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The Foodism guide to Barcelona, Spain

With a rich cultural tapestry, vibrant restaurant scene and pretty reliable year-round sun, Barcelona is basically the perfect city getaway. Especially when you delve into its thriving cocktail industry, as Mike Gibson discovers. 

Most people who love food and travel will agree that the tapas and wine culture of Barcelona – not to mention its cosmopolitan mash of cultures and proudly independent identity – make it a must-visit for a long weekend of eating, sightseeing and nightlife. But if it’s not on your bucket list for a cocktail trip, it should be – not only does it have a rich history in cocktail bars as far back as the early 19th century, but it’s been the beneficiary of a few excellent recent additions, too.

The crowning glory of these is Two Schmucks. Or should I say the Schmuck or Die group, founded in 2017 by Moe Aljaff, an Iraqi-born, Sweden-raised bartender who at just 31 is the owner of two more recent openings in the El Raval neighbourhood and a rising star in the international bar community. Aljaff lived a nomadic life in his twenties and worked at venues in India and Thailand before nabbing a job at acclaimed Himkok in Norway, but moved back to Barcelona – where he’d previously spent some time working under his now-business partner James Bligh – to open his take on a dive bar with serious drinks credentials. If a sign saying “Come in, we’re c**ts” didn’t give it away, it’s every bit as brash, eclectic and contemporary-feeling a bar as his personal history suggests.

Now in its fourth year, Two Schmucks is a mainstay on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, and Aljaff and his team – led by newly installed creative directors Juliette Larrouy and Pom Modeste – have added two more sites pretty much within arm’s reach on “Schmuck Street”, or El Raval’s Carrer de Joaquín Costa: all-day diner Fat Schmuck and karaoke bar Lucky Schmuck. We went for a couple of days to check them out, but also got the chance to see this corner of Barcelona – from El Raval to the long strip of El Born and the edge of the Barri Gotíc, or Gothic Quarter – as Aljaff sees it: streets that thrum with energy, where expats, nomads and modern-day bohemians from countless backgrounds, nationalities and cultures can come together in the name of great drinks and a seriously good time.

Where to drink

Two Schmucks

Carrer de Joaquín Costa, 52, 08001 Barcelona

Sit for a drink in Two Schmucks and it won’t take long for the founders’ mantra – the “five-star dive bar” – to make perfect sense. Aljaff and his team are well versed in dive-bar culture, but equally influenced both by the world of gastronomy and their travels around Asia. This culminates in a beautiful new menu, the first created almost entirely by chefs-turned-bartenders Larrouy and Modeste, whose drinks sing with eclectic, transportive flavours – think a classic beef bourguignon turned into a deep, savoury and umami-rich manhattan-style serve, or a long, gently sweet drink inspired by the classic Thai mango and sticky rice dessert that was a favourite of team member Heena. Despite being ambitious in nature, the drinks aren’t gimmicky and are always eminently drinkable – as you’d expect from the bar voted number 26 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2020. Alongside its buzzing atmosphere, out-there artwork and the gloriously unrefined refinement and don’t-give-a-fuck attitude and you’ve got a bar it’s simply very, very difficult not to have a good time in.

two-schmucks.com

Boadas

Carrer dels Tallers, 1, 08001 Barcelona

From a slice of new-school Barcelona to something altogether more classic, Boadas can claim to be the city’s oldest cocktail bar – founded by Miguel Boadas in 1930, it’s remained a quintessential visit to locals and tourists who are serious about the art of drinking. A beautiful burnished wood bar, tuxedo’d bartenders and historic photos on the wall all subtly instill a sense of ‘living relic’ inside and hark back to the golden age of the cocktail bar, while drinks are always elegant, timeless and usually strong, too. Our tip? Follow the locals’ tradition, go for a martini or two between 1-2pm and start the afternoon right.

@boadascocktails

Marlowe

Carrer del Rec, 24, 08003 Barcelona

Somewhere between the two sits Marlowe, a bar that has its roots in the 1970s but which has recently been taken over by four young bartenders who’ve gently refreshed it while keeping a sense of history and a similarly beautiful curving copper bar top. Drinks here are creative without being too out-there (think bartenders who’ll create you serious, bespoke stirred drinks according to what you say you like, rather than mixologists spending their days creating infused spirits in a rotovap) and there’s a sense of old-school European glamour that only gets deeper as the night goes on.

@marlowe_bar

Creps al Born

Passeig del Born, 12, 08003 Barcelona

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When it comes to his bars, Aljaff is an operator who has an idea, tries it out and doesn’t overthink it, so it’s no surprise to know that he’s found some contemporaries in the form of the people running Creps al Born. As the name suggests, this haunt on the El Born street in El Raval was originally a French-style crèperie, but it’s known better now as a vibey tiki bar where the drinks go big on flavour, the music’s loud and every now and again the bar staff start swinging the huge filament lights above the bar, the assembled hordes roar and the atmosphere is as close to properly anarchic as you can get in what’s still first and foremost a great cocktail bar.

