Well I never been to Spain
But I kinda like the music
Say the ladies are insane there
And they sure know how to use it
In the weeks leading up to my first trip to Spain, I would joke about the fact that “I never been to Spain”. Guess I can’t use that line anymore.
Spain is the 37th country I’ve been lucky enough to visit. Although I spent the entire time in Barcelona, I loved the city so much I don’t know if I’d ever want to leave it.
And there is a lot to love. That I was there on business meant that I didn’t get to see as much of the city as I would have liked, but what I did see was amazing. Beautiful architecture, wonderful weather and some of the nicest people I’ve met outside of the United States.
Oh, and good food and drink, of course.
I landed on a Saturday, and as luck would have it my hotel room was ready. When I travel east it is usually an overnight flight where I arrive mid-morning. If I can, I like to sleep for a few hours, wake up before dusk, and then stay up to a normal bedtime. If I can do that, I tend to adapt to the local time quickly, but sometimes my room isn’t ready and I have to make other plans. Luck was with me, so I took a nap and got up around 16:00 to wander around the city. I ended up wandering the Barrio Gotico (Gothic Quarter), a warren of old streets which was kind of fun yet spooky, since it was dark and there were few people about due to some rain showers.
It was also that night I learned something cool about Spain. Where I live it is not unusual for restaurants to close about 20:00 (8pm). Around 19:40 I walked into a restaurant and asked for a seat (in my broken Spanish). The person I talked to tried to explain something to me, and after a minute or so I realized that the restaurant didn’t even open until 20:00.
I knew I would love this town.
I had the next day to myself, so I decided to play Ingress. This took me all over the main parts of the city. In fact, I walked about 25km that day alone.
This took me past the famous Sagrada Familia.
I didn’t plan ahead and the line was long, so I missed seeing the inside of Gaudí’s masterpiece, but it is on the list for next time.
After the weekend I spent most of the time working. We would start around 9:00 to 9:30 and go until 20:00. We would eat lunch sometime around 15:00-16:00, and unlike the US where lunch is usually a trip to a fast food restaurant, every place we went to had a “set” lunch, often referred to as “el menú del día”. For a set price, between 9 and 11 euros, you get two plates, a drink (including a beer or wine) and a dessert. So civilized, and good for you.
As I was in a major city, I wanted to indulge my passion for vintage cocktails. Number 42 on the list of the World’s Top 50 bars is Dry Martini, and when I mentioned to friends that I wanted to go there, they also suggested a place called Boadas.
Since Boadas was closer, I decided to try it first.
Boadas is a triangular-shaped room off of the touristy Las Ramblas. I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere: intimate, with dark paneled walls. Crowded, but with a few open seats. Older bartenders dressed in tuxedos.
Now in preparation for my trip I spent a lot of time practicing my Spanish on Duolingo. If you haven’t heard of it, it is a website where you can learn languages for free. They “gamify” the whole process so it’s fun, and I actually got compliments on my Spanish skills. They will remind you to visit every day, and I felt guilty when my string of 21 days broke. I wanted to tell Duolingo “but, I’m actually practicing my Spanish in Spain!”
I should mention that most people here speak Catalan, a language derived from Roman Latin, along with Spanish. It can get confusing, such as the time I was given a menu and it took me a full minute to realize it was in Italian.
Anyway, back to Boadas. I went up to the bar and asked, in Spanish, if they had a drink menu. They did not – they just made classic cocktails. Cool, I thought, and I asked for a Golden Dawn. The bartender looked at me with a confused expression and said he didn’t know that one. No worries, it’s pretty obscure, how about a Scofflaw? No, he replied, we only make “classic” cocktails.
Okay, if that’s the game you want to play, how about a Brandy Crusta?
At this point the guy next to me at the bar, who I later learned was from Zurich, was like “good one!”. Of course, the bartender didn’t know of the Brandy Crusta. I explained that it was the origin of such drinks as the Margarita and Sidecar.
Sidecar! He knew that one, so for 9€ I got a very good sidecar, but the whole experience was a little disappointing. They were offering a cocktail special called the “Leap Craddock”. I, of course, was familiar with Harry Craddock, but I had never heard of this drink. I think it might have been their interpretation of the Leap Year Cocktail, but I didn’t stick around to find out. Perhaps my accent and elementary Spanish skills had something to do with it, so I won’t put the whole blame on the bartender.
Later in the week I did make it to Dry Martini.
This was slightly larger than Boadas but with just as much atmosphere. The bartenders here wore ties and white jackets. I went up to the bar and introduced myself to Paco. When I asked if he had a drink menu he produced two: one for Martinis and one for other cocktails.
The Martini menu included 100 drinks, many of them classics that I wouldn’t exactly call Martinis, but I was willing to overlook that. For my first drink I decided to follow the adage “when in Rome” so I ordered a classic Martini. They do theirs with equal parts gin and vermouth, which is practically unheard of, but the final product was delicious. Part of the secret is that they stir it in a huge pitcher completely full of ice, so when it is finally served it is oh so ice cold.
It was one of the best Martinis I’ve ever had.
I mentioned to Paco, in Spanish, that I had a cocktail blog. He asked if I spoke English, and when I said “yes” he introduced me to Lorenzo. Lorenzo was originally from Italy and he is also a fan of Ted Haigh’s book. One of the first things he said to me was “I think my favorite cocktail of his is the Golden Dawn”.
We had a really nice discussion about cocktails, starting with how the Golden Dawn should always be made in equal proportions (which goes against my friend and cocktail chef Justin, but he does just have that one flaw. Well, maybe two as he doesn’t like Tiki drinks). It was nice how a love of real cocktails can bring people together.
As I was sitting at the bar, contented, I decided I would like some food. Since lunch was pretty filling, I was wondering if I could just get something small, then I realized I was in the country that invented small dishes. I asked for a tapas menu and ordered the “Dry Martini Potatoes” and a tuna dish. Both were very tasty and just the right portions.
For my final cocktail I went with an old favorite, The Last Word. Equal parts gin, maraschino liqueur, green chartreuse and lime juice. I thought the dried lime slice was a nice touch.
As much as I would have liked to go there every night, it didn’t happen. I was able to take two of my customers back on Friday, the last night I was in town. Both Paco and Lorenzo were working, and I think I made an impression since they seemed to remember me.
Although we weren’t in Lorenzo’s section, he came by to chat and I asked if he would make, off the menu, three Golden Dawns. He was more than happy to do so:
I actually was a little unhappy, since his were better than mine. I think he has access to superior Calvados.
Anyway, I plan to return in September with Andrea and so I should have more to say on the culture of Barcelona than just a synopsis of the cocktail culture, not that focusing on the cocktail culture is a bad thing.