Category Archives: Reviews

Cocktail Bars: Shake It Up Baby!

Well I did say that you could expect a quiet year from me, what with trying to earn a living one way or another and all that… it does stand in the way of rambling on about random Barcelona-related experiences. But here’s a new post for y’all.

I think it’s about time I shared my knowledge of the Barcelona cocktail scene on these pages, as, having written an article about mixology for Easyjet Magazine not so long ago, I’m now quite au fait with the best places in town to sip a Margarita or two.

First up I’d definitely recommend Banker’s Bar… the rather swanky lounge of the 5 star Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The head barman, a lovely gent by the name of Jordi Otero is considered one of the best mixologists in Spain/the world and the service here is first rate. Obviously there are a lot of tasty beverages to choose from, but above all I’d suggest the Banker’s Martini is a sound investment. It certainly has earned lots of interest from cocktail aficionados. Cheque it out. (Sorry just enjoying a pun-down with myself).

After that I’d try popping into Slow Barcelona. A gorgeous cocteleria in Eixample, I swung by not so long ago and sampled something I can’t remember the name of, but it definitely had Cava in it – and chocolate bubbles. Delicious. It was like drinking Champagne and eating a Terry’s Orange chocolate at once. Plus Slow also has a funky disco upstairs!

Thirdly, fans of all thing Adria would be stupid to miss out on a trip to 41 Degrees. Adjoining their new tapas bar, Tickets, it’s actually a lot easier to get into 41 Degrees and, hush hush, but according to what Albert himself told me, here is where they make the extra effort to engage your emotions… by pairing their El Bulli-style snacks with cocktails that mirror and complement the food.

Finally fans of nostalgia should check out Boadas. It was the original cocktail bar in the city, established in 1933 I believe, and still has the old-school vibe, with waiters wearing tuxedos and old fashioned elegance. Amazingly, considering it’s right on La Rambla, it’s not too touristy.

Other great bars I’ve checked out, all in the name of research, are Coppelia in El Born, where allegedly Shakira’s hips have been shaking along with the cocktails. And sister venues, Marmalade and Milk, where you can always rely on a good crowd and more ‘democratic’ prices. Most coctelerias in BCN are unfortunately aimed at the way-richer-than-me clientele.

As usual my amigos over at Barcelona Life have the full skivvy on cocktails and cocktail bars in Barcelona so for more info head over.

Meanwhile I promise to be back a bit sooner next time. Got a Calcotada planned for later this month, and if you don’t know what that is then you’ve been missing out on one of my fave Catalan traditions! Full report soon:)

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Barcelona Travel App for iPhone

So you’re rich enough to afford an iPhone, but you’re too tight to pay for a travel app? Well you’ve got to cut corners somewhere amigo. Never fear you Mac-loving penny-pinching hipster, those gurus of travel at Lifeboat Ltd. (which I admit I might be slightly affiliated with) have released a corker of a travel app that not only covers Barcelona but some 25 other cities as well – and yes that’s right it’s completely free!

Using the Local Life app iPhone users can quickly see the nearest hotels apartments and hostels (you really should have booked in advance!), restaurants, bars (it’s even more reliable than an alcoholic’s nose in that sense) and god forbid cultural attractions if you really are running out of things to do on your Barcelona trip!

Once you’ve seen what’s nearby you can also actually check the reviews to see if this entity you’re heading towards completely sucks or not and even get directions. All in all, having road tested it a fair bit myself, I can honestly say it’s pretty handy!

So once more with feeling… for your free iPhone travel app to Barcelona click on this iTunes store link!

World Press Photo 2009 in Barcelona

I remember at some point during my teenage years I was watching a kids’ programme in which the protagonist (some kind of fox/girl hybrid if I remember correctly) decides she wants to become a photojournalist. She turns up at various disaster scenes and as houses burn down etc she’s happily snapping away and other pseudo-human animals lives are in danger… realising that she can’t simply do her job while people are dying she comes to her senses, throws the camera away, and does the right thing by helping rescue them.

I obviously took the moral of the story to heart because when I went to the World Press Photo Exibition in Krakow in 2008 and again in Barcelona in 2009 (currently on at the CCCB), I couldn’t help but recall the animated fox-girl would-be photographer who decided it was only right to lend a hand rather than passively chronicle people’s demise, no matter how news-worthy, for a paycheck…

It’s a very simplistic way of looking at things perhaps, but I can’t help thinking that maybe some of the photographers whose work was exhibited at the World Press awards should rent out this particular kids cartoon on DVD. In at least five or six of the photos I saw, I couldn’t help thinking – ‘what the fuck is the photographer doing… whilst this young girl gets beaten to death?’ Of course there is definitely a need for brave photographers to be involved in dangerous situations as objective bystanders and reporters, and each situation is different… more often than not no doubt it’s dangerous enough for a photographer to be getting valuable evidence of an atrocity unfolding, let alone taking on a group of armed thugs with nothing but a tripod to defend himself… but there was something horribly narcissistic about this exhibition. You could almost imagine the photographer of the bloodied and beaten guy, with a militiaman’s boot crushing his neck, closing in on the scene (to within a touching distance judging by the angle) and saying “oi mate, I know you’re about to die and that but can you just hold that expression for a moment longer, it will make a great shot… I’ll probably win a prize for that.”

