their own beer. Before ending the tour, we take a stroll up to the top of the neighbourhood for a swift beer at Bar Seco (Passeig de Montjuïc, 74), where they serve us some excellent home-made crisps.