Tag Archives: nightlife

We’ve Launched a Craft Beer Tour!

So dear reader (yes the singular was deliberate. And I know I should probably call you “mum”, not reader, but I want to maintain an air of professionalism) you’ve probably been wondering what I’ve been up have you since I last wrote? Well I’m glad you asked, because I’ve got some exciting news. Despite being super busy with various projects this 2015, there was something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now that I decided simply can’t wait any longer… with the help of a few amigos, I’ve finally launched a super original food, drink and nightlife activities brand…. please welcome to the world my new baby, which we’ve christened: Tapas & Beers Barcelona!

Enjoying a glass of artisan ale at one of Barcelona's brew pubs

Enjoying a glass of artisan ale at one of Barcelona’s brew pubs

You might remember that back in 2010 I launched my very own alternative bike cruise of the Catalan capital, called Steel Donkeys. The idea was to offer something completely different to a twenty-person tour around the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter (which is what most companies back then were delivering at the time) and take people well and truly off the beaten track to cool districts like Poblenou, Ribera and Raval and simply spend some time with them, treating them like friends not tourists. For this reason of course the tours had to be small group only, and this was the key to our success. In a small group the guides and the travellers can really engage with each other, the itinerary can be bent and/or broken to accommodate a fresh idea or request, and the whole vibe changes – from that of a tourist on the treadmill, to that of a traveller just hanging out and getting under the skin of the city, if only for a day. The feedback from the very beginning was amazing, and we’ve constantly been rated as one of the best bike tours in Barcelona on Tripadvisor.

Meanwhile others have successfully implemented this same small-group, alternative tour mentality to food – and in particular – tapas tours, something I’ve wanted to do myself for a long time. Whilst the Catalan beer revolution has got everyone in the entire city drinking craft ales, and is something that travellers are increasingly interested in trying too! Well, it would be silly to do one and not the other, so the concept of Tapas & Beers was born. In fact so far we’ve only launched the Catalan Craft Beer Tour (the tapas tour is under development however!), and after a deliciously successful test run with our extremely knowledgeable guide (he had so much to say about the history of beer and the Catalan beer revolution that we ended up drinking for 5.5 hours instead of the planned three hours!) we are now open to the public. The tour will be running every Saturday at 17:30 during summer (any maybe longer) in 2015, and includes tastings of five regional beers, some tasty tapas and plenty of expert insight from your crazy Catalan guide. So get your beer-drinking buddies and get in touch! We’re also on the look out for any Barcelona bloggers who can roadtest the activity and share it on their blog!

The project has also created the right space for me to realise another dream of mine, and that’s the launching of an alternative pub crawl of Barcelona…. aka the Hipster Bar Hop. The concept is to offer travellers an authentic nightlife experience that is in stark contrast to the cheesy brashness of a regular pub crawl. Having done it twice already I can confirm that it lives up to my original concept, with a lot of new friends, cool bars and crazy dancing ensuing. Not sure the inclusion of absinthe was such a great idea though…

Rio… it’s nice, but it’s no Barcelona

So guess who just got back from Brazil? Yep a little bit of studying Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro, a bit of Carnival in Recife / Olinda, and then some travelling around the south, to natural wonders like the island of Ilha Grande and the spectacular cascading beauty of Iguazu Falls…

So anyway, there I was, sitting on the beach in Ipanema, with my amiga, Karina (with whom I used to live a couple of years back in Poble Sec – in Flat number 2), probably – along with Copacabana – the most famous city beach in the world, when we both looked at each other and went… “meh”.

Not too shabby... but wouldn't you rather be in Catalonia?

Not too shabby… but wouldn’t you rather be in Catalonia?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice spot, but I guess in Barcelona we are just too damned spoiled. Ipanema, with the Dois Irmois mountains rearing up at one end and its long stretch of natural sands, is certainly more beautiful than Barceloneta, or any of the Catalan capital’s other city beaches; but here in Brazil the sun was too hot, the water effing freezing, and the people – both I and Karina agreed – a lot less easy on the eye. (I don’t care how small your thong is, if you’re 120kg it ain’t sexy). Karina was somehow less fussed, but I also couldn’t help wistfully recall that in Spain topless sunbathing is also a lot more common (in Brazil it’s illegal in fact, as far as I can tell).

