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For atmospheric bars and restaurants, and a friendly vibe, follow the locals to Barcelona’s fascinating fishermen’s quarter, Barceloneta
“Is this seat taken?” I looked up at the big friendly face of the 6ft 3in bloke in the aisle. And then down past a frilly basque to a black thong and fishnet stockings. He squeezed past me into the middle seat, giving me a great view of the L-plate on his arse.
I go to Barcelona every couple of months and this episode is not as unusual as it might sound. There are always half a dozen stag and hen parties on my easyJet flight. You see the same groups again and again over a weekend. Friday morning in the bar at Luton airport, Friday night on the Ramblas, Saturday afternoon in the Gothic quarter, Saturday night bar-hopping in the Born, early hours of Sunday getting into trouble in the Raval’s rougher parts.
And then by lunch on Sunday, looking distinctly second best, they reach Barceloneta, heading for the beach along Passeig de Joan de Borbó, which runs along the district’s edge (though often getting only as far as the Fastnet, an Irish bar with Sky Sports).
But only a few tourists explore beyond the main road and into this fascinating district, the old fishermen’s quarter. It sits on a spur of land, jutting out into the sea and separate from the rest of the city. This grid of narrow streets, with tiers of laundry hanging out to dry from the densely packed apartments, also feels separate – more village than city. Friends and neighbours greet each other on their way to the market and in summer, chairs are pulled out of flats and on to pavements so locals can keep cool and swap barrio gossip well into the night.
The evening is a great time to wander Barceloneta’s streets and discover its little bars and restaurants.
El Vaso de Oro (Carrer de Balboa 6) is barely a block in from Joan de Borbó and is a good place to start the evening. It’s long and incredibly narrow and there is only room for drinkers to stand two-deep at the bar. So, being popular, that means it’s often four-deep. It’s loud, buzzy and great entertainment. You’ll have to be brave and shout your order at the staff, imperious in their white jackets with gold epaulettes. They’re more fun than they look.
Ask for a flauta (tall glass) of beer – the bar makes its own. It’s hoppy and flavoursome. The food is almost as good. There are the usual tapas and they are all delicious, but don’t miss the solomillo con foie (steak with liver pâté). Chunks of meat and slices of foie are fried on the big griddle behind the bar. It’s a rich, bloody, salty, deeply unhealthy treat. The griddle is the bar’s performance space. The cook is the star – confidence and flair are essential.
El Vaso de Oro is a great place to finish the evening, too, but tear yourself away, cross the street and you’ll find Bitácora (Carrer de Balboa 1), a classic neighbourhood bar. The staff are friendly and the food great value. On my last visit, I had a seafood paella, roast shoulder of lamb and a chocolate pudding. All for around €15. Again, it’s often busy, so you may have to share a table with the regulars – don’t worry, they won’t bite.
Time to check out a couple of Barceloneta standards. Can Maño (Carrer del Baluard 20) and La Bombeta (Carrer de la Maquinista 3) are both simple and cheap restaurants and the locals love them. You have a choice: go early (before 8pm) and you should get in without a wait, but you’ll miss out on some of the atmosphere. Or go later and be ready to queue. You shouldn’t have to wait too long, though, as neither place is one for a long leisurely dinner. You’ll get really fresh seafood (Barcelona’s small fishing fleet is based just a couple of hundred yards away) and tasty mixed grills of meat and vegetables. La Bombeta’s speciality is bombas, deep-fried balls of mashed potato and minced meat, served with a spicy brava and alioli sauce.
Fancy a blowout? El Lobito (Carrer de Ginebra 9, +34 93 319 9164) specialises in seafood. Choose its set menu and you’ll have course after course, from razor clams and sea anemones to bass and lobster. It’s as if the best of the Boqueria market has been brought to your plate. Even my father, a notorious seafoodie, was overwhelmed. It’s not cheap, though – expect to pay around €80 each.
For a slightly less messy experience, try Suquet de L’Almirall (Passeig de Joan de Borbó 65, +34 93 221 6233, suquetdelalmirall.com) back on the main drag. Reserve a table outside and it’s perfect for people-watching. Again, it’s seafood, but it’s a cut above anything else. We share a plate of small fried fish and then a fish stew each, washed down with a bottle of white wine from nearby Penedès.
And for a nightcap, duck back into the heart of Barceloneta. It seems there’s a bar on every street corner but a few to recommend include Café de los Angelitos (Carrer de l’Almirall Cervera 26), Ké Bar (Carrer del Baluard 54) and Absenta Bar (Carrer de Sant Carles 36), which serves a range of absinthes – though you do then risk your night ending up in basques, thongs and stockings …