Tonight I celebrate a year in Barcelona, and while I realise this post isn’t going to do wonders for my Google rankings once people realise it’s not about the likes of La Rambla or the Sagrada Familia, I wanted to write something a bit more personal about my time in Barcelona – a few nights, highlights, never to be repeated and that could only have happened here.
“Transcurrió un año, durante el cual sólo viví por las noches. … Un año breve como una larga noche.”
— Augusto d’Halmar
So as not to be completely useless, I’ve bolded some events, places, dates, etc. that the Barcelona virgin would do well to jot down.
22nd April – 1st May
My year in BCN got off to a good start dancing on the tables (and falling off of them, and repeating this process ad nauseam) at the Biergarten Fiesta de la Cerveza. I’ve seen Poble Espanyol transform itself into a lot of things, but this German beer garden festival was by far the most atmospheric. We even went back a week later for more broken knees.
The Vermouth Festival
7th – 8th May
No drink says “Barcelona” like vermouth. Except maybe cava…or ratafía…or cervesa artesanal…or a gin tónico. The point is, vermut (or vermú) is ridiculously popular here – a way of life – with “vermuterias” all over town. So when I found out that there’s now a “feria” called Va de Vermut, there was no choice in the matter. We met up at the CREC – a kind of coworking warehouse space in Poble Sec – and spent the day there drinking copious quantities of Catalunya’s favourite apéritif…
Afterwards, we ended up on Carrer de Blai – a little strip of the Basque Country here in the Catalan capital – with cañas (draft beers) and pintxos – then on to a live music venue called LACONTRA where Serie and the guys’ Spanish profesor was playing in the band Lullavy.
I danced like a bacchant to NITCH, snogged everyone goodbye and then we were off again, this time in search of Maikel’s house party with only a three-digit number scrawled on a bar napkin to guide us.
Wandering the streets, we followed the sound of drums and suddenly came onto a square where hundreds of hooded strangers were dancing as if in a trance. “Dragon people!” Audric yelled, and we plunged head first into their midst in a vain attempt to uncover the mystery of…whatever the hell was going on… We eventually found the house party – don’t ask me how – on the other side of town, where we continued drinking into the morning…
The ’90s Party
…that moment when four new friends in a strange new city find they have a shared love of R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion” as they belt it out together over the din in a dingy Gràcia dive-bar. It was “Smells Like 90s Spirit” at La Sonora de Gràcia, and that was also the night we happened to meet Gema from Guiris en Barcelona – Friday the 13th; just saying – and her friend Alba, and it turned out that all this time Audric, my party planner, had been poaching his best ideas for cool things to do in Barcelona straight from her blog.
The Walk of Atonement
Caught up in the hysteria of Game of Thrones, for a while we’d been joking about doing our own “walk of shame” in Girona (where Margaery was all set to do hers). When we got there though, in broad daylight, tourists all around, we realised it obviously wasn’t going to happen.
“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
— Ernest Hemingway
A few beers later, and it was back on. Warning: this is what happens when you get drunk at a Game of Thrones filming location.
Update: since then, I’ve become incredibly buff and tanned.
23rd – 24th June
The longest day of the year, the shortest night, La Nit de Sant Joan (San Juan) corresponds with the Summer Solstice in Britain, but marks the “beginning of summer” and biggest party night of the year here in Catalonia! (An impressive claim. Believe me, there’s a lot of competition.)
By the time I got home from work, Audric was already a bottle of vermouth down and balls deep into a Caribbean cocktail-making sesh. It wasn’t long before he’d confessed his darkest secrets and we were on the beach. Everyone I knew and loved came down. Everyone they knew and loved came down. It was one hell of a scene. Thomas showed up with a yank called Trev and a girl covered in bandages.
“Wow, Thomas, you sure gave her a beating.”
Turns out she’d just survived the big bus crash.
The three symbols of Sant Joan are fire, water and herbs, which translates to bonfires on the beach, thousands of people skinny-dipping in the sea, and, well, “herbs”. You couldn’t take a step without a firework going off at your feet. As darkness fell, Audric’s mind started to fall apart, fast, and with it the group. The noise was deafening. We wouldn’t be able to hear properly for a week, let alone hear what each other were saying there and then.
