BrewDogging #28: Barcelona
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stockholm, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff]
The BrewDogging Projick began in early 2013. Ever since then, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have been looking out for events we can use as an excuse to visit a BrewDog bar location. Birthdays, for example. For my birthday in 2013, we went to Stockholm: for The BBG's birthday three months later, we went to Leeds. No matter how much Yorkshire pride you may be carrying around with you, I think you have to admit I won that one.
Fast forward to 2015. My birthday: Brighton. Hers: Barcelona. Should we call it a draw, then?
The streets are curiously quiet as we take the 20 minute walk from the hotel to BrewDog Barcelona. (On all subsequent occasions, we'll be lazy and use the Metro, especially as the T-10 transport tickets are excellent value - as long as the number of journeys you make during your visit is an exact multiple of ten.) We find this a lot over the weekend: you'll walk for ages without seeing anyone, and then suddenly you cross a street and you're in a densely populated area. Eventually we hit a corner marked by a large metal bin painted like a can of Punk IPA, and realise we've arrived.
The BBG claims her free pint of Libertine for her birthday, and then we investigate what else BrewDog Barcelona has to offer. As with many of the international bars, it's decorated in the older, more anarchic style, like the UK bars used to be before the corporate makeover. This means features like huge etched windows, Catalan and Scottish flags, and a huge mural of what looks like Cthulhu trying to bum the Segrada Familia church. The food, however, is more in the new BrewDog style with some tasty local tweaks, such as patatas bravas and a croquetas set.
On our Saturday afternoon visit, the bar is quiet, but not uncomfortably so: this is the first BrewDog bar where I've witnessed a child being breastfed (I said witnessed, not watched, I'm not sick), and the first one I've been to where I could honestly imagine that happening. By night time, it's more traditionally rammed, and we take advantage of the friendly staff to get a couple of recommendations for local beers – Poch’s Basalt Stout and Domus Aurea IPA. (Yeah, I went to Barcelona and got the Poch’s.) A third and final visit last thing on Sunday night for our traditional Cocoa Psycho nightcap finds the bar worryingly quiet, but I suspect everywhere in Barcelona is that quiet then, so I don't think it's anything to worry about.
There's definitely a bit of a craft beer scene in Barcelona, but a visit lasting around 54 hours doesn't really give us time to do it justice outside of BrewDog. The one exception to that is La Cerveteca, a bar with a justified reputation for the variety of its beers. It's a traditional pub with a few ales on pumps, several crafty brews (including the likes of South London's own Fourpure) on draught, and a fine collection of bottles in the fridge. In the brief gap between dinner and our second BrewDog visit on the Saturday night, we try the Aktien Anno 25 and Naparbier Sunset Session IPA, and they work just fine.
In terms of meals, we'll need to cover these in a bit of a rush. As noted earlier, Expo does a top value breakfast buffet (especially if you take the option to pre-book it at a discount rate): the chain cafe 365 can do you decent deals on coffee and pastries as an alternative, but if you're having a late breakfast watch out for the 11am rush when all the office workers nip out for a mid-morning fag. For lunch, you could do much, much worse than the gigantic range of tortillas at Flash Flash. And if you're looking for tapas, there are all sorts of options open to you - classy and fancy at Sensi (bookable by email), low-key and traditional at Suculent Casa de Menjars (bookable via restaurantes.com), and harshly-lit but delicious at Jai-Ca (just walk in).
There's obviously plenty of culture to be sampled in Barcelona when you're not hurling things down your neck. As generally filmy people, we're definitely attracted by the Filmoteca de Catalunya, a two-screen cinema and exhibition hall dedicated to the preservation of Catalan language movies. We end up doing a double header: a 1970 movie with the gloriously elaborate title La Llarga Agonia Dels Peixos Fora De L’Aigua (The Long Agony Of The Fish Out Of Water), plus an exhibition about its director, Rovira Beleta, més enllà de Los Tarantos. I won't say much about the film here, as I think I might be able to squeeze a future Monoglot Movie Club article out of it: so you'll have to make do with watching the opening titles in both Catalan and Spanish (we get the former at this particular screening). We discover from the subsequent exhibition that Francisco Rovira Beleta was a major player in Spanish cinema, and was nominated twice for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. He also appears to have been great fun at parties, judging from the room filled with photos of him hanging out with every famous person in the movies ever. If you hurry, you might still be able to catch the exhibition, as it's running till March 31st.
