Monday, September 7, 2015

Modernist-Era Bar Crawl

Like most cities, Barcelona is divided into a bunch of different neighborhoods (districts), each of which developed at some point during the city's approximately 2000 year history. There are newer, semi-suburban areas like Vall d'Hebron. Places that used to be different towns, like Gracia. And many more. Each has its own feel and, for many, a typical architectural style that matches when they were built up.

Probably the most iconic areas are the old city (Ciutat Vella), which dates from even before Roman times, and the Eixample, which grew during the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition era. The Eixample in particular is known for its many Modernist-style buildings, which include famous building like Casa Batllo and La Pedrera among thousands more. (Oh, and in case you haven't been here or aren't familiar, Modernism is what Art Nouveau is called in Barcelona.)

One district that's not as well known for Modernist-era buildings is the Raval. This neighborhood developed just outside (or, to the left of) Barcelona's second, "newer" city wall, which ran down where La Rambla is today between the older Gothic and newer Poble Sec neighborhoods.

So when we recently found a Friday night Modernist tour and Raval bar crawl in a locals-only discount pack, we couldn't resist.

The Raval has always been working-class and, more recently, a bit hippy/artsy. It was (is?) known as Barcelona's red-light district complete with bordellos, sketchy drinking establishments, dance halls like La Paloma below, and other places you'd prefer your teenage daughter not go.

Many of these businesses developed as people began to have the time and money to eat and drink outside the house. Stuff we take for granted, such as restaurants and bars, didn't become "a thing" until the mid-1800s. The nearby Rambla and Passeig de Gracia are probably the best examples of this societal change in Barcelona.

Even today, I'd venture a guess that the vast majority of Barcelona natives rarely go to the Raval. It's still has a somewhat-bad reputation and remains, well, let's say, a bit "rough". One of our stops was at the Bar Mariella, which is located right in the mix of what gives the Raval its reputation. An old artist-and-absinthe place, it bills itself as the oldest continuously-operating bar in Barcelona.

Like pretty much every other bar in Europe, Hemingway used to hang out here (that guy got around!) as did a bunch of other famous folks in their day. Who knows if that was/is the case, but today it seems to be mostly drunken students and tourists. It's intentionally un-renovated complete with peeling paint, black sticky muck on the "decorative" liquor bottles, and a flavor you can, umm, taste when you walk through the door.

The tour included a drink of our choice at the last bar we visited, the London Bar, which is just up from Palau Guell. I, of course, opted for the absinthe, which included getting to watch the dramatic preparation process.

Absinthe, if you haven't had one, is something like a flaming Jagermeister. Here's a video of the preparation:

Even after living in Barcelona this long, I am still learning so much about the city's history, which our excellent guide brought to life. Now, onto the next tour!

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