“This isn’t a party, this is a warzone!”
Audric has his own story from that night, but a few of us managed to rally together and made a last stand in Touch Music karaoke bar.
When we finally got back out onto the street to say our goodbyes, it was 8 a.m. and the sun was up. The shortest night was over.
The “Perfect Day”
It all started because Audric caught wind of a place up in the foothills, undiscovered by tourists, where you could go, swim, and drink beside a “lake”: Parc Creueta del Coll. Only, when we got there it turned out to be a children’s swimming pool.
So we swam and got drunk.
…and incredibly burnt.
At one point Марко got bollocked for being in the pool with a bottle; which seems fair enough, but he was outraged, claiming that in Serbia it was normal – no, encouraged – to bring glass into a public swimming pool. Naturally, we took the piss.
A few months later he sent us this photo from Serbia:
Anyway, we climbed the mountainside…watched the Wales-Northern Ireland and Portugal-Croatia games in Grizzly72…at one point I was sprawled over a table in KFC…at one point we were drinking €3 mojitos at Berenjenal, tossing around the few ice-cubes that weren’t being used to nurse our burns…
At about 5 a.m. me, Thomas and Trev, suffering from severe sunstroke, were in some kind of “Jewish” bar in El Raval, where it was rumoured (by Maikel) that Thomas gave blowjobs in exchange for cocaine. We were just calling it a night when Carlos and his Portuguese countrymen happened to burst into the bar, drunk, shirts open, fresh back from a trip to somewhere or other. Pretty soon Carlos was playing the piano and we were all on our feet, singing:
Just a perfect day
Drink Sangria in the park
And then later
When it gets dark…
Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on
— Lou Reed
Poblenou Beer Festival
1st – 3rd July
La Fira de Cerveses del Poblenou was my favourite beer festival of the year (and, I recently found out, the biggest and best in Barcelona). (Even bigger and better than the Barcelona Beer Festival, oddly enough.)
It’s also literally just over the road from Platja del Bogatell (Bogatell beach) where we proceeded to get wet. Later, Audric and Rostie bought water-guns, me and Maikel went to buy water-guns and came back with beers instead, there was a huge waterfight in Ciutadella Park (Parc de la Ciutadella)…a ramen festival at Tatami Room… In short, a big day.
For those looking to escape the city for a while, Montserrat is arguably the best place to go from Barcelona – only an hour out and easily one of the most beautiful spots in Catalonia.
It reminded me of San Marino and the Basteibrücke in Saxony, but I have to confess, my personal favourite part of the day was when we sat for hours in an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant drinking all-we-could-drink, refilling glass after glass (despite the fact that drinks clearly weren’t included) until we were literally the last people in there, and had been for the best part of an hour, completely hammered, red in the face from laughter (and all the red wine) and all the time with a backdrop of views like these:
When we got back to Barcelona we even managed to drag ourselves to El Festival – a French music festival in Poble Espanyol – where we got in for the price of the France vs. Iceland game and somehow stayed for C2C.
8th – 10th July
The sun went down gold and mellow as Cat Power got me, Audric and Ania into the festival spirit at Crüilla Barcelona Summer Festival…then I got dragged to see Damien Rice…then Ramon Mirabet (the car advert guy) and the Crystal Fighters got us pumped up until at some point in the early hours I dashed off, met my man Pablo in Plaça Catalunya fresh off the plane from Brighton, and we got on the Estrella Galicia in Firebug.
