More insider guides for planning a trip to Barcelona
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There’s so much more to Barcelona’s nightlife scene than the big thumping clubs. There’s also everything from sophisticated cocktail bars where barmen in tuxes spritz lemon peel in front of antique drinking paraphernalia to unpretentious and cheap cava bars where it’s standing room only. But if you do want to dance, there are plenty of places for that too. Sally Davies, Telegraph Travel’s Barcelona expert, shares her favourite places to go for a tipple and evening entertainment.
Gran Teatre del Liceu
The Liceu is one of the great opera houses of Europe. Over the years it has endured two major fires and an 1893 terrorist attack, but – much like Venice’s La Fenice – it has yet again risen from the ashes and been restored to its former red velvet and gilt splendour. It has hosted some spectacular productions, but if you can’t catch an opera (rock and pop concerts are also occasionally staged), you can also take a guided tour of the auditorium and the various hidden salons behind the scenes, as well as the glorious mirrored foyer.
Contact: 00 34 93 485 99 00; liceubarcelona.cat
Getting in: Dress smartly; reserve well ahead
An unpretentious and musically savvy venue that attracts a slightly older crowd than most Barcelona clubs, but is no less lively for that. The music – at the live concerts, in the legendary jam sessions and the tunes spun by the house DJs – has old-school funk and soul at its heart, but is also fairly eclectic and you might well also hear Brazilian beats, Latin and other world sounds. It’s a smallish and boxy space, and it’s worth arriving early for gigs or you may find yourself stuck behind one of the wide pillars.
Contact: 00 34 93 318 76 90; marulacafe.com
Getting in: Free before 12am unless there is live music
This is a wonderfully traditional old bar, famous for its Modernista woodwork on the ground floor – but downstairs in the brick-walled basement is where the magic really happens. On Friday and Saturday nights, the space and its diminutive stage play host to some great live acts, including the soulful regulars Sinead and the Flytones, and the funky DL & the Downlow, and the awkward layout is no obstacle to some enthusiastic dancing. There are also regular blues jams and occasional flamenco performances. Entrance is free, but you’ll be harried to buy a drink once you’ve found yourself a spot to sit or stand. Drinks are very slightly cheaper in the upstairs bar.
Contact: 00 34 93 317 14 79; elparaigua.com
Getting in: Free admission, but minimum consumption policy
The cocktails are impressive (try the Magnolia, with vodka, pisco, ginger and lime), as is the roster of live music, but Milano’s wow-factor for visitors is the element of surprise when they walk off a busy street through the side of a neon-lit games arcade and down the stairs to where another world unfolds. Much as one would imagine the bar of the Titanic to look, it’s a cavernous space of red velvet upholstery, Ionic columns and framed black and white photos. After 11pm there are DJs spinning jazz, funk and soul. The live music is before the DJs – times vary.
Contact: 00 34 93 112 71 50; camparimilano.com
DJ Fred Guzzo has long had a cult following around town for his mixture of jazz, funk, soul and Latin rhythms, so music fans were delighted when he opened his own bar. Its smart but cosy interior plays host to some excellent live acts, hand-picked by Guzzo himself, though you can expect to find him spinning the discs on other nights of the week. The vibe is predominantly cocktail bar, but there is also a reasonably sized menu of global dishes, and on Sunday mornings you can take in the music while enjoying a hearty hangover brunch.
The Mix is a great option for those who are not averse to a little shimmy, but who might feel a little too old in Barcelona’s largely twentysomething-populated clubs. Depending on the night, the music ranges from funk to deep house, but this is as much a lounge bar as throbbing disco, and propping up the bar admiring the neon lights, the copper lampshades and groovy wallpaper while sipping on a gin and tonic is also a popular choice. The bar is a great bet for a late drink when other places have closed.
Contact: 00 34 93 319 46 96; mixbcn.com
Getting in: Free admission
La Confitería means sweet shop, which is fitting considering the the former incarnation of this much-loved bar was just that. It’s retained many of the fittings – glorious old wooden shelves backed by mirrors, and frescoes on the walls and ceiling, and an elegant façade with window vitrines that serve to display a changing selection of artworks. There is a larger room at the back, refurbed to be equally characterful, where you’ll occasionally catch live music at nights and at lunchtime on Sundays. It can get quite busy around 8pm, thanks to its popularity as a meeting point prior to nearby concert venues.
