The Hedonist: Barcelona
Prepare yourself for a big night out, says Cass Chapman from Hg2 luxury city guides
Saturday 14 August 2010
Every time I go back to Barcelona, I make a firm promise that this time I will sleep; I will not get suckered into just one more drink in just one last bar and I will ensure the trip is cultural and civilised.
Every time I go to Barcelona I fail on that promise. I moved there for four months a while back, madly in love and with a pre-recession expense account with which to research this sparkling city on the sea.
And research it I did, every night for four gruelling months. Now I can't go back without revisiting all those favourite places – and trying new ones.
Everyone is tweeting at the moment about the new kid on the block, the W Barcelona (00 34 932 952 800; starwoodhotels.com). Sitting proudly on the edge of hip Barceloneta, its rooftop bar and sailboat structure smacks strongly of Dubai's Burj al Arab hotel. But just down at the water's edge in Port Olimpic is the city's original no-holds-barred epitome of elegance, the Hotel Arts (00 34 932 211 000; hotel artsbarcelona.com). With its restaurant, Arola, and a Six Senses Spa (which has to have some of the best ocean-front views of any spa the world over), this is as delectable as five-star hotel accommodation gets.
I, of course, don't make the most of that double-wide bed because once all of my six senses are refreshed, I'm out the door.
Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona's very own Rodeo Drive, is the place to head for good shopping, but my night usually begins at the top of this winding avenue with a cocktail at the opulent Hotel Casa Fuster, which lies at the base of Tibidabo (00 34 932 553 000; hotelescenter.es). Once a private residence, it has been turned into a stunning and very regal hotel, with a fabulous restaurant and bar that are popular hangouts for locals and guests alike. Balmy summer nights happily float by on the Blue View roof terrace, a bar which serves up some unrivalled views across the city.
It's the perfect place to kick start a night out, but order with caution: drinks in Barcelona seem to be made three times stronger than anywhere else.
Supper always starts late in this city, so there's the chance for just one more cocktail before considering food. The dress code at Carpe Diem (00 34 932 240 470; cdlcbarcelona.com) on Passeig Maritim draws a very suited and Prada-booted crowd, but it's not as pretentious as it might sound. Once you've made it past the fashion police, the place is structured to resemble two tents on a lawn rather than a club, so it's a must for summer nights.
Dinner has to be at Cata 181 (00 34 933 236 818; cata181.com) on Carrer de Valencia. Years ago, I was lucky enough to try a penne pasta they served here that was draped in a white chocolate and blood sausage sauce, which might sound like wacky molecular gastronomy but I still crave it to this day. Ferran Adrià's El Bulli is only a short drive away and Adrià's mythical, magical stamp is all over this great city. While his style has clearly influenced Cata 181, this is still a unique restaurant. It's actually a vinoteca, so the food is created to complement the wine rather than vice versa, but it serves some of my favourite food in the city.
I always try and get the private dining room at the rear of the restaurant (you have to walk through the tiny kitchen to get there) if it's available. However, be aware that between the food and the flowing Rioja of this one-off Catalan creation with lovely Santi at its helm, you'll be hard pushed to leave long before dawn.
Incidentally, a close contender for top spot is Comerc 24 in the La Ribera quarter (00 34 933 192 102; comerc24.com). The divine-tasting menu is obvious homage to the brilliance of El Bulli, though the tapas seems to get larger in size as the meal progresses. (I filled up on bread the first time I went – never making that mistake again.) This is requisite dining out for foodies in Barcelona.
Eventually, I manage to drag myself away from Cata 181, as I'm keen to get to the Hotel Omm which is always my next pit stop (00 34 934 454 000; hotelomm.es). It is impossibly cool (this won't be for you if you hate minimalist interior design), but this hotspot also houses Omm Sensation, a nightclub underneath the foundations of the bedrooms.
The place where the city's young and hip collide at weekends, its slick interior, good-as-it-gets live DJ sets and lethal mixed drinks leave the following day very blurry.
As I scan the very beautiful bevy of young Spaniards around me, I try not to feel old and uncool. But what I love about Omm Sensation is how friendly that seemingly intimidating crowd is. I never leave without new friends, though I've no doubt the heady combination of drinks helps boost my social skills somewhat.
I spill out onto the streets of Eixample feeling spun around and spat out but grinning from ear to ear. At this stage, bed would be sensible but, of course, it's nowhere near my agenda. What is of interest though is Gimlet on Calle Rec, an insiders' institution.
A bar with no website, no email address and not even a telephone number, it is curtained and secretive in nature, but this only leaves me intrigued. Once inside the four walls of this legendary hangout, it's bursting at the seams with locals, gargantuan cocktails and an elegant, retro interior.
Another good one is Just In Bar (00 34 934 157 032; Justinbar.com) which is really two bars under one roof. Before 11pm it's a tranquil spot for catch up and Caipirinhas; after 11pm, it metamorphoses into a pumping, grinding club where drinks flow well into the following day.
If I really feel like taking things on into the next day, Space is always a sure fire winner (matinee group.com). An off-shoot of its sister in Ibiza, its Sunday "gay day" is open to men only, but every other day it is extremely popular among clubbers of both genders and every sexual orientation. I stare, mesmerised, at the 1,000 glasses of water lit against one wall, distracted only by the world-class music spun by world-class DJs. The thrill of the rowdy crowd always revives me and it's impossible not to get sucked in.
It's now dawn and that sumptuous bed at the Hotel Arts is screaming my name. I get a few hours' sleep and hurl myself back out into the glorious sunshine with nothing but food on the brain. There is no question as to where I am headed. It can only be what, in my humble opinion, is the very best tapas joint in the city (and, dare I start a debate, maybe even in Spain): La Bodegueta on Rambla de Catalunya (00 34 932 154 894).
It might not look like much with its dusty, musty, very smoky atmosphere and rickety plastic chairs, but it never fails me. Jamon serrano drips with perfect white fat (never cut this off – it packs all flavour into the meat), patatas bravas, pimientos padrones and hot rockets of chiselled chorizo abound in this perfect tapas house, the likes of which I would normally never have walked into. However, thanks to a previous introduction by some local friends, I could now happily eat there every day. It is everything that makes tapas great and, once I manage to get a cold glass of Albariño down, I feel (almost) human again.
I am tired and my stilettos are ruined thanks to the endless cobbled streets. I don't think I could ever do it all over again. But then I look up, scan that spectacular Gothic skyline and remember I'm in Barcelona.
I can't possibly have a sensible night in. I inhale, head back to my room for a shower and brace myself for Round 2, my promise to myself about to be broken once more.
A Hedonist's Guide to... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see www.hg2.com
The 50 Best spas
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
The 10 Best hiking boots
Simon Calder: British Airways 'plane on fire' over Heathrow causes travel chaos on one of the busiest weekends of the year
Simon Calder: Nowhere else but London would a temporary runway closure lead to 200 flights being cancelled
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.