So having set these two great coastal cities up against each other, let’s look in a little more detail at the pros and cons of both, a bit like in my Amsterdam vs. Barcelona post, from a couple of years back.

Weather

Well I was only in Rio for three summer weeks, and whilst I like the heat it was too def. too hot even for me! Sitting on the beach before 4pm, without an parasol, was akin to torture. Plus, when the sun wasn’t beating down, it rained a helluva lot. Meanwhile Rio de Janeiro’s mild winters might be nice for some people, but little in terms of changing of seasons (at least from what I understand) strikes me as being a bit boring. Barcelona meanwhile has got just about the perfect climate. Loads of sunshine, but only a couple of months where the mercury can rise a bit uncomfortably high, plus just enough of a winter for you to appreciate summer all the more. One, nothing, BCN.

Looks

This is a no brainer. Rio may have those majestic mountains and dramatic beaches, but architecturally speaking and even the nice areas look like Barcelona’s ghettoes, whilst its ghettoes (of which there are many) are, predictably, puss-filled eyesores… albeit fascinating ones, with surprisingly good vibes and parties. The legendary Copacabana district is just mile upon mile of high rise flats and hotels, whilst Centro has at most “a scattering” of nice-ish buildings. Overall I’d say Rio scores a paltry and highly disappointing 2/10 for architecture, vs. a pretty much perfect 10 from Barcelona, which combines Gothic beauty and modern marvels (W-Hotel, Torre Agbar, MACBA and @22) with its signature Modernista look, orchestrated by Antoni Gaudi, Domenech i Montaner and chums. What’s more Barcelona also has the coast, Montjuic mountain plus Collserola range in the background, so even when you factor in Mother Nature in Rio’s favour, I’m scoring this Rio 5/10, Barcelona 9.5/10 – and therefore 2 zip to BCN.

Nightlife

Things get a bit closer in the nightlife section as Rio has a raw energy and excitement that Barcelona simply can’t match. The nightly congregation in Lapa district of both princes and paupers intent on revellry, the sheer unpretentious authenticity of clubs like Rio Scenarium or Democraticos, that are not following any trend, but are busy being uniquely Brazilian, are hard to beat. And then of course there’s Carnaval… a party beyond a party that stretches into a way of life for almost four weeks (forget the official “four days” cited by your guidebook). Still the entrance fees for some of the clubs – ironically the most boring/identikit ones – were ridiculous, you have to take a taxi everywhere (and Rio is huge!) for safety reasons, you have to present your ID at almost every club so they can log your details (tedious!), plus you get a bullshit card for drinks and have to pay on the way out (crap system!). Overall I think I prefer Barcelona’s nightlife for accessibility, price and diversity, but I’m gonna call it a draw because that’s just me getting old and lazy.

People

I’d been told many times that the Cariocas are very friendly, but breaking down the locals into the two genders (I’ll risk the wrath of LGBT campaigners and ignore the ladyboys of Lapa for now… suffice to say they were a little too friendly) and I’ll say the men were only particularly friendly when they wanted to hit on the girls I was with, the gay men when they wanted to hit on me, and the Rio girls were not especially friendly at all. I tend to find in countries where guys aggressively hit on women the whole time (basically all latin cultures, if you’ll excuse the lazy stereotyping) girls are standoffish, because basically they have to be, to stop every mofo hitting on them. This was definitely the case in Brazil where the ladies were pretty lukewarm for the most part. (I’m sure it would be different if I had more Brazilian friends and was being introduced as a persona grata… but most of the time I was hanging around with international people from the language school I was studying at and any interactions with Brazilian women were as a stranger). Anyhow Catalans are not much better… I can count on one hand my Catalan friends in BCN, as they tend to keep themselves to themselves, so I’ll just put this down as a draw too. Who knows, maybe I just need to improve my social skills?