It’s all about the glamour at CDLC (Carpe Diem Lounge Club). During the day it functions as a so-so restaurant, saved by its beachside location, but at night it comes into its own. The DJs vary, but mostly play a mix of house and electronica, although the ultimate goal is to secure a place on one of the day beds that sit alongside the dancefloor (you need to reserve them), from which you can play spot-the-celeb. You’ll need to dress to impress here – don’t even think about coming straight from the beach.
Contact: 00 34 93 224 04 70; cdlcbarcelona.com
Getting in: Reserve for a day bed; dress smartly
Much of the nightlife of the moneyed uptown neighbourhood of Sant Gervasi happens along this one street (Carrer de Marià Cubí), and Universal is at the centre of things. Despite its glamorous white-leather sofas, tasteful neon and generally upmarket air, you don’t have to be ridiculously glammed up to feel at home here, nor do you have to be especially young. There’s a reasonably sized dancefloor, which gets quite animated, but the music (house, mostly, but check the website for exceptions) rarely reaches a volume that makes conversation impossible. For a more peaceful experience, however, head upstairs to the comfortable lounge area.
On a side street just off the Plaça Sant Jaume, Zim is not much bigger than a stone-walled larder, but considerably warmer and with better music (jazz, mostly). Don’t go expecting a long list of wines, but those that there are – a handful of reds, a handful of whites, all of them Catalan or Spanish – are chosen with care. There is also a selection of cheeses and charcuterie to nibble on, and with your glass of wine comes a ‘peton’ (kiss, in Catalan): a tiny wholemeal roll containing a slice of artisanal cheese. Co-owner Katherine owns an excellent cheese shop next door.
Address: C/Dagueria 20
Contact: 00 34 93 412 65 20
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 6pm-11pm
Cafè de l’Òpera
Named for the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house opposite, this is an unmissable stop on La Rambla. Frozen in time, with its ornate furnishing and tarnished mirrors, it has old-school waiters to match. They’ve seen it all, from the divas dropping in for a nightcap after a showto busloads of tourists, and remain unflappable. The café serves the usual fare, with tapas, sandwiches and cakes and – rather more unexpectedly – an excellent list of whiskies. While most cafés charge a little more if you sit at a pavement table, the price hike is something of a hefty one here.
Schilling is the Old City’s prime meeting place, conveniently placed halfway along the main thoroughfare that leads from La Rambla to the Plaça Sant Jaume. It’s named after the Austrian-owned gun shop that stood here at the turn of the last century, but it’s now an elegant spot, with high ceilings propped up by iron pillars, and attracts a mixed crowd for its teas, coffees and light lunches (including some good vegetarian options). By day it’s popular with tourists and resident foreigners, but at night tends to fill with hip young Catalans. It’s also popular with the LGBT+ community. Note the late opening hours.
Contact: 00 34 618 812 590; cafeschilling.com
Bar del Convent
This bar is a hub of neighbourhood life. It sits inside what was once the Convent de Sant Agustí, a building it shares with the Chocolate Museum and a wonderful light sculpture by James Turrell, among other things. Expect a lively café that serves sandwiches, quiche and cakes, hosts all kind of performances, from puppets to bluegrass, and exhibits the work of local artists. Best of all, it has tables outside next to the graceful arches of the former cloisters, where there’s plenty of space for little ones to run around.
Contact: 00 34 93 256 50 17; bardelconvent.com
Elsa y Fred
An elegant neighbourhood café, modestly modelled on the grand cafés of European society, with tasselled lampshades, a large fireplace and leather armchairs. It has various incarnations. In the mornings is when it’s at its best, with various breakfast options and magazines you can flick through while you sip your coffee. At lunchtime, it fills for a reasonably sophisticated fixed-price menu, while in the evenings is when it gets a little more chaotic, particularly on the nights when they squeeze in some live music.
Contact: 00 34 93 501 66 11; elsayfred.es
La Vinya del Senyor
Smack in front of the majestic Santa María del Mar church, La Vinya del Senyor is a diminutive wine bar, with more seats outside than in. Waiters are more than happy to guide you through a long wine list of mostly Spanish and Catalan labels. There are also superb quality tapas (try the jamón ibérico), although these, like the wine, do come at a bit of a premium. The terrace is really the place to be, but if you’re quick you can also head up the spiral staircase for the window seat, which looks over the square and church.
The ‘little champagne’ of the name refers to the house cava, which is a fairly ordinary but dirt-cheap number, served in coupe glasses to a lively clientele that blends inquisitive tourists with locals who’ve been coming here for decades. El Xampanyet is no secret, and drinkers spill out on to the street even on relatively quiet nights. But if you can squeeze in, you’ll find a bright, tiled bar with traditional wineskins hanging from the ceiling and a selection of simple tapas along the bar. The tried-and-tested accompaniment to the bubbly, though, is a saucer of boquerones (fresh anchovies).
