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The aperitif culture of Sant Antoni has been appropriated and at the same time revived by roving hordes of hipsters. As we enter Sant Antoni along C/ Manso, the most solid corner of the Vermouth Triangle is La Bodega d’en Rafel (Manso, 52). At this earthy den everything is done right, from their old-fashioned hot breakfasts to the profusion of cold pickles, tinned delicacies and hot tapas (from their range we like the cod salad, fried fish and pork scratchings). There’s a staggering variety, and you can wash it all down with home-made vermouth, three draft lagers or wines from Batea in the Terra Alta. It’s not a bar, it’s a gem. If there’s such a thing as a hipster granddad, you’ll find it here: I watch as a spry 70-year-old drains a 'porró' (a Catalan glass receptacle with a long, narrow spout), pouring a fine jet of wine straight into his mouth, without getting a drop on his Fred Perry T-shirt or a hair out of place.
Before hipster culture and the credit crunch made aperitifs fashionable, Bodega Vinito (Parlament, 27) was already in business: they’ve been brightening the afternoons and evenings of their loyal customers for nine years now. In this neighbourhood, they’re the kings of the tinned seafood cocktail: at the weekend, a saucer of pickled artichokes, cockles, razor clams and anchovies comes in at only €4. All this plus excellent hot tapas and a wall of wines by the glass. Great stuff.
They take traditional bar life seriously at Bar Nostàlgic (Viladomat, 38) too, defying the Nordic-style cafés that surround them. It’s a pocket-sized retro bar with craft beers, Catalan wines and a first-class selection of tapas, such as the shredded salt cod salad, peeled prawns, and inspired combos.
The aperitif culture at l’Amigó Cascarilles (Tamarit,181) has a character all its own, although at first sight it might seem to go against the spirit of the ritual: what makes it stand out are the products and specialities from the Ebro Delta. There’s no shortage of options here, but the star turns are vermouth served as it is in the town of Sant Carlesdela Ràpita – in a long glass, very cold and with soda water – and tapas such as 'xapadillo' (cold eel: delicious!), seafood and griddled shellfish. Did I mention the hipsterisation of the aperitif? It’s no secret that, in large part, credit for the revival of aperitif culture is due to the archaeological efforts of the bloggers-cum-bar owners behind Morro Fi (Consell de Cent, 171). It was this trio of friends and bar-lovers who began to suggest, some years ago, that a really good draught beer was something worth insisting on. They now have their own line of bar snacks and sauces, and the quality of their products is borne out by the crowds waiting outside the shutters of their flagship bar just before they open.
A few metres up the road, Tarambana (Comte Borrell, 148) is a champion-in-waiting in the world of retro aperitifs, and the fact is, it’s in with a chance: a luminous space, the kind that induces a deep sense of inner peace on a Sunday around midday. Exquisite interior design, a place where you sit at comfortable tables rather than the bar, with a selection of Espinaler tinned seafood and draught lager that slides down like manna from heaven.
This is where you’ll ask whether the 'metavermut' – the perfect replica of an old- fashioned bodega, often run by studious young disciples of bar life – has completely replaced the real thing. In Sant Antoni, this is an imminent danger. But in the Eixample Dreta, family businesses are still going strong – bars like Morrysom (Girona, 162; closed Sun), a perfect example of the traditional tapas bar. Lunchtime here is a riot of chocos (deep-fried battered cuttlefish) and patatas bravas. Bar Oller (Pg. de Sant Joan, 146; closed Mon) has survived a change of ownership, bolstered by its solid selection of tapas, and especially by its famous crestes – savoury little pasties with every imaginable filling.