I just found it hard to buy that so many of these artfully shot, carefully considered pictures were all taken by brave humanitarians desperate to expose the evils of the world to a privileged public. So much of it felt opportunistic exploiting of other people’s miseries to win plaudits and promote their own careers, with maybe a brief afterthought about what happened to the dismembered/bereaved/poverty stricken subjects of their photos. All of the shots went far beyond documentary, and it makes me nauseous to imagine the camera-wielders own reactions as they check what they’ve filmed at their comfortable hotels and high five one another and celebrate the artistic merit of what they’ve captured. Which, unbelievably, will later be further celebrated by an event that actually ranks these photos and bestows prizes – up to 10,000 euros I read on Reuters.

And I can’t exempt the audience either. Here we were – weyhey a free exhibition! – whiling away a Sunday afternoon looking at what is essentially art fabricated out of real human misery. The creation of something diverting and beautiful based on suffering.

Not of course that all of the photos were about deaths and beatings! There were plenty of great documentary pieces that didn’t raise any ethical alarm bells in my mind, and there was some also fantastic wildlife and sports photography. But with so many strong images from troubled parts of the world, a large chunk of the exhibition makes the visitor a kind of voyeur of pain and grief, portrayed by photographers whose motives I am not privy to… but somehow can’t trust. Not when documentary has become art, and prizes and money are at stake.

I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s opinions (please comment below), and this article (the story was told to me by two separate people at the exhibition, after I shared my reactions) is of interest…

Pagafantas

Being as butch as a particularly butch butcher called Butch, star of his own zany comedy/Ultimate fighting show The Mighty Butch, I very rarely find myself being treated like a doormat by femmes fatales who see me ‘just as a friend’. You know the sappy type of guy who picks up all a girl’s bar bills and comes round to wipe away their tears the moment that stubbly surfer dude of a boyfriend does the dirty on them (again). Ok just occasionally it might have happened. In my young naive days, when I assumed that if I hung around a girl long enough surely she’d end up sleeping with me by accident, probably after a late night session on the Diamond White. Those embarrassingly lame moments of my youth, which I’d all but forgotten about, were brought back with crystal clarity by a muy divertido film my housemate brought back from Monkey Business Video Club (thankfully with English subtitles) last night called Pagafantas.

A Spanish yoofism, ‘pagafantas’ is a hybrid word made out of pagar (to pay) and Fanta, as in the soft drink. It is used to denote the kind of guy who lapdoggishly follows cute girls around, buying them sodas in the hope that one day their sexless relationship will develop into something more… except, as we all know, it never does (well, there was this one time in Russia, but that’s another story…). The film, Pagafantas, unsurprisingly is about one such guy called Chema, who having recently broken up with a girlfriend he’s just not that into, is desperate to work his way into the sack with any chica that will have him. Unfortunately Chema has definitely not read The Game. He hasn’t even had one IOI when he lunges in for the kill with a girl at a nightclub, prompting a defensive move, described in the film as ‘The Cobra’, followed by a hefty slap. When, still looking for love a week later, he chances upon a pretty Argentinean hairdresser called Claudia (who he unearths in a dustbin…) the scene is set for ‘a romantic comedy – without the romance’.

As our amorous hero, under the tuition of the arguably even more chumpish Uncle Jaime (who is hopelessly in love with Chema’s mother… he is not Chema’s real uncle, in case you thought this was getting incestuous), does everything to worm his way further into Claudia’s affection he succeeds only in paying for her drinks, acting as a model for her horrific hair highlighting experiments and even marrying her to prevent her from being deported. Needless to say her macho Argentine ex-boyfriend, who she is giving another chance, is there to take over consummation duties once the paperwork has been done!

The movie is well-produced, with great performances and excellent editing, and unlike most Hollywood movies of the same ilk the film never drags. Overall the joy of Pagafantas is the painful hometruths it holds up to the audience, best summed up by Chema’s mother, who brutally encapsulates the moral of the tale when she says: “As a woman, there are some men you see in a sexual way, and there are others… you don’t.” It was a bit more punchy in Spanish, and anyway I can’t be bothered to find the exact quote on the DVD, but you get the point.

SPOILER ALERT. Best of all the ending finishes on a clever dual note, with cautious cause for hope trumped by Chema’s hopelessly cautious cause. Whereas Chema’s mother seems to finally be melting under the warmth of Uncle Jaime’s affections (Christ, at her age I wouldn’t have been so fussy! No homo.), Chema proves resolutely pathetic until the end. Just as he looks like he’s going to reveal his true feelings and read Claudia her final ultimatum, he caves to her impression of him as a loyal and sexless sidekick. Waking up on board a plane to Buenos Aires, Claudia gushes to Chema that she no longer sees him as a best friend – but as a brother, and she hugs him platonically patting him on the back. The film ends there, leaving all the pagafantas of the world to contemplate their utter, and irreversible, ineptitude.

Watch a trailer of Pagafantas (in Spanish only) here.