The next day (after a spot of parasailing of course) me and Pablo got nice and burnt and day-drunk in Barceloneta with Ania, then joined Audric and Maikel at Crüilla for round two: Xoel López, Snarky Puppy, 091, the Alabama Shakes…caught some Robert Plant, crept off to jig to an extemely militant Fermin Muguruza and the New Orleans Basque Orkestra, met the guys back at Love of Lesbian, got nostalgic with (and blown away by) Skunk Anansie and danced gypsy-style to Shantel and the Bucovina Club Orkestar until the sun rose just in time for us to watch Pablo disappearing with a group of sexy strangers…
He called me at ten-ish, having gone with Maikel – impossible since Maikel was with us looking for him – and ended up at a rooftop party in Eixample. We got a couple of hours kip, some tapas, and Pablo onto a plane to Galicia, then I was back at Parc del Fòrum just in time to watch Calexico perform “All Systems Red” – another experience in Barcelona I’ll never forget.
Afterwards, we went across the road to meet Ania and watch France lose the Euro.
Then this happened…
Arguably one of our best nights in Barcelona – and not just because we finally got rid of Maikel – this one started out for me with an open-bar at a work summer party in Boo Beach Club (down on Platja de la Nova Mar Bella) and ended at ten the next morning eating tortilla (it seems they omit the “Spanish” part of “Spanish omelette” here in Spain) in a random Chinese joint.
Most of the gap was spent in Manchester bar (the good one, in Raval) where everyone came to see Maikel off, then wandering the narrow, winding callejones of El Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter; Barrio Gótico), which by this hour have become rivers of piss, sitting outside Shoko shooting the breeze with an Ethiopian prostitute called Cindy who finally got a euro (from Trevor) and some much needed fashion tips (from me).
We watched the sunrise from Platja de la Nova Icària, swam in liquid gold…sock fight in the sand…found ourselves in a playground playing on a zip-line, the swings, slide, merry-go-round…wow, I didn’t realise we made such a habit of hanging out in places designed for children…finally the aforementioned farewell breakfast…
We watched Maikel walk away for the last time, barefoot, carrying his own sodden shoes – his socks in a bin somewhere en route, never to be worn again – as the sun crested the Sagrada Familia like a halo. (Oh, look at that, the Sagrada Familia made it in here after all.)
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
I’m not sure all these people understand…
The recklessness in water
They cannot see me naked
These things they go away
Replaced by every day…
Deserves a quiet night
A week later it was time to say goodbye to Марко and Trev too. We met in Meson David for several jarras of sangria and ended up in Casa Almirall on Joaquín Costa with our new amigos. Then, after saying goodbye to his two great loves – The Raval Cat (El Gat de Raval by Botero) and Russian girls – Марко went home so he wouldn’t miss his flight. Waiting with him at the bus stop, the rest of us suddenly decided, in a desperate bid to top the last weekend, to go up to the top of Turó de la Rovira and watch the sunrise from “The Bunkers”.
The Búnquers del Carmel give by far the best views of Barcelona and put nearby Park Güell to shame. Also unlike Park Güell, they’re totally free. The Bunkers are the remains of an anti-aircraft defence from the Spanish Civil War, but only really started appearing on Barcelona bucket lists as recently as 2011, when they got a clean up and were deemed safe for public consumption.
These days, at sunset and on long, hot summer days the place is carpeted with locals and well-informed visitors, with hampers of red wine, beer and snacks. At sunrise though, you have the place almost to yourself. (Maybe because of its remote location. Maybe because its popularity hasn’t yet extended to include “morning people”.)
We took a night bus as far as it would go, then continued our ascent on foot. Then my love of running up and down mountains took over and I dashed into the woods, leaving behind the last street lights, vaguely aware of steep precipices at my side and, finally, the fact that I hadn’t heard the guys voices in a while. Considering it a race, I pushed on in the darkness…and somehow did actually reach the Bunkers, where I waited, looking out over the sea of lights.
Eventually I gave up all hope and made “new friends”, with whom I was sitting drinking when the sun rose over the horizon and everything was made real again and I happened to look over and see that Trev and Audric had made it after all! I’ve never been so happy to see them (and by “them” I mean the bottle of wine in their custody).
While we didn’t take any photos that night, we did get chatting to a videographer who’d been staked out there all night making some kind of time-lapse, so I’m confident that, somewhere out there, this Barcelona night and its sunrise have been documented for a while.