We don't consider a holiday like this one to be complete without at least one foolish attempt at covering an entire gallery in too short a space of time. To be fair, this particular one wasn't entirely our fault: our plans to take the funicular up to Parc de Montjuic were kiboshed by the last-minute discovery that the funicular closes down completely over the winter months, something that none of the guidebooks tell you about. By the time we've got the replacement bus up there and found Fundacio Joan Miro, we only have 40 minutes left before its 7pm closedown. We have to take the exhibits at a bit of a lick, but in the end we feel we don't miss too much. The narrative throughline of the museum helps a lot on that score: it's nicely chronological for most part, starting with Miro's early figurative work then getting more nuts and entertaining as we go.
Going back to the exhibition at the Filmoteca exhibition, Rovira Beleta's most acclaimed film appears to be Los Tarantos, a flamenco reworking of Romeo & Juliet. Tarantos is also the name of a tourist flamenco joint just off the main drag of Las Ramblas. It isn't pretending to be anything else - it has a website with easy online booking, and the promise of a 'taster' of the art of flamenco, which is a euphemism for 'we're throwing you out after thirty minutes, we've got three shows to do tonight'. Take all that on board, and it's a perfectly enjoyable experience. There's a regular turnaround of performers, and on this particular night the show we get is D'Migueles, starring dancers Macarena Mulero and Sergio Quesada Gil, backed by a terrific five piece combo featuring a pianist called Yumitus. I spend the evening trying to work out if Yumitus looks more like Hank Azaria or Peter Serafinowicz, not realising that at the same time The BBG is thinking he looks like Bobby Cannavale.
Either way, Yumitus is the solid backbone of a fine band. It's a shame that only the first and last numbers in their set are accompanied by dancing, as it's electrifying when it eventually happens. Perhaps it's the overall lack of dance that ends up driving The BBG and me towards seeking out more flamenco when we return to London. In the four months since our Barcelona visit, we've seen a delightful display as part of the Valentine's Day package at London tapas bar Salvador & Amanda: that was followed by a full performance at Sadler's Wells by Marco Flores and Olga Pericet, which made us realise with a jolt that everything we've been watching up until now has effectively been Pub Flamenco. It doesn't stop the show at Tarantos being a fine introduction to the form, though.
If the previous few paragraphs have been about art in Barcelona, then the next few are more about tourist sights: although it has to be said that the dividing line between the two is somewhat vague here. I think we can say with some certainty, though, that the Magic Fountain is a full-on tourist attraction. It's a series of regular evening shows in which the fountain at Montjuic is lit up and synchronised to a variety of different soundtracks, from selections of classic jazz to a Spanish rendition of the Spongebob Squarepants theme. (Bob Esponja!) It's incredibly kitsch, and the amount of water expended is probably doing some sort of hellatious damage to the planet, but it's huge fun to watch.
That one's definitely for the tourists. But the market at La Boquera is a little less certain. It's a fully functional market, so real live Barcelonans are buying their food there and everything. Having said that, a fair proportion of the goods on sale do seem to be conveniently packaged for tourists, and a couple of the most photogenic stalls have STOP TAKING BLOODY PHOTOGRAPHS signs prominently on display. Still, the balance between working market and photo opportunity is more or less spot on, so whether you're planning to buy souvenirs or just gawp, it works well for both.
It's unthinkable to spend any time in Barcelona without getting some Gaudi into your eyeballs, but be aware that every other visitor to the city is thinking exactly the same thing, and plan accordingly. We got it about half right in the end, in that our advance booking for Palau Guell appears to have been a very good idea. It's easily done through the website, and you get a print-at-home ticket that allows you to be waved through the door while casual visitors are being turned away. The numbers inside the house have been managed to a reasonable level, so you don't feel crammed inside there - there's plenty of space for you to wander around and marvel at Gaudi's architecture and furnishings without other people getting in the way. The real fun is to be had on the roof terrace, where on a good day you get a splendid view of the city alongside the spectacular towers that mark the top of the Palau itself.
The bit we didn't quite get right was our visit to Sagrada Familia - we knew we'd want to visit Gaudi's spectacular church on our final day, but assumed that as it was a weekday we could just stroll straight in without a prior reservation. Well, that's not true, so again I'd recommend you pick a timeslot and book online in advance. We had a bit of luck in our favour: at the end of our forty-five minute queue for the ticket office, we found they had two tickets left for the 12.30pm slot, just five minutes later. (Bear in mind that the ticket office is on the opposite side of the building to the entrance, and factor that into your timings.) You'll definitely need to book beforehand if you want to ascend one of the towers: we didn't have a hope in hell on our particular day, as only two of the four towers are currently open, and one of them had just closed for ten days of maintenance. Don't worry too much if you can't get above ground level - there's enough extraordinary stuff to look at down there, both inside and outside, and it's well worth the effort it takes to get inside the building. Though I bet it'll look even better when it's finished.
So that's Barcelona - a typically decent BrewDog bar, with a city attached that's full of excellent nosh and delightful buildings. Obviously, it's not Brighton, but you can't have everything, can you?