The cocktail scene of a city like Barcelona definitely exists, but it’s not at a par of say, New York, San Francisco, or any other city in the US where hipsters have reaffirmed the poignant beauty of mixing.
A night out with a friend a couple of months ago confirmed this. While we wandered through the likes of Tandem (where even expressing the twist was properly done) and Dry Martini (where the bartender swore he could make a Sazerac which turned out more like a Scotch & Soda) with a decent degree of success, once we hit up Pilé (where the chick behind the bar was drunker than me), Coppalia (where the bartender made a very rough Manhattan before rolling up the shutters at a “mere” 2:30), it was ultimately Bling Bling that proved the limits of the cocktail scene in Barna. This last one did me in as it was probably four in the morning and I made the mistake of switching from brown to clear, leaving behind my Bourbon in lieu of Gin. The morning wasn’t pretty, nor the morning after that. Thirty five is not a dignified age to tear it up in Gaudí Town.
Subsequent wanderings around town with #1 Fan have taken us to the-bar-previously-known-as Gimlet which is a super old school place. As far as character goes, it would generally be my vote for the cocktail bar with the mostest in Barcelona, although Tandem is a pretty classy joint as well. Their cocktails aren’t as good as others, but they’re still real cocktails, albeit you won’t find them using any fresh fruit in the mixing.
Of course, 41º by the Adrià brothers needs to be mentioned as well given that that is a very modern, high-end experience. Most people know the “Experience” part that they’ve recently re-launched with a multi-course meal along the lines of “el Bulli Lite”, but there is also the bar, serving up old standards as well as new creations. While it’s good, don’t do a Gin & Tonic there. Branch out and try something nutty. You’re definitely paying for it.
Then it occurred to me that really, 41º, Tandem, TBPKA Gimlet, Dry Martini, and a few others owned by the Javier de las Muelas group are the only true cocktail bars in Barcelona. Sure, you’ll see “Cocktails” or “Cócteles” signs everywhere, but these places are crap, having taken up residence in the Raval or along las Ramblas. How can you, the easygoing visitor to Barcelona know good from bad? It’s really quite simple: just like shitty restaurants, shitty cocktail bars have large menus out front. And, the more languages they’re in, the worse they’ll be.
Probably the worst offender for me among these career felons of aggravated booze assault are those that offer the “San Francisco”. Yes, while you may have heard of the “Frisco”, only diehards know the “San Francisco” and only the dieharderests will know that there are two different recipes:
25ml Sweet Vermouth
25ml Dry Vermouth
25ml Sloe Gin
1 dash Orange Bitters
1 dash Bitters
Shake all ingredients and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.
and of course the much crappier:
20ml Creme de Bananes
In a highball glass put in three large ice cubes and cover with vodka. Fill with equal parts juice, then creme, and then a splash of grenadine on the sides of the glass. Garnish with orange and/or strawberry.
But no, the “San Francisco” that these Ryanair sponsored stag party bars serve is as such:
In a pint glass, blend everything with a shot of yak piss, a pinch of dog’s ass, and then serve with a straw
I’m not sure if that’s the complete recipe, but I have a feeling it comes close. And, while the “San Francisco” may be in full swing through the warmer months, you might be thinking, “Oh, maybe I can make a San Francisco neighborhood cocktail that’ll be rad and totally unique!” Nope, SF gazes so hard at its navel that it could probably perform oral sex on itself given that neighborhood cocktails have already been done. Some day, I just need to get around to trying them out once my last rat’s ass has dried out and is ready to give again.