Vermouth hour is enjoying a renaissance in Catalonia these days. Going out for an aperitif has practically become an obligatory habit for locals, so why not join them? Here are the best bars in Girona and the surrounding area for enjoying the art of the 'vermut'.
Put your shades on, get a place on the terrace and breathe in the sea air while enjoying a vermouth and listening to live music, right by the beach. That's what Medusa in L'Escala has to offer every Sunday lunchtime. In terms of the music you can hear anything from covers of pop-rock hits to blues, country and even flamenco. To eat there are classic appetisers such as cockles and olives, but you should also try the packs of tapas: for instance, the one with 'patatas bravas' (fried chunks of potato with a spicy sauce), Murcia 'ensaladilla' (which literally translates as 'little salad'; this dish is a must-order in Medusa) and fritters with guacamole.
The name is a clear statement of intent. In this Roses bar, vermouth ('vermut' in Catalan) is the drink to order. They have an extensive list of whites and reds, mainly Catalan brands including local Empordà varieties. For your own good, we recommend that you accompany the drinks with some of the tapas on offer. Highlights include the black cod fritters ('bunyols de bacallà') made with squid ink and garlic mayonnaise, and the marinated anchovies ('boquerones').
Vermouth tastes even better in an inviting bar, and at Santiamén the regulars make having an aperitif a unique event. They sing sea shanties ('havaneres'), tell war stories and laugh as much as they can, because life is short and it's worth trying to enjoy small pleasures. To stave off any hunger, choose a few of the tins of gourmet food on offer and you'll practically have had lunch. Pair them with the house vermouth or one of the other popular brands on the menu.
Before vermouth became an icon for modern times in Catalonia, when it was still a social activity common only among those who'd just been to Sunday mass, El Casino in Cadaqués was one of the town's star bars. Vermouth at El Casino comes in the most traditional format: simple but good. Cockles, stuffed olives and crisps, accompanied by a 'xupito', which is what they call a small beer ('canyeta'), even though it really means a shot. There's a terrace just by the beach but we suggest going inside this historical building and celebrating vermouth hour as it used to be in the good old days.
On the beach of Sant Antoni there's a space that's ideal for enjoying a vermouth, and where there's always an air of happiness thanks to the owner, Pere. They have a fine range of vermut, from the classics Yzaguirre and Miró to Empordà vermouth from the Cooperativa de Garriguella and Mas Llunes. But it's also worth checking out the selection of local craft beers on offer, as well as the wine list that leans heavily towards DO Empordà varieties. The food is classic, good and local: a portion of squid rings or mussels from the local fish market, or an assortment of cheeses from Catalan producers, to give you just two delicious examples. And if you want even more to fill your stomach, we suggest going for the patatas bravas or the excellent 'coca' bread cooked in a wood-burning oven.
With the increasing trend for enjoying a proper vermouth, you shouldn't miss the chance to try it in a truly authentic place such as Ca la Pilar Dumingu, an old grocer's shop in the Plaça Major of La Bisbal that's been converted into a bar. Nowadays, the shelves still hold the classic soda siphons of the Casa Negre brand and you'll find numerous types of vermouth, in particular the most well-known ones from the Catalan town of Reus, but you can also try varieties created by producers connected to the Empordà. For a really good time, don't miss the musical vermouth sessions on Saturday lunchtimes during the summer (and some in the winter, too); they're a Bisbal classic.
It would be practically unthinkable for Girona's Barri Vell neighbourhood to not have at least one authentic vermouth bar, inspired by those of days gone by. A place where you can enjoy a relaxed time with friends while devouring tapas of marinated anchovies, stuffed olives, crisps topped with Espinaler sauce or a plate of cured meats and cheeses. And to drink, a quality beer or, even better, a good vermouth with the soda siphon ready at hand. The man behind this place is Jordi Gombau, who decided to bring the spirit of classic vermouth bars from Poblenou in Barcelona to the heart of Girona. As well as the classic cold tapas, at Can Gombau they also know how to cook up some great hot plates to seduce their clients with; we're talking generous portions of dishes like meatballs with onion and pepper, sausages in cognac and an excellent house omelette.
Head to the restaurant of the lighthouse of Sant Sebastià for a classic vermouth moment: contemplating the coastlines of Tamariu, Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell from a privileged spot on top of a cliff some 175 metres above sea level. As well as the classic glass of vermouth with a stuffed olive, you can enjoy great tapas such as marinated mussels, anchovies with coca bread and tomato, and cockles with pepper and vinegar.