After living in Barcelona for almost a year, I have come across a number of what I like to call “Barcelona gems.” These are restaurants, cafes, shops that I have stumbled on mostly in El Barrio Born, Gotico and Gracia, that I have continued to frequent over the past year. Also, experiences I have had for normal every-day things, like where to get a haircut and entertainment, like my favorite salsa hot-spots! And remember, this is all coming from the perspective of a 24-year old student on a tight budget, into organic, earthly and bohemian places/things and also, a native English speaker.
Best place for a haircut
Nestled right in between El Mercat del Born and Parque Cuidella, Ribera 6 from the outside looks like any other hair-salon in Barcelona. But, what the Ribera 6 specializes in, is speaking English and catering to all of us “extranjeros.” Although I am the first to say that using the local language and integrating yourself into local culture is #1 when living in another country…when it comes down to a haircut (especially a woman’s haircut), being able to explain exactly what you want in your native language and being understood helps to ease the mind. After hearing horror stories and claims of hair-stylists chopping off inches of hair after asking for a “trim” or butchering once trendy short hair-cuts, the language barrier problem kept me away from the Barcelona hair-salons for almost 6 months. When finally, my overgrown, malnourished hair was begging for a cut it was time to do some research. Ribera 6 was recommended by many English speakers and I called and made an appointment. When I arrived, my hairstylist was warm and friendly and she completely understood my fear of having someone butcher my hair due to the language barrier. Although in the end I paid a bit more than I normally had allocated to spend, the 50€ was well worth it (a fairly normal price for a higher-end, shampoo, cut and blow-dry and they charge a bit extra for long hair due to the use of the extra product). They also offer a 15% discount to students and people under 25 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Metro: Juame or Barceloneta (L4 Yellow Line)
Address: c/ Ribera 6, Barcelona, 08003
Cost: 50€-60€ for cut and blow-dry
Woki Organic Market
One day I decided to take a different way to class and right around the corner from my normal train stop I stumbled upon this incredible organic restaurant, market and cafe. Not only do they offer an array of fresh baked breads (available by the slice), whole-grain pastries and organic coffee (my fresh out of the oven multi-grain croissant and cafe con leche cost me the normal 2.75€, a normal going rate for this kind of breakfast anywhere in the city), but also have a mini-market of ecologically-friendly food aligning the the walk-way to the back, complete with organic milk, cheese, yogurt, produce, cereals, honey, pasta, sauces, tea…a little bit of everything. Normally I am going by the Woki Organic Marketin the mornings to grab a coffee and a pastry, and sometimes situate myself at one of their quaint wooded tables to do a little homework before class. Between the hours of 8am and 12pm it is the essence of peacefulness and tranquility, however, there is a huge lunch rush around 1pm – 4pm, because it is also a full-mini-restaurant. The word “wok” is the name of a stir-fry pan used in China and thus the focus is creating personalized “woks” for customers. However, the cafe is divided into different areas offering other options such as sushi, salads and even pizza. You can either take a seat at one of the tables and one of the staff will come take your order, or pull up a chair to one of the counters and watch them make your food right in front of you. Woki Organic Market is a mini-chain with locations in Borne, Gracia and Barceloneta, however the one close to Plaza Cataluyna is my favorite because it offers the restaurant/cafe atmosphere unlike the others that just offer take-away food.