In the end we did manage to top the previous weekend – still out having breakfast with Trev at 10.30 in the morning. I took an “Irish” tea, and that was about it for me. The last thing I remember was a text from Марко. He’d overslept and missed his flight.
The Nasty Monday (AKA: The “Monica Lewinsky” Scandal)
“So how do you know Tara?”
“Actually, last time I saw her, she was firing me.”
And here we were, a long way from Australia, in Dow Jones – a “stock exchange” bar where the prices rise and fall (mostly rise) throughout the course of the night. Tara, Simon and Helen had been drinking all day at the beach in Pacha and it wasn’t long before the madness began. Vlad “the Impaler” joined and we went for tapas and cañas in La Cueva del Ángel, where the waitress was completely wasted and, one minute after rudely asking us to leave, demanded that we sit back down and joined us for more beers.
Rostie appeared just in time to watch the waitress grab Simon and stick her tongue down his throat without warning.
We cruised across town in a convoy of taxis…only the cabs got split up and we ended up at different Espit Chupitos bars. (There are two, within three blocks of each other). After regrouping, me and Ruth had the misfortune of ordering the infamous “Monica Lewinsky” shot, and were promptly blindfolded, violated in the mouth with a cream covered dildo and sprayed up and down with beer.
We were off the next day for La Tomatina, so took this opportunity to dance the rest of the night away at Nasty Mondays in Apolo – one of the best club nights in Barcelona.
The “Foc and Run!”
Throughout the months of August and September (while no other work of any kind is getting done in Spain) Barcelona’s barris take it in turns to put on their biggest parties of the year: les festes majors. First Gràcia, then Sants, Poblenou, Barceloneta…finally culminating in La Mercè – the fiesta mayor of Barcelona entire.
This year La Mercè included a free Manu Chao concert for the entire city at Parc del Fòrum, plus free entry to the Sagrada Familia (there she is again) and other big Barcelona sights, and, of course, the running of the Correfoc (literally “fire run”).
In England, when there’s a Catherine wheel (or any kind of fireworks) everyone has to maintain a certain, “safe” distance. In Spain they put hundreds of them on sticks and storm into the crowd. This year we joined the mad dash up Via Laietana – hot sparks showering down on our backs – Irish coffee in hand – and in the thick of the smoke, there they were… “The dragon people!”
Raquel Lúa Live @ Club Cronopios
I’ll always remember this night for two reasons: 1) an intimate and moving concert by Raquel Lúa with Mary and Karan in the back room of Club Cronopios, Raval, and 2) what happened afterwards…
(Jump to 3:21 for “Preciosa y el aire” – inspired by the Federico García Lorca poem of the same name.)
After the gig, me and Karan dropped a couple more pints in The Shamrock, then, toying with the idea of getting a kebab, I decided to call it a quiet night. On the way up to my flat I started taking my clothes off, as was my custom at the time, only to open the door and walk right into a room full of strangers. Three girls I’d never met in my life stared at me and burst out laughing.
“We’re going to the beach. You want to come?” Marcin said.
“Sure. Just let me put some clothes on and I’ll be right with you.”
So we went down to Somorrostro beach, sat drinking in the sand, danced the “Macarena”, ate kebabs…
Howl and Other Stories
I’d been living in Barcelona for months before I learnt of On the ROAD – a bookshop in El Born dedicated to my beloved Beat Generation. Luckily I didn’t miss this BYOB (bring-your-own-booze/bottle/beer) reading of Howl (Aullido in Spanish). In true Kerouacian style, I showed up with a bottle of Tokay in a brown paper bag…
Only when the last reading reached its wailing climax did I remove said brown paper bag to discover that I’d damn near finished the whole bottle to myself.
I cycled beatific and more than a little borracho through the Barcelona night, met the gang in Los Chiles Mexican restaurant in Poblenou and ended up at something called Fabricarte in La Nau – a strange, cavernous place where your wanderings could lead you to anything from live music to getting a massage. Hell, there was even a bathroom in there somewhere!
(This was also the weekend we “sank the Bismarck!” in BrewDog Barcelona…and had a free beer on the roof of the old Antiga Fàbrica Estrella Damm brewery…and discovered “the best bar in Barcelona”.)