Contact: 00 34 93 319 70 03; elxampanyet.es
Bar Marsella has been serving absinthe to the city’s boho element for almost a hundred years, during which time it hasn’t occurred to anyone to re-wallpaper or, indeed, dust. This is the bar’s great charm, however, along with its battered mirrors and ancient bottles. You can drink what you please, but the thing to have is really the absinthe, into which you drip water through a sugar lump and watch it change colour. The uninitiated in the art of drinking absinthe might want to stick at one, the first time.
Address:C/Sant Pau 65
Contact: 00 34 93 442 72 63
Opening times: Mon-Thu, Sun, 6pm-2.30am; Fri-Sat, 10pm-3am
There’s a price to be paid for ‘classic’ status in Barcelona, and at Boadas that means a lot of tourists. It still has an ineffable charm, however, particularly if you make it on a quiet night. A small, triangular place, its walls dotted with memorabilia signed by local luminaries, it lays claim to being the oldest cocktail bar in the city. It was set up in 1933 by a Catalan who had lived in Cuba and worked at the legendary La Floridita bar, and whose daughter still owns the place.
Contact: 00 34 93 318 95 92; boadascocktails.com
Getting in: No flip flops or beachwear
There are some truly great cocktail bars in Barcelona, but Dry Martini is top of the heap. It’s nothing if not traditional; its barmen (who would never call themselves ‘mixologists’) in tuxes spritz lemon peel in front of a mirrored display of antique drinking paraphernalia. But it’s still supremely relaxed, with deep leather banquettes in olive green and a surprisingly eclectic selection of music. There is no set list of cocktails, but the barmen will rustle up something special once they’ve established your preferences and mood. Beyond the bar is the semi-clandestine Speakeasy restaurant, a favourite among well-heeled Catalans.
In record time, Carrer del Parlament has transformed into Catalunya’s own Primrose Hill. On a Sunday morning, assorted hipsters will be sipping on the city’s trademark aperitif, the wildly fashionable vermut – red vermouth with a splash of soda, green olive and a slice of orange. Spearheading this change in the fortunes of this previously frankly forgettable neighbourhood is the Bar Calders, which serves a huge selection of wines, as well as tapas, and has a terrace that’s not quite roadside and therefore a favourite with parents. Be warned that the very cheapest wines are not great – it’s worth spending a little more.
Contact: 00 34 93 329 93 49; C/Parlament 25
Opening times: Mon-Thu, 5pm-1:30am; Fri, 5pm-2.30am; Sat, 11am-2.30am; Sun, 11am-12am
Novelist Jay McInerney described it as possibly the best wine bar in the world. He might just have had one too many when he wrote that, but jaw-droppingly futuristic Monvínic is certainly very good. It is part bar, part restaurant and part library – many of the books are in English and visitors are welcome to flick through them. The food is also excellent, but plays second fiddle to a truly extraordinary range of wines, over 3,000 at last count. You select these via a state-of-the-art interactive menu, or simply by asking the highly trained waiters for assistance.
Contact: 00 34 93 272 61 87; monvinic.com
Opening times: Mon, 7pm-11pm; Tue-Fri, 1pm-11pm; Sat, 7pm-11pm
Xixbar abandoned the initial attempt to fully preserve the original décor (it was once a granja, or dairy), and has now fully glitzed up. It’s a bit of a shame, really – there was something rather wonderful about a specialist gin joint in an old dairy – but certain features remain, such as the tiled walls behind the bar. Anyway, the gin is the thing, with a list of almost 300 types, along with a myriad of tonics, combined in various ways with various fruits. Should you be wondering (and many do), the name of the bar is pronounced ‘chicks’, and refers to its street number.
Contact: 00 34 93 423 43 14; xixbar.com
Opening times: See website
Cafè del Centre
In an area not really known for bars flooded with character, the Cafè del Centre is a bit of a gem. Black and white floor tiles, marble-topped tables, iron pillars, an old piano… it has barely changed since it first opened its doors in 1873, and is still in the hands of the same family. A favourite with writers and readers, it’s a quiet place by day, but at night pulls in a younger crowd, who are increasingly well served with – among other things – an extensive selection of craft beers.
Contact: 00 34 93 488 11 01
Opening times: Mon-Fri, 10am-12am; Sat, 12pm-12am; closed for two weeks in August