Crime

My biggest gripe with Barcelona is the constant state of paranoid alertness one needs to be in to fend off the plague of pickpockets that afflict the city and shows no sign of abating. This however pales into insignificance versus the very real threat of Rio of being held up by knifepoint or gunpoint. I only really felt safe walking around at night in Ipanema and Copacabana, and even then I’ve been told I shouldn’t have been walking around in Copacabana. It’s not quite as bad as some people make out… I escaped Brazil without incident after 3 weeks in Rio and 7 in the country… but you can never quite relax.

Things to To

In Barcelona there’s always a vintage market, gallery opening, craft beer festival, street party, open air cinema or electronic picnic to attend… plus there’s the beaches, mountains, wine region (don’t forget the winter/spring pilgrimmage that is the Calcotada!). You can never be bored in Barcelona! It’s hard for me to judge Rio on this one… with all the tourist stuff I was trying to do, plus learn a bit of Portuguese and attend all the Carnaval parties I was rushed off my feet! But would there be the same amount of fun events for a resident living year around in the city? I’m guessing no… whilst hipsterdom can be a bit tedious, not to mention pretentious, at times, undoubtedly it has led to an amazing array of original events and new trends in Barcelona that tend to only happen in cutting edge “first world” cities like London, Berlin, New York and BCN. There’s no poetry brothel in Brazil!

Language

I’ve been in Barcelona several years and famously (amongst my polyglottal friends) failed to master Spanish. The lack of linguistic purity in the city (many residents of course speak Catalan as their first tongue, whilst a not inconsiderable number speak Mandarin, Punjabi, English, German, French as theirs) hardly helps matters. Brazilian Portuguese is a very sexy language and I love the Carioca accent. Moreover were I to move to Rio, I would actually need to speak Portuguese… unlike in Barcelona, where English gets me around almost without a hiccup. I’ll give this one to Rio.

So there you go… 5:2 and, even if the scoreline is a fraction misleading, this has turned into quite a comprehensive victory for the Catalan capital. I half expected to fall in love with the samba city and settle down to a new life coaching the Brazilian women’s volleyball team, whilst writing the sequel to Blame It On Rio in my spare time. However it was a case of absence makes the heart grow stronger, and even in the face of undoubtedly one of the most magnificent cities in the world (…and any negativity about Rio is purely relative!), Barcelona simply kicks way too much culo to think about leaving just yet.

I’m Not The Messiah…

I’m a very naughty boy. And I haven’t updated this blog for what seems like hours but is actually months.

And I’m not going to now either. After all it’s Arsenal vs. Dortmund in the Champions League tonight.

So let me draw your attention instead to a little guest post I’ve done over at my good amigo, Rob Dobson’s blog, the excellent Homage to BCN. After meeting him during a cookery class, in which he mocked my inability to chop up veg. let alone rustle up an edible meal, I promised to contribute to his excellent city diaries… and naturally I chose my specialist subject: Barcelona’s nightlife!

So here it is… if you’re wondering what are the top five clubs for late night fun in Barcelona all your questions have just been answered.

But as I was keen to point out at the end of the post, nightclubs are just the tip of the Torre Agbar really when it comes to partying in Barcelona. There are so many fantastic events and fiestas, such as Sant Joan (midsummer’s night), the crazy Sitges Carnival, Primavera and Sonar Music Festivals, and the billions of Festes Majors (street parties which take place in various districts over summer) that there really is never a dull moment in the Catalan capital. A fun new fad for travellers recently, for example, is also to jump on board a hedonistic booze cruise, and drink copious amounts of beer in the midday sun before diving off the side of the ship into the ocean. Totally responsible behaviour.

Unfortunately there are some shit aspects of Barcelona’s nightlife too… such as noise restrictions and, for aspiring Casanovas, horrible male to female ratios in the clubs, whilst fannying around with guest lists can be a pain (but save you money and possibly queuing time at least).

Overall BCN may lack some of the cutting edge cool of Berlin, London and New York, but good luck listening to live bands as you get wasted on a €1 carton of Don Simon sangria at a street fiesta, followed by a Cava breakfast on a stranger’s rooftop terrace, in any of those cities…. I’ll stick with good ol’ Barna for now!