Metro: Plaza Cataluyna or Universitat (L1 Red Line)
Address: Ronda de La Universitat, 20, Barcelona, 08007
Directly across the street from Palau de La Musica Catalana in the upper part of Barrio Born, you can find this eclectic cafe that after many visits, my close friend Nazli and I began to call “our cafe.” Dimly lit with 400 year old stone walls, you feel like you are venturing deep into a dungeon when you walk through the front doors. The best part about Alsur is the back lounge area complete with pillows, cushions and small tables. Nazli and I could sit for hours sprawled out on the cushions, venting about our female woes, drinking cafes con leche and munching on a variety of their gastronomic dishes and tapas. If you’re on the run, grab one of their warm, house-made Spinach empanadas – to die for! Be careful though, this location only serves full meals until 6pm or so, so don’t miss out! The cafe also has classic cafe seating in the front and offer free wi-fi, a great place to hunker down and finish a work/school project. (Note: There is also another Aslur tucked farther back in Barrio Born which is much larger and is more like a restaurant than a cafe. They have outdoor seating in a quiet plaza and an expanded menu. I can’t attest to the inside as I have only enjoyed a coffee on the terrace at this Alsur. (c/ Sant Pere Mes Alt, Barcelona, 08003)
Metro: Urquinaona (L1 Red Line)
Address: c/ Carders, 17, Barcelona, 08003
I get all warm and fuzzy inside when I talk about Pasta Bar – my traveling vagabunda friend Nazli and I’s after-school Friday tradition and where we did a lot of our travel adventure planning. First you choose your fresh hand-made pasta – rigatoni, cheese/meat filled raviolis, spaghetti, fettuccine and the list goes on. Then a sauce – cream, tomato, pesto, bolognese etc – and lastly toppings – sausage, chicken, vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes etc. And voilá, your pasta is ready – made with love by the very lively and entertaining Italian pasta guys behind the counter. And if the to-die-for pasta doesn’t get you excited, the price will. You can do a basic pasta with no toppings for 4€ or do a whole combo meal (pasta with toppings, soup or salad, and a drink) for around 8€. The best place to sit is at the huge oval table in the back where we you can sit across from international strangers watching everyone cheerfully chowing-down on their fresh pasta over a blend of languages.
Metro: Drassanes (L3 Green Line)
Address: c/ Escudellers 49, Barcelona, 08002
Best Bookstore in Barcelona
Hibernian Books is currently (2012) the ONLY used English bookstore in Barcelona. It’s small and quaint and doesn’t have the greatest selection but if you do some digging, you could find a great read. Their prices are phenomenal, most novels are 3€-6€, and also, you can sell your old used books to them. Hibernian Books is also located in the hippie Barrio Gracia area and after you buy your new book you can plop yourself down at one of the various local cafes. Although the major Barcelona book-buying outlets (FNAC, Casa de Libros and Corte Ingles) all have English sections, it is normally extremely small and half-full of classic novels by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. However, these bookstores have a fabulous section of books called “DE BOSILLO” which means “for the pocket.” You can find all of the most popular books, paperback and printed in small print, made specifically to fit comfortably in a purse or your backpack. Of course, these books are ALL in Spanish/Catalan and thus leaving us English readers to envy. Hibernian Books is the only place in Barcelona where we English speaking folk can exercise our human right to purchase reasonably priced, pocket sized, at least semi-intriguing reading material.
*Note: Due to the fact that I just recently started reading Spanish novels, I haven’t had a chance to really explore used Spanish bookstores in Barcelona. The few times that I have aimlessly meandered through some they seemed to be rather old, dusty bookshops selling collectable items from the mid-1900s and earlier. I have actually had a lot of luck though at the major bookstores mentioned above, finding Best Sellers and classics “De Bosillo” for 7€-10€ (and well, since it takes me so long to read them, I feel like I am really getting my money’s worth!)
Metro: Fontana (L3 Green Line)
Address: c/ Montseny 17, Barcelona, 08012
Where to dance salsa
First of all, my review on Barcelona salsa might be a little skewed as I am from California and I dance line-style. There a lot of salseros that dance Cubano style here in Barcelona, thus it was quite a struggle finding a venue for both “line” and “cubano” dancers. When you do your first major search of Salsa Barcelona your search engine will bring up these two popular “Latin” night clubs: Antilla and Mojito. I will leave these two out of my recommendations because the internet already has a ton of comments for you to read however for me, they are at the bottom of my list. Be weary of salsa venues that promote playing “Latin Beats” – these are usually not true salsa clubs and are many times no more than a night-club playing reggaeton instead of American rap songs. What I do base my opinions on in regards to Barcelona salsa venues are these: 1.) Is there space to dance? (if you dance “line” style, you need a bit of space…and it just isn’t fun dancing in one spot for a whole song because you are crammed in-between a bunch of people, then it feels like you are just in a normal club), 2.) Is there a good mix of both cubano, bachata and traditional salsa music played? 3.) Is the ambiance warm and friendly, like there is some sort of salsa community? Or is it just a meat-market? Secondly, I wanted to point out that some of the best clubs for line-style salsa dancing are outside the city and can be tricky to get to without a car. However, the if you are looking for some good salsa and don’t mind paying for a taxi – it will be well worth the hassle.
