LAST MONTH, I had a short trip to Barcelona for business, and while I didn’t get much free time to sight-see, I did discover a couple brewpubs that are must-stops for any beer lover.
I had one afternoon where I was able to take a City Tour Bus around town and at least get a glimpse of what I’d like to see, if I actually was there in the city for a few days on my own time! And I walked around after dusk a couple nights, so I was able to visit a couple of pubs as well as walk through the gothic district, down the famous Las Ramblas strip and around the harbor. Barcelona is definitely a beautiful place with friendly people, amazing architecture and great food that I’d love to return to!
I checked in at a cool boutique hotel on Sunday, November 15, 2015 called Room Mate Pau right near the city center plaza (Placa de Catalunya). The hotel is definitely worth staying in if you’re going to Barcelona – it’s right at the center of things, a couple blocks from Las Ramblas and the gothic quarter. And it had cool room decor:
Thanks to Ben Holbrook’s 10 Craft Beer Bars in Barcelona guide, I picked out a couple places that I wanted to visit ahead of my trip, so I used my little bit of free time there well. I only wish I could have hit more of the places on his list. I had a couple hours free in the afternoon after checking in, so I stopped at one of the pubs on the list right off, the Ale & Hop, which was just a 10-minute walk from my hotel in the gothic quarter. The place had a funky b/w art display on all the walls, and taps featuring microbrews from around Europe.
My first beer in Barcelona was an Omnipollo & Buxton Ice Cream Pale. I was skeptical of pairing vanilla cream with a pale ale, but it was pretty good. And yes… You can taste both vanilla and hops! I tried another IPA there, but the Ice Cream Ale was the most memorable, though I don’t think I’d want to drink two of them in a row.
Proving that the world is, indeed, small, the bartender told me that the previous summer he’d been to Indiana, just an hour or so away from my house, to attend a beer fest there. He fell in love there with Three Floyd’s Brewing, and remembered their Zombie Dust by name!
After my visit to the Ale & Hop, I was back “on the clock” for a few hours, and then once done with work, had my first taste of true Spanish Tapas at the Taverna Del Bisbe. It was a good place right next to the Catedral de Barcelona, and I sampled some prawns, garlic potatoes, peppers, creme brule ice cream… Mmmm!
The following night, after a 14-hour day on the clock, I enjoyed a late (after 10 p.m.!) business dinner at El Nacional, one of several restaurants in a converted old train station. It was an excellent dinner – oxtail stew, tomato-rubbed olive oil bread, fried potatoes, olives and most importantly, a refreshing, golden Estrella Damm lager!
Afterwards, I took my laptop to La Taverna De Barcelona, a little bar near my hotel where a local band was playing an array of pop hits. And… ironically, I happened to be editing a new Siren-spinoff story at a bar that was flanked by… wood-carved sirens. What are the odds? I worked a little bit and enjoyed some popcorn and a refreshing but full-bodied Cruzcampo pils as the band moved from Oasis to Black-Eyed Peas. Life rewards those who live….
On Tuesday, I had the afternoon to roam the city. That’s when I hopped on the “Red Bus” and took an audio-guide tour around the city, catching glimpses of the harbor, retired bullfighting stadium (bullfighting is outlawed there now) and the famous Park Guell.
The tour is a great way to see the city because you can get on and off all day long as long as you retain your ticket. I got off the bus for a while at Park Guell and walked around and had a paella lunch near the park, which had a TV shoot going on for “Emerald City” (helmed by Shaun Cassidy). It was kind of weird to know that former American pop star Shaun Cassidy was filming just a few hundred yards from where I was walking in Spain! Here are a few photos of those things and the city square, Placa de Catalunya, which is right next to where I stayed. The bombings in Paris had happened just a couple days before my trip, and so the Placa had an impromptu memorial set up of hand-drawn prayers and art, which was inspiring to see.
The best thing on the tour that I saw was the beautiful, still under-construction church of lights, Sagrada Família, begun in late 1882 and taken over the following year by the architect Antoni Gaudi. The architect has sites celebrated all over the city, including Park Guell at the top of the hill overlooking the city. The construction on the church continues year by year, based on tourist donations, and is scheduled to be finished in about 10 more years. I spent well over an hour at the church, admiring the amazing streams of colored light and different architecture styles on its various facades. It is truly an architectural work of wonder.
After getting off the bus tour, I walked down Las Ramblas — kind of like the city’s “Times Square.” The boulevard is full of outdoor cafes and tourist trap shops and leads all the way to the harbor. Once there, I stopped at another of the brewpubs mentioned in the Beer Guide — the BlackLab Brewhouse & Kitchen, which is right near the water, and apparently a big hangout for beachgoers.
While I was there, I noticed a stack of beer coasters from Founders Brewing sitting on the bar… when I asked the bartender why they had a Michigan brewery represented (all the beer on tap the night I was there was brewed in Barcelona), he told me that the following day was going to be a special “Founders Takeover” day — they’d be featuring Founders brews on tap all day. I came halfway around the world to find a feature on Michigan craft beer? Weird! Anyway… while I didn’t care for the first couple Black Lab original IPAs I tried (too bitter), their Series X Amarillo IPA was pretty good and had a nice lemony finish.
After Black Lab, I walked into the Gothic district and ate at the amazing Ristorante Les Caracoles. The place looks like nothing from the street — in fact, you can’t even tell it’s a restaurant; all you can see is a long bar. But then, at the end of the bar, you walk down a couple steps, duck your head, and arrive at a hostess stand where you can check in… and eventually be led through the kitchen to a handful of ever-larger rooms beyond. The place was actually huge… but you’d never know it from the front, or even the first room where I sat, next to the kitchen.
I had a great dinner of barbecued rabbit and thin sliced ham… but the best part was dessert – probably the best creme brulee and sweet dessert sherry EVER! My eyes watered, they were both so amazing!
The next day was another long day of work, but that night I enjoyed a final dinner at El Callejón, a little tapas place down down an alley in the gothic district. Potatoes, cheese, steak, risotto and a mojito!
So where does John Everson go for a last spot of writing in a foreign city? Later that night I grabbed my laptop and stopped at The George Payne — the neighborhood Irish bar, of course! The place had a great stained glass window crowned staircase, good music and a warm dark wood vibe. I found a table and tried another local ale — Barcino Raval IPA, which had more of a cider-y finish to it than a bitter hop finish, as I worked on the last edits of my new Siren story.
As always happens in a cozy Irish bar, last call came quickly, and then it was off to pack and get a few hours sleep before the long flight home!
I do hope someday I’ll get the chance to return to Barcelona to wander the narrow alleyways and explore the churches and parks more — I’d love to spend a week there checking out the city… and enjoying its beaches and beer!