The Apolo is the pulsing heart of Barcelona’s indie clubbing scene and a concert venue for live music of all genres. New and established names from the worlds of pop, rock, folk and electronic music hit its two stages every night of the week – the owners don’t seem to have grasped the concept of a day off. Check their website for full details of upcoming gigs. With an average of 10 shows a week, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something that rings your bell.
We’ll go out on a limb here: this beast of a club with its five separate spaces is one of the best – if not the best – in Barcelona. You’ll find rock and indie at Razz Club, techno and house in The Loft, techno-pop in Sala Lolita, electro and pop in the Pop Bar, and electro-rock in the Rex Room. As well as DJs, the club hosts gigs and large-scale live concerts that attract hugely diverse crowds. Everyone’s played here, from the Arctic Monkeys to Bananarama. Together with Apolo, Razzmatazz rules the city’s clubbing scene, so if it’s nightlife you’re after, this is where it’s at, kids.
Located right on the Avinguda Paral·lel, one of the city’s most theatrical thoroughfares, Barcelona Arts on Stage (BARTS) is a multi-disciplinary performance space with a finger in every pie. You’ll find theatre, circus, dance, stand-up, magicians and of course live music of all kinds, from mega-concerts to intimate solo shows. The venue formerly known as Arteria Paral·lel has reinvented itself as the epicentre of several citywide music festivals, including the Estrella Damm Jazz Festival. The programme also includes concerts as part of the BCN Guitar Festival.
In a corner of Plaça Reial, slap-bang in the middle of the old city, you’ll find this underground temple to indie rock. Twenty-five years after opening, it’s in fine fettle, with a daily programme of DJs and gigs, and a dependable crowd of discerning regulars who you’ll find propping up the bar week in, week out. Located in a space where the contact between bands and audience is almost physical, Sidecar has helped launch new bands and welcomed back established acts. And they say the cellar walls still echo with the carousing of sailors from the US Fleet looking for serious R&R on dry land.
A jazz institution, Jamboree has done more than most to put Barcelona on the concert circuit for the biggest names in international jazz. The venue has seen performances from jazz giants of the stature of Bill Coleman, Kenny Drew, Chet Baker, Lou Bennet, Stéphan Grappelli, Kenny Clarke, Ornette Coleman and Dexter Gordon. A jamboree is a rowdy, boisterous gathering, so it’s an appropriate name for a jazz venue that has been a meeting place for artists and intellectuals ever since it opened – a driving force in the cultural history of the Plaça Reial. For those who want to continue the party, it’s a short stagger across the square to Sidecar.
If you haven’t been to Luz de Gas, you haven’t been out in Barcelona: it’s a bona fide classic. Located in what was once the Belle Epoque cabaret, it has hung on to the elegantly theatrical décor, with tasselled chandeliers and velvet curtains. A pillar of the live music scene, Luz de Gas draws a diverse crowd. Along with concerts from international groups, every night features a session from one of their resident bands playing jazz, disco, pop, rock or soul.
One of Gràcia’s musical mainstays, the Heliogàbal Cultural Association was formed in 1995 to promote art and culture in the district, and since 2001 they’ve focused their efforts on exhibitions, music and poetry. The intimate space hosts singer-songwriters and groups with an indie vibe from Barcelona, the rest of Spain and abroad, with a weekly live jazz night. But regardless of what’s on, Heliogàbal is one of those places it’s hard to leave when the concert’s over – whether it’s because you’re deep in conversation in the tiny patio space, or because you can’t get through the crowd to the door.
Sala BeCool is where Barcelona’s novelty-hungry music lovers go to find out what’s happening in cities like London and Berlin. Since the venue opened, the owners have stayed true to their philosophy of programming DJs and cutting-edge groups in an intimate space with audience and artist in close proximity. You won’t find a regular crowd – instead it varies from one gig to the next, depending on who’s headlining.
There are six different dance nights every week, from hip hop to pop hits to Latin dance in this timelessly stylish nightclub. Bikini is a legend of the Barcelona nightlife scene. Although the main room is better known as a disco than a concert venue, you’ll find at least a couple of gigs here every month.
Carpe Diem Lounge Club (CDLC) is situated right on the beachfront, and is a great venue for a drink and dance. At the forefront of Barcelona's see-and-be-seen celeb circuit, mere mortals can mingle too, enjoying funky house and a busy terrace to discuss who's going to finance the next drink and how to chat up the Barça player who just walked in.
Opium Mar is not just a restaurant with a terrace on the shoreline, but it's also a nightclub for the beautiful people looking for a modern ambience with a touch of opulence. Next to the Hotel Arts and practically on the Barceloneta beach, it's in one of the most enviable locations in town. Open daily.
Neither age nor status are social barriers at Karma, a classic rock bar that lies under Plaça Reial. Without straying too far from classic rock coordinates, and with a timid foot in the doorway to electronic music, Karma has become one of the best places in Barcelona for a drink, a dance and a flirt.
Following the renovations in 2010, this famous theatre has been reborn from its ashes. El Molino ('The Mill' – think Moulin Rouge) has regained the splendour of its glory days when it was the best-known theatre of the Paral·lel area, irreverent and with its own way of poking fun at the censorhsip of the time. El Molino continues its history of cabaret, burlesque and music hall shows, as well as theatre and flamenco performances.
The man behind Ker Club, Juan Arnau, is also the organiser of the Monegros festival, a summer rave staged each year a couple of hours outside Barcelona. But Ker is a much more upmarket enterprise, which is now housed in the Danzatoria club in Barceloneta. 'Ker is aimed at the over-25s who have grown up with electronica and don't want to go back to rock, but are looking for a more sophisticated electronic sound, with sould and funk roots,' says Arnau.