Festes Majors: Barcelona’s Street Parties!!!

Barcelona is melting, every sensible city dweller has buggered off to the Costa Brava or the Balearic Islands, tourists swarm round La Sagrada Familia like cockroaches around a Bicing-flattened kebab… what does it all mean? It means, dear reader, that it’s another sweltering mid-August and the peak of the “festa major” season in the Catalan capital.

Street decorations at the Festa Major de Gracia

Festa major is Catalan for ‘grand festival‘ and during summer every district in Barcelona and pretty much every poble in the region has their own knees up, lasting several days to a week and varying in intensity and renown. The most famous is the Festa Major de Gracia, when the streets of the Gracia district are decorated in different themes (the residents of each participating street form a council and spend half the year preparing the decor) and in fact tonight, as I write this, is the closing night for the 2012 edition…

As you see I’ve decided to stay in to (finally) update my blog, but I did pop along last week for three consecutive, somewhat blurry, nights. I must say, I do love Barcelona’s street parties. They are a little bit ‘cutre‘ but there’s something charming about their complete erm well let’s be honest crapness. Taking the F.M. de G. as an example, whilst some of the decorations are pretty fun and impressive, others look like they’ve been put together by a children’s playgroup with a few cereal packets, a pair of safety scissors and (the quintessential) double side sticky tape. As for the music… I can see how the Catalans might enjoy what is obviously their equivalent of Kajagoogoo after a few cervezas but it might leave guiris like you and me a bit perplexed (solution: even more cervezas!). But anyway, to pick holes in the programme / presentation is utterly pointless. You go for the atmosphere. For the chance to see teen punks, village drunks, dreadlocked anarchists, local hipsters, lost tourists and even the occasional granny carted out onto the street in her wheelchair all hang out together around the district, either sinking beers and mojitos from the bars and ad hoc kiosks, or – my personal preference – surreptitiously swigging from a carton of Don Simon sangria.

Sing Don Simon if you love sangria

I must say this year in Gracia wasn’t the best year I’ve seen… and the effects of the crisis were notable in the relative lack of stages / concerts. Maybe it was just my imagination but there seemed to be a lot less going on than previous years, and when you did find a stage in full swing therefore it was absolutely rammed. Also the music was switched off at the distinctly un-Spanish time of 02:30… leaving you feeling if it really was a proper party or not. (And more evidence of the noise restriction policies that are dampening the city’s nightlife).

Anyway this weekend it’s the Festa Major de Sants and last year it kicked ass. There was even some dubstep on the main stage! Plus a firing range where took a shot of tequila before taking a shot at magazine cut outs of your favourite baddies, like Zapatero, Belen Esteban and Ronaldo.

Come September and you’ve got the fiesta del Poblenou… which is a bit spread out but tends to be fun. And of course La Merce… the grand festival of Barcelona if you like, and Europe’s biggest street party! This one naturally takes itself a bit more serious and if you haven’t seen the Catalan traditions of correfoc and castellers yet, then this is your chance. Not only that, but unlike the other festes majors you may have even heard of some of the bands that are playing. Nonetheless, like all of the district fiestas everything at La Merce is free (except the drinks of course, but you can always bring your own… as per my sangria advice earlier!).

Finding reliable information about Barcelona’s festivals is like finding a scrunched up 50 euro note in the key pocket of a pair of jeans you haven’t worn for 6 months. Fantastic and improbable. Some of the festes have their own (poorly-maintained) sites, such as:

www.festamajordegracia.cat
www.festamajordesants.cat

Whereas info about La Merce is put up here.

But most seem to require a Jedi-like prescience to divine when they start and what’s going on. Keeping tabs with Barcelona Life’s events page and Facebook profile is a good start.

