Barcelona isn’t trying to be new. The Catalan city is deeply, unflinchingly rooted in its own history — it seems to convulse outwards from its Gothic centre, claustrophobic winding alleys slowly giving way to Belle Époque grand avenues.
The city does not do trends. It does everything its own way. Even its attempts to innovate over the years have been typically weird and off-the-rails: the city’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi, was a mastermind of surrealist nonsensicality — and Barcelona has stayed in that general mindset for most of the past century. The city oscillates between high culture and raucous partying, united by a universal admiration for food and drink — tapas are cheap and everywhere, upscale and down, as are beer and vermouth. It’s a city of architects and artists, beach bums and drinkers. Even if you think you know Barcelona, there’s always a new corner to turn down, a new bar to stop at, a new party to find. Or rather, not new — just unlike anything you thought you’d seen before.
Opened earlier this year, Casa Bonay is Barcelona’s answer to the Ace Hotel chain. In fact, its founder, Inés Miró-Sans, worked at the Ace in New York for several years before bringing that irreverent, design-centric sensibility to her hometown. The new hotel is in a 19th-century building in the Eixample district, with striking minimalist rooms and splashy tilework. The main floor is dedicated to a cavernous bar, a coffee shop, a juice bar, and a Vietnamese(-ish) restaurant. Once you’re done Instagramming the shit out of the place, the hotel is within walking distance to just about everything. casabonay.com
In Barcelona, there are two modes of eating: tapas and the Adrià brothers (that’s Michelin-starred chefs Albert and Ferran, who run the city, gastronomically speaking). Here, you get both. The space was formerly the renowned bar Inopia, until Albert left and his partner, Joan Martinez, turned it into Lolita, a rollicking taperia that has perfected heightened takes on classic small plates (including patatas bravas and fried fish) mixed with innovative updates (La Bomba de l’Eixample, a croquette stuffed with meat and tomato sauce that is far more dangerous than it sounds). lolitataperia.com
El Vaso de Oro
Barceloneta beach is a torrent of shirtless locals and spaced out tourists feasting on overpriced paella and fruit pops. This place is not for them. El Vaso de Oro is an old man bar of the highest order. It’s a long, narrow space a few blocks from the water where the waiters, all dressed in white captain’s garb, never leave the back of the bar and ad- dress you with Catalan superlatives and vats of house-made beer. The menu is small but perfect: cheap, oily tapas and their signature grilled tuna with a side of fried peppers. vasodeoro.com
Vermouth is the official drink of Barcelona, drunk straight, over ice, with an olive and slice of orange. While you can find it at dirty old bars and fusty high-end restaurants alike, it’s worth seeking out one of Morro Fi’s five tiny locations. Started by a couple of friends who wanted to bring craftsmanship and technique back into the world of vermouth, they began making their own, which, when paired with their house-cured olives and boquerones, stands as some of the best in Spain.
Picasso spent his formative years in Barcelona, and this museum focuses on that transformative time between his very early work and the moments before he became Picasso. Housed in a series of adjoining medieval palaces, the museum is a shrine to Spain’s most famous son, and an insightful reflection on how genius is made. museupicasso.bcn.cat
Mercado de la Boqueria
On a tight side street just off the city’s famed boulevard Las Ramblas, the city’s biggest and busiest market is the best place to stock up on Catalan specialities like jamón iberico and slices of cool manchego cheese. You can breeze by on your way somewhere, or make an afternoon of it by grabbing a seat at the legendary Bar Pinotxo for a beer and a snack. boqueria.info
La Manual Alpargatera
Barcelona is a stylish town, but its shopping isn’t great (unless you count the luxury chain stores of the Passeig de Gràcia or are really, really into Zara). But La Manual Alpargatera is different. Opened just after the Spanish Civil War, the workshop cum showroom sells only traditionally crafted espadrilles, the rope- soled shoes that are the region’s most lasting gift to fashion. Workers here speak Catalan, so finding a size and style that works for you can be an adventure — but if they’re good enough for Salvador Dalí, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Michael Douglas, they’re good enough for you. lamanualalpargatera.es