This is the unedited and unabridged version of a feature I originally wrote for Expedia.
From Art Deco speakeasies and luxe hotel terraces to sun-struck beach bars and cozy chill-out lounges, Barcelona is undeniably one of Europe’s most intoxicating cities to sip on a cocktail or two.
Renowned for their insatiable thirst for beer and wine, the Catalans were relatively slow to adopt the art of mixology. It’s difficult to say why, exactly, but the alcohol ban that was enforced during the Spanish Civil War – which also happened to be when the cocktail scene started to take off everywhere else in Europe – could very well have something to do with it. But times have changed and now, in this cosmopolitan capital of cool, the cocktail is king.
What makes Barcelona’s cocktail scene so exciting is its variety. You can sip on mojitos with your toes in the sand at one of the many chiringuito bars that line the beach front or head to one of the opulent rooftop terraces of hotels like Oriental Mandarin, Hotel 1898 and Majestic, where you can take in views over the iconic sights of Passeige de Gracia and La Sagrada Família.
And if glitz and glamour is your thing, the ultra-chic Eclipse Bar, situated on the 26th floor of the five-star W Hotel, is perfect for mingling with the jet-set crowd, who sling back contemporary cocktails with awe-inspiring views over the beach and Mediterranean Sea.
But in my humble opinion, any cocktail sipping adventure in Barcelona must start at Boadas Bar. This tiny backstreet speakeasy is the oldest cocktail bar in Barcelona and hasn’t changed a bit since Miquel Boadas opened it back in the early 1930s. His daughter Maria Dolores runs it now and can often be found behind the bar telling stories of how her father saved the bar from being destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. He was served traditional breakfasts and coffee in an attempt to make it look like “a regular coffee bar”, but his regulars knew they could rely on him for something a little stronger. Today at Boadas Bar, debonaire bartenders in pristine tuxedos prepare all the classics, although those in the know stick to the much revered Daiquiris and Old Fashioneds.
Another cardinal “cocteleria” is the timeless Dry Martini, which is a classic speakeasy that’s been setting the standards in BCN since 1978. Situated in a fairly quiet locale on the chic Carrer Aribau, this is where well-heeled locals come to relax and while away the evening with the classic fusions masterfully created by a team of white-coated bartenders. Originally set up as a Martinería, they only served dry martinis back in the day and it’s this potent crowd pleaser that remains the house special.
But now, as Barcelona galvanises its reputation as a global hotspot, a new generation of mixologists continue to flock to the city from all over the world, bringing with them their hard-earned expertise. Rebecca and Paul McNally are prime examples, a couple who left their native Ireland to master the art of mixology in the bars of New York and San Francisco, before moving to Barcelona to open Marmalade and Milk, which are now two of the city’s most popular cocktail bars.
“They are stylish but hopefully not pretentious,” Paul explains, “we want clients and staff to be comfortable and willing to let go because they feel they are in an extension of their home.”
Both purists in terms of their tastes, Paul and Rebecca are firm believers that, “The classics will always stand the test of time,” a theory which is evident in fusions such as the Nicky Lauda Saua, which is their zesty, rum-fuelled take on the iconic caipirinha.
So why Barcelona? What drives its burgeoning cocktail scene?
“Barcelona’s popularity skyrocketed after the Olympics and has been on a stratospheric ride ever since. It’s diverse, multicultural and great fun. The cocktail scene has evolved, with the obvious mojitos and cosmos always easy to find, but Catalans never stray very far from what they love most and as a result we’ve seen an upsurge in the popularity of gin & tonics, Manhattans and the ubiquitous vermouth, which is very much in demand at the moment.”
Asked about other essential cocktail bars in the Barcelona, Paul and Rebecca were quick to respond: “Dry Martini would always be up there with the best of them – their wasabi martini is very good, but give me a dirty martini any day of the week! We tend to like the more casual and lively establishments such as L’Ascenor, which is an old Modernist-styled bar that’s renowned for its piña coladas, and XiX Bar, where you can get a seriously mean g&t.”
Unquestionably, Barcelona’s eclectic cocktail scene is sure to quench your thirst at all hours. And who knows, you might even have time to see some of the sights.