Barcelona Boat Party

If I was a politically-minded blogger I’d probably be writing something about strikes, workers’ rights and Mariano Rajoy right now. But that stuff is kinda boring. And when you think that it’s possible in Spain to quit your job and still get paid 80% of your salary by the government for another couple of years, whilst you go swanning off adventuring in South East Asia (I know because more than one of my amigos has done it!) then you have to say, a little bit of reform here and there might be good for the country’s majorly troubled economy. Workers’ rights are nice, but if it means all the companies are ground into the, err, ground by having to pay off cr@p staff who already cost them a tonne in salaries and benefits, then who’s going to be left to employ the workers? It’s the whole chicken and the egg thing really isn’t it…

Well unlucky if you, poor unsuspecting tourist, has some how been caught up in a riot, or simply been a victim of non-existent public transport etc., but I’m writing a quick note to let you know about a little something this weekend that might cheer you up… the launch of the Barcelona booze cruise – ie. the best, and possibly the only regular, boat party in Barcelona!!! Setting sail from the modern marina that is the Port Olimpic, this soiree on the high seas will run every Sunday over summer (or possibly more often, I’m told, if the demand is there) and involves a three hour cruise on the Mediterranean underneath the setting sun, and an open bar offering guests unlimited free beer and sangria. And you won’t here anyone protesting about that! The tickets for the boat party are a fraction pricey at 40 euros, but that includes all of the above plus free nightclub entry to one of the swanky joints on the Port Olimpic, like CDLC, Shoko, Sotavento or Opium Mar Beach Club.

Sounds like summer 2012 is going to be another great one for lovers of nightlife and parties in Barcelona! No doubt I’ll be updating this blog with some more festival reviews (last year I dropped in on Sonar and Primavera Sound!), beach parties and random nights out!

Meanwhile, if it’s water sports that rock your boat (that pun is so bad I nearly deleted it… but since I had to read it back to myself you can suffer too) then check out this handy guide to sailing in Barcelona which features a list of yacht charter companies. Hire a boat and head down to Sitges why not!

Ok sea dogs… see you on Sunday hopefully! In the mean time try not to get hit by a rubber bullet.

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:)

Club Guestlists in Barcelona

Barcelona’s nightclubs can basically we split into two halves. Studenty and posh. Personally I prefer the studenty ones – yes there may be too many dicks on the dancefloor, but at least you can wear whatever you like, and really go wild and have fun without basically giving a damn (which is what clubbing should be all about right?).

The other sort, which the Catalan locals seem to love, as well as female guiris (I guess I’ll have to do a post on guiris some other time! Basically tourists, who look, act and embody every stereotype of tourists) are the ‘exclusive’ nightclubs. I tend to avoid these places, as 1) I hate shoes 2) I hate people who wear shoes 3) no one actually has any fun at these places, they just check each other out a bit and then go home.

Most of these clubs, like Opium Mar, CDLC, Shoko and Sotavento can be found on the Port Olimpic, just by Barceloneta beach. Others like Sutton Club are up by the Diagonal. Many of them are run by the same people, and they are all basically identical copies of one another. If you’re on holiday, have a bit of cash and like your girls/guys nice and dressed up, then there are some merits to a visit – esp. to Opium Mar. This is the one place (I’m not counting Catwalk) which stays open to 6am on the Port Olimpic and the club which pretty much everyone tries to get in. During summer on a saturday night that can be tough!

Anyway the point is that none of these ‘exclusive’ clubs are in fact exclusive at all (hey they even let me in on occasion). You don’t need any special contacts or to grease the palm of the bouncer. You just need to follow a couple of basic rules about dress and get yourself on the guest list… how do you do that? Well there are a tonne of nightlife agencies offering guestlists to all the above clubs and a thousand others you’ve never heard of, desperate to fill the dancefloor of each, from Monday to Sunday. (During summer in particular most of the top venues will throw parties every night!)

Our amigos at Barcelona Life have just started to add some information about club guestlists in Barcelona to their website, starting with info on the all-important Opium guestlist, Sutton guestlist and more. After all it’s one thing to spend a night in a crap venue, but it’s definitely worse to be rejected by one! For some of the other nightclubs you can do some simple Googling to find an agency.

Sadly, all of the best music clubs in the city, like Apolo (home of Nasty Mondays and Crappy Tuesdays!), Razzmatazz and La Terrrazza don’t operate such lists… relying instead on old fashioned methods, like having a good DJ, to get people in.