Bar Marsella first came on my radar four years ago when I was doing research for our last vacation to Barcelona; specifically, I wanted to spend a day doing a walking tour of the city finding various filming locations from Vicky Cristina Barcelona because it’s one of my favorite movies, despite its director being highly problematic at best. The plan sort of came to fruition—we actually covered a decent amount of ground, but not enough that I felt ever warranted a proper blog post about it. One of the things I would have loved to do was to go to Bar Marsella in the Raval neighborhood since it’s featured twice in the movie: once inside when Juan Antonio and Cristina are hanging out with his artist friends, and then later when Juan Antonio and Maria Elena are screaming at each other during their breakup. Alas, I was not terribly familiar with the Raval neighborhood at the time, and so we never made our way to that part of the city after the time it opened for business for the evening.
This time around, though, we actually stayed right around the corner from it at the Barcelo Raval, so not only did we darken its doors, we did so every night we were in Barcelona. It’s one of the oldest bars still operating in the city at nearly 200 years old, and it sure looks like it: the paint is peeling from the ceiling, the windows and mirrors have that patina of age and smoke, and many of the gorgeous tiles have little cracks and crevices in them from years of shoes trodding on them. (It’s almost jarring when you see a new tile that has been installed out of necessity when next to its much older neighbors.)
Marsella is famous for being a favorite haunt of Hemingway’s and for its house drink of absinthe. If absinthe conjures the image of an elaborately-prepared cocktail you might get right off Bourbon Street in New Orleans, well, this isn’t really it. Here it’s much quieter: the waiter brings you your glass with a some sugar cubes and a tiny fork, along with a water bottle with a tiny hole punctured into it. You take out the sugar cubes, arrange them on the fork that you straddle over the glass, and slowly pour, allowing the sugar to melt into the drink and creating this lovely layered cocktail. It’s a bit of a time-consuming project, though that’s probably a good thing given that absinthe is pretty heavy stuff. Once the sugar is all dissolved you can sip on your drink and marvel at the abandoned glasses of absinthe that people left behind after going through all of that.
But it would be a disservice to Josep and his crew of bartenders to suggest that the only drink worth getting here is one you essentially prepare yourself, because they make some of the best cocktails we had in the city. The gintonic here is fabulous: they will rub the glasses with lemon and lime before adding the massive ice cubes, the gin, and pouring the tonic water down the curves of a bar spoon handle to properly preserve the bubbles. The negronis here are also excellent, likely because the mysterious bottle of vermouth they use is probably something that would be impossible to get here stateside.
The most delightful cocktail we had, though, was on our last night there: a muddled concoction of figs, gin, honey, and lemon juice. It was entirely too easy to drink, and Josep graciously let me watch him make it and didn’t seem to mind (too much) that I was taking notes so I could recreate it at home. On my IG stories I dubbed this El Fin del Verano, but really, it should be in Catalan: La Fi de L’Estiu. (My It’s the perfect drink to make this time of year when figs are delicious and easy to find, and the perfect accompaniment to the bowl of potato chips that they will bring to your table to snack on. On our first weekend back I whipped up a few batches of these to go along with a few rounds of Ilimat while our chicken roasted away in the oven. It’s not quite the same as being there, but it’s not too shabby.
La Fi de L’Estu
Inspired by Bar Marsella
Makes two cocktails
- 7 figs, peeled and halved
- Juice of a lemon
- 4 ounces gin
- 3 ounces honey simple syrup (just combine equal parts honey and water over heat in a saucepan, bring to boil, and then let cool before using)
Place the figs into the base of a cocktail shaker and muddle very well. Add the lemon juice, honey simple syrup, and gin and a healthy amount of ice, shake for 30 seconds until cold, and strain into cocktail glasses. Serve immediately.
 (I try to assuage some guilt in loving this movie by only watching it on DVD, figuring that there’s no way me watching it would put additional dollars in his pocket.)
 A game inspired by The Decemberists which is both ridiculously elaborate and wicked fun once you figure out all of the rules.