Sant Antoni is a rarity we've all got to look after. It's the fragile balance between old and new, where you'll find a Barcelona that's unfortunately disappearing – one past generations cultivated, where so much of life was lived in the city's streets and squares and all the neighbours knew each other – and where you'll also find the very latest trends in fashion and gastronomy. On one side you've got the Raval neighbourhood. On the other, Poble-sec and Barcelona's symbolic Montjüic. And in the middle, this gem that's full of life (in all its many glorious forms) and which was revitalised in spring 2018 with the reopening of the Mercat de Sant Antoni, the nerve centre of neighbourhood activity and also one of the great examples of Barcelona's wrought-iron architecture.
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This is the Nevsky Prospect of the Sant Antoni area with tsarist-era beards everywhere – it’s worthy of a story by Gogol. But beyond its fauna, what we love about Parlament are the bars found on its upper side, on the section between Ronda Sant Antoni and C/Viladomat. The ideal route, from east to west: light bites at Sortidors del Parlament and Pa i Trago, brunch at Federal Cafe, Russian salad at Bar Calders, then pastries at Tarannà o Cafè Cometa. It’s a place to lose yourself in a good way.
Those living in the heart of Sant Antoni have acquired classy survival habits. The first: if you’re looking for gourmet products from around the world to rival the food halls of the fanciest department stores, head to Supermercat del Món (Parlament, 21). From the outside it looks like a standard Spar store, but its range of imported goods is splendid – check out the selection of Italian products! And the second: the glorious blackboards of Celler Florida and their generous vermouth for less than €2 a glass. What you save on drinks there you can spend at the nearby Renoir cinema that shows both blockbuster and arthouse films in their original language.
After almost a decade of renovations, the traders of the provisional Mercat de Sant Antoni return to the impressive building by Rovira i Trias, a representation of iron architecture. The octagonal dome is the crown that structures the corridors in the shape of a cross where the 52 fresh product stands now live. In the corridors closest to the market façade, and following a circular circuit, is the Encants market. You can visit each part of the market independently, as they have different schedules. On Sundays, stop by the book market just outside on C/ Comte d'Urgell.
For 13 years Alkimia operated from Indústria, 79, and after a year in the works, Jordi Vilà and Sonia Profitós reopened their restaurant in the Fábrica Moritz. On Indústria it was a good spot for getting to know the basic concept of a modern Barcelona restaurant, but for the reopening, from the first floor where the Mortiz family once lived, Vilà made a surprising announcement of the great offerings they'll have in a minimal space. 'Six tables for 18 people. We all know what they say about gastro restaurants not being profitable. If it's not profitable, why make it bigger? We'll make it better,' he said. In fact, their move to the former flat in Sant Antoni wasn't about expanding (though they do have a fantastic open kitchen) but rather about redefining.
Home cooking. Few places can say that about their cuisine these days, but Can Vilaró is among those that can. It's a classic, authentic restaurant that's earned its place in Barcelona's culinary history. Every day Sisco and Dolors welcome a legion of faithful customers who know how to pick a good spot to eat as though welcoming them into their own home. Located in front of the Sant Antoni market, Can Vilaró could be called a restaurant of true market cuisine, but what they really do well is home-made meals. There's no set lunch menu, but the à la carte menu has friendly prices and great daily specialities.
This fabulous local bar is a temple built to the greater glory of rock 'n' roll. You’ll find a Bo Diddley guitar hanging on the wall, blues playing in the background, and posters of rock gods watching over you while you dig into some incredibly delicious and imaginative tapas. The music is great; the food is even better.
You can't help but celebrate the success of a place like The Last Monkey. A year after its 2017 opening, they're still serving up excellent and unpretentious Asian tapas and Mediterranean fusion, with a strong dedication to the surrounding Sant Antoni neighbourhood. Italian chef Stefano Mazza – from the Alps, an area known for abundance and flavour – knows at least two things very well: Barcelona and Asian fusion. He was the second to join the city's much-missed restaurant Mé, under the incredible Thang Pham. Mazza has built a short and tasty menu where Southeast Asia is infused with Italian touches, and vice versa. Chefs who aren't screaming against the 'fusion' label are those who do it very well, like Mazza himself.
The Sant Antoni neighbourhood was crying out for a cocktail bar like Bitter (all apologies to XIX Bar). When you cross the threshold, something might cross your mind like 'I praise the new and fall in love with the old'. 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 just chat about what you like for a bit and see what we come up with?'
Xix (pronounced 'chicks', and a play on the street number, among other things) is a newish, unconventional cocktail bar in the candlelit surroundings of a prettily tiled former 'granja' (milk bar). It's exceedingly cosy and just a little bit scruffy, which makes the list of 20 brands of gin all the more unexpected.
Sant Antoni Gloriós is a bar with four high tables with stools. You might spend about 45 minutes eating and drinking here, where the wine is chosen from a shelf of empty bottles – the prices, from €12 to €20, are painted on the bottles – and they pour a fantastic 25 cl draught beer for less than €2. Chef Fran G. Manduley has partnered with Juan Carlos Ninou, owner of El Xampanyet, and you'll enjoy deli-style treats, tinned delights typical of bodegas, and some hot options. There are a dozen hearty dishes, which may not be a lot, but all are very well executed, like the Russian salad, the meatballs made with Iberian pork, and the cod fritters. You'll eat like royalty but get a bill that would please the working class.
Soho delivers on its promise to give you 'design, comfort, art and modernity', plus even its exterior rooms are quiet, despite being smack on the central Gran Vía. You're just a short walk to the Mercat de Sant Antoni, as well as Plaça Catalunya and La Rambla. Spring for a room with a terrace, or enjoy the rooftop lounge area and pool in the warmer months.
This boutique hotel, with 80 fully equipped rooms, boasts a warm and welcoming but unfussy contemporary decor. Guests rave about the fresh and healthy full buffet breakfast, and one of the big draws is the top-floor terrace with its outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, which are open year round and afford panoramic views of the city.
The hetero-friendly Axel chain of hotels includes TWO Hotel Barcelona in the Sant Antoni neighbourhood. The 87 rooms are fully soundproofed and feature an 'elegant and edgy' design. You're just as close to the 'Gayxample' as you are to Sant Antoni, so if exploring Barcelona's gay scene is on your list of things to do, this adults-only hotel is for you. The rooftop also features the Sky Bar and a pool, as well as a wellness area that offers a sauna, gym, and massage appointments.