Salsa Cel, or simply “Cel” has a huge, clean dance floor, fantastic music and some incredible dancers. They also throw special salsa events so keep an eye out on their website/facebook pages. This club is located in an industrial zone of Badalona (a neighborhood of Barcelona) full of other night-clubs, but Cel is pure salsa which is great. My only negative comment would be that there is this Kizomba craze taking over Barcelona and the DJ has been playing more and more in between salsa sets. In my opinion, the Kizomba has gotten way out-of-control (3 songs in a row sometimes every 45 minutes or so) and it really drags down the mood because only a select few dance it. As for getting to Cel, when you get off the metro hail down a cab for 5-10€ to get you to the club. The bus is cheaper but complicated if you don’t know the area. If you are really tight on cash, follow the swarms of the drunk party goers exiting the metro (6-inch heals, tight dresses, yelling at each other…yup, those would be them). They are all headed to the same area of clubs – it’s about a 15 minute walk. Also, for an after-dancing wind-down, head over to Titus for a drink, a huge open-aired dance club with a mixture of all kinds of music, right around the corner from Cel (you can watch the sun rise at 6am and then be just in time for the first morning metros!)
Metro: Badalona-Pompeu Fabra (L2 Purple Line)
Address: Ramón Martí i Alsina 44, Badalona, 08911
Best Night: Saturday
Best Time of the Night to Dance: 1am-3:30am
Cost: 8€ (includes one free drink ticket)
El Manisero, or what Barcelona salseros affectionately call “Mani,” is the most difficult to get to from Barcelona but well worth it if you are a salsa enthusiast. Mani is also located in an industrial area with other dance clubs but is in Sabadell, a city about 25 km outside of Barcelona. The train takes you directly to Sabadell and from their you can either hail a taxi for 5-10€ or it’s a pretty direct 20 minute walk. Maniis about 1/6 of the size of Salsa Cel but the energy is incredible. Dancers from all surrounding dance schools like to come here and there are normally two group lead ruedas during the night (sometimes they have to make 3 circles because there are so many people want to participate). The music is 25% bachata and 75% traditional salsa (including a few sprinkles here and there of Cubano). And NO Kizomba!
Train: FGC Line S2 from Plaza Catalyna, Stops: Sant Quirze or Sabadell
Address: Carrer de Rocafort, 72 08205, Sabadell
Best Night: Friday, Saturday (Sunday is more low-key, starts earlier, and FREE…well you have to buy one beverage!)
Best Time of the Night to Dance: 1am-4:00am (weekends)
Cost: 10€ (includes one free drink ticket), 12€ (includes two free drink tickets)
Barcelona’s historic night-club Bikini, has a special latin/salsa room open every weekend however any normal Friday/Saturday night they play a mix of salsa, reggaeton and “Latin beats.” But all summer, Bikini has teamed up with on the of best known dance schools in Barcelona, Seven Dance and have been offering Thursday night salsa. Fabulous dancers from the dance school, nice cozy floor, and entertaining animaciones(one of the promoters, or what they call “animators,” gets everyone to come to the middle of the dance floor and they do a few group dance…usually to popular songs, making ridiculous gestures but so much fun!). Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE saying that you are on the guest list of Seven Dance? Now, this was something that they put on for the summer of 2012 and as of now they are still continuing with Thursday nights at Bikini, but this may end. Even if it does, add yourself to Seven Dance’s facebook page and see the venues they are promoting. Like any city, the salsa group just kind of gravitates from location to location as new venues open and old ones close – same great people and atmosphere, just different place.
Metro: Les Corts or Maria Cristina (L3 Green Line)
Address: Avinguda Diagonal 547, 08029, Barcelona
Best Night: Thursday
Best Time of the Night to Dance:12:30am-2:30am
Cost: FREE (Thursday nights)