The Sunday Funday!
It was the long weekend (or “puente“) of Halloween, Día de Todos los Santos, Día de los Muertos… I know this because for weeks there’d been posters around the office informing us that everyone would be dressed up on the Friday…so by the time I turned the corner in my towering witch’s hat and flowing cape only to see everyone else dressed for business as usual, it was too late to turn back. I spent the next four days more or less constantly dressed up as something.
After €1 cañas in Malpaso with work folk, the bruja borracha cycled her way over to Absenta absinthe bar in Barceloneta to meet Audric, Gema, Karan, a random Luxembourgish guy out drinking with his mum, his mum, and a Brit who claimed to work for “Lady A.” We all ended up on the beach, where me and Karan sat up on a lifeguard station watching the waves of the Mediterranean lap against the sand…and the most theatrical beach blowjob you can imagine…and our friend manhandling Alan Sugar’s first mate (well, “second engineer”, but what’s a bit of libel between friends). #sugartime #workingforsugar
The next day Hattie rolled into town and I went to meet her under the Arc de Triomf, at which point I realised my face was covered in lipstick from the night before. (Not as cool as it sounds.)
It was Hattie’s birthday and we were doing brunch with Audricin Firebug, on our second or third cocktail – no doubt a “bacon bloody mary” – talking about how we should really do a “Sunday Funday” at some point, when suddenly we realised it was, in fact, a Sunday.
Gema appeared, we went back to the flat for shots and coats, then to Creps al Born for a Naughty Colada and other naughty cocktails. Still we were the only ones in costume. The music was swinging. The lamps were swinging. Tea was brewing. Gema disappeared into the Barcelona night. We found ourselves at Ilusiona bowling alley, Diagonal Mar, where we sank another three pints each before we’d even got a lane.
More “road beers”…Duran Duran…The Rocky Horror Picture Show…chilling on the terrace of El Rey de Istanbul except every time someone mentions “David” someone gets slapped, and for some reason everyone’s mentioning “David”, a lot, and the whole thing’s quickly deteriorating into a street brawl. Midnight. Hattie’s birthday’s over. Nobody ever heard of a Monday Funday. We can all go home.
The next night we threw a Halloween party, dressed up again, drank, ate worms, played “the penis card game”, did Plataforma with Ash, Javi, Xavi, Carla, “Brendan Frasier” and Karan, who “broke my nose”… When will this madness end?
The Gay Christmas Party
We ushered in the festive season with a “no raclettes” party, and “Friendsgiving” a week later, but it definitely came to its jolly climax at “Gay Christmas”. (I’d been promising the guys a “boy’s night” for a while, and there was talk of doing a Secret Santa, so the two naturally went hand-in-hand.)
Ecstatic at having finally found a peep show in Barcelona after all these months, I spent the morning in D’Angelo Sex Shop buying gifts for everyone. When I got back I was immediately rushed out for lunch with my housemates to BRO Room (big beautiful Barcelona burgers) where I hastily wrapped gay porn in La Vanguardia (newspaper) and told them the story of where I’d acquired them. They were so intrigued we ended up all jumping on the metro and going back to check it out…
Eventually I made my way to Sarrià (also home to “Barcelona’s best bravas“) where me, Karan and Gema nipped out for pizza (and a cheeky cava break in Bar Treze) while Ash and Audric put a man in Karan’s bed…
The night unfolded with said pizza, several bottles of wine, spirits, singing, dancing, dick pic’ing, phone licking, shirt sucking, giant card fighting, gay porn, getting undressed, getting redressed in strange clothes…and a partridge in a pear tree…and all ended fittingly in Aire and Arena – the biggest gay and lesbian club in Barcelona.
I strolled home with an extremely generous rum and coke in one hand and playing my new harmonica with the other. A great night – as the Catalan Christmas song goes – des del primer fins al carrer…
Anyway, that’s enough of that. The night awaits! Let’s see what this year has in store! (Actually, I’ve been editing this on and off for days, but that doesn’t sound anywhere near as cool.)