@crepsalbornbcn

Caribbean Club

Carrer de les Sitges, 5, 08001 Barcelona

Another relic of a bygone era, the clandestine Caribbean Club shares owners with Boadas and has been open since the 1970s and is run by legendary bartender Juanjo Gonzalez Rubiera. As its name suggests, it specialises in punchy rum cocktails, with a brilliant selection of spirits from around the Caribbean islands used in beautiful, timeless drinks. Like Boadas, it’s also keeping alive the tradition of throwing cocktails – sending the liquid arcing from one half of a shaker to the other at arm’s length to aerate the drink, a tradition that goes back to the iconic El Floridita bar in Havana.

caribbeanclubbcn.com

Lucky Schmuck

Carrer de Joaquín Costa, 36, 08001 Barcelona

The newest opening from the Schmuck or Die group, new bar Lucky Schmuck mixes the kind of all-out party atmosphere you’ll get at Creps al Born with live music and a central mirrored karaoke room (Justin Timberlake, if you’re asking). Bar service only keeps the vibe big and brash until the early hours – Barcelona’s late-night scene puts London’s to shame – while a short list of Aljaff, Larrouy and Modeste’s excellent cocktails are available on tap alongside great local beers and wines and a towering back bar of eclectic spirits accessible to the bartenders via a giant sliding ladder. If it sounds a bit silly, it’s because it really is, in the very best way possible.

schmuckordie.com

Where to eat

Fat Schmuck

Plaça d'Emili Vendrell, 08001 Barcelona

Considering a sizable proportion of the Schmuck or Die extended family have their roots in gastronomy, it’s not surprising that they’d open a food-first concept. Fat Schmuck was something of a happy accident – it started as an opportunistic pop-up terrace in an at-the-time vacant restaurant a few doors down in the break between the city’s Covid lockdowns, and became so insanely popular that a permanent opening was all but a formality. The focus here is on elevated comfort food that mostly has its roots in American diner dishes but brings some of that eclectic influence into things. Think a char-grilled octopus tentacle in a hot dog bun, fried chicken and waffles, banh mi and crispy duck pancakes. There are, of course, cocktails: some straight-up, some long, that are crushable, easy-drinking and full of punchy flavour.

fatschmuck.com

Bar Brutal

Carrer de la Princesa, 14, 08003 Barcelona

Thought natural wine and small plates was a uniquely London phenomenon? Think again. Barcelona’s modern restaurant scene is far more than traditional and contemporary tapas; it brings together influences from all over, and Bar Brutal is a great example. Food here ranges from Spanish to Middle Eastern and loads more besides – think braised lamb with goat’s cheese and beets, ox tongue with labneh, and cracking charcuterie and cheeses – but it’s a wine bar first and foremost, and wines are the stars of the show. If you’re already a convert to natty wine – the modern style of unfined, unfiltered and low-intervention wine that has so many East Londoners in its thrall – you’ll love the options on offer, with bottles that go large on funk.

barbrutal.com

Bar Cañete

Carrer de la Unió, 17, 08001 Barcelona

Having said all that, it’d be rude to spend a few days in Barcelona without some classic tapas, and the iconic and much-loved Bar Cañete is the best spot in El Raval to find it. Mixing old-school and contemporary vibes (the restaurant feels like an institution despite only having been opened in its current form a few years ago), it serves an a pretty much flawless menu of classic dishes, from sumptuous croquetas to Catalunya’s own savoury canelones, prawn torta and plenty more besides. Sit on the counter at its open kitchen or on a quieter table at the back, order a bottle of rioja and spend a couple of hours eating your way through as much of the menu as you can.

barcanete.com

Where to stay

Kimpton Vividora

Carrer del Duc, 15, 08002, Barcelona

The Kimpton hotel group has been quietly making a name as one of the best boutique hotel operators in Europe, thanks to a contemporary approach to hospitality that sees each of its locations draw as much inspiration from the local neighbourhood and the people within it as possible. At the beautiful Kimpton Vividora – just the other side of La Rambla to Schmuck Street and El Raval, and an easy walk – you’ll find a gorgeous five-star hotel that’s hip, not stuffy, with a great programme of events (including the group-wide Social Hour initiative, where guests are encouraged to meet and greet over a few glasses of free wine), as well as an absolute corker of a roof terrace with a menu of great wines, cocktails and simple, elegant tapas. Rooms are sleek and spacious – ours had a balcony that overlooked a beautiful backstreet – there are good co-working spaces, and restaurant Fauna is smart, modern and understated, with great breakfast options. Yoga on the roof terrace could be just the antidote if things got a little hectic at Lucky Schmuck, and a glass of cava on the roof to the backing of washed-out disco and house as the sun sets is the just the kind of start your night out is calling for.

kimptonvividorahotel.com

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