Spain

The Spanish Pub Scene – Click Here To Read More

Over the last few years Spain has become a gradually more interesting and enjoyable place to go out for a beer. In the past such an activity inevitably involved locating a bodega or a tapas bar, both of which usually only sold one beer on tap, and a few uninteresting bottles.

The Northern and Central European idea of solid beer drinking, without any obligation to consume food, almost didn’t exist outside of the odd hole-in-the-wall sports bar and the usual Irish themed pubs.

Spain has become switched onto craft beer, as similar to Poland, the local offerings were so muted that the sheer exposure to the many other styles available was like someone pulling back a curtain they hadn’t even recognised was there.

Now there are decent places to go for an ale in the major cities, the appeal of tapas bars is limited even further, as they routinely don’t follow the décor of what makes a good pub, and there is too much going on to make beer any more than a sideshow. The only way around this is to do dedicated tapas/beer pubs, which as a concept doesn’t appear to exist currently, but I could see working well.

Bodegas on the other hand are a slightly different proposition. These can be the most atmospheric places, the traditional, aged, candlelit venues with the local pub atmosphere you crave when you visit a new place. They are a bit one paced, to be sure, but I have been to a few that can drum up a lively chatty atmosphere. Some of these tend to do decent bottles of imported German lager and Spain’s only real original hand in the beer scene – double malted pilsners. Most of the major Spanish lagers do a turn in premium double pilsners, most of which are a darn sight tastier and not rough like many of the Italians. If you’re stuck in an unexciting venue that only seems to serve Estrella Damm or San Miguel, get the drinks card and scan for a premium beer.

In the major cities you will find some kooky, off-beat alternative bars that match up well to the European bar scene. Barcelona is a typically good example of the range of options you’d almost demand as a prerequisite for visiting these days. Fortunately it does live up to the hype.

Service is nearly always pretty pleasant – as good as an at times better than English service, while the price of drinks in Spain varies enormously depending where you are. I hear a drink and a tapa in Granada can be found for a Euro, whereas a craft ale alone in Barcelona can tip 5 euros, though you won’t find too many above that price. In touristic places there is a harder job for bars to price their drinks to appeal to locals out of season and rinse tourists for all they’re worth in season.

It almost goes without saying that rural Spain is far more about wine, and even then, in the baking hot summers you’ll be wanting to use some of that light tasting Estrella even if it’s just holding the glass to your forehead.

P.S -Clearly there are lots of holiday resorts in Spain which have become near-enclaves for English/German/Russian people. If you find yourself there, then they will usually have the tackiest impressions of their own sorts of bars and pubs. It’s arguable whether any of that is really ‘Spain’, particularly as no-one serving there is Spanish or speaking Spanish. I will accept submissions in the cases of really good pubs and bars on these resorts.

Barcelona

SILVER AWARD

Bar Pastis
Carrer de Santa Mònica, 4, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –6/10
  • Style and Decor – 10/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 8/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  9/10

Any cursory research into Barcelona’s bar scene will lead you to the venerable and incredibly dinky-sized Bar Pastis, a staple venue of the Raval district for decades – with very good reason.

You may be concerned the place is over-exposed and  overly touristy – that’s understandable given how often it happens – well don’t worry. Bar Pastis can’t physically contain very many people for a start – secondly, the format of the place acts as an effective filter repelling faint-hearted rubberneckers, mainstream middle class folks and gormless teens almost as soon as they walk in (if they even get that far).

The outside of the bar really looks like nothing special, so much so that you might do a double-take before even trying the door. A late 80s/early 90s era sign in black and white ‘futuristic’ lettering hardly signposts the atmospheric speakeasy inside – just look at it! – but be brave, intrepid traveller, and dive in.

Once entering, and on the – not guaranteed – proviso you’ve managed to secure a comfortable standing or leaning spot, do take a moment to glance around at people entering the bar for the first time; enjoy the shocked and intimidated looks on people’s faces as though they’ve opened the wrong door into something truly disturbing and smily wryly as they reverse back out.

The old geezer running the bar wouldn’t want it any other way – indeed you’ll notice many stickers behind the bar area pointedly directing Erasmus students to an eff marked off.

So what’s this all about then?

Well, despite its diminutive size Bar Pastis could mostly call itself something of a music venue. It seems silly, even then, considering the place most likely fits 25 people in at a push (including any performers) but as true as day, there’s a small stage at the back of the bar that might allow 3 musicians at most, a table by the door that seems to become ever more useless and in the way as the night progresses (you can’t see the stage properly from there) and a few bar stools. If you’re desperate to sit down then prepare to be patient or prepare to leave – it took us around half an hour last time.

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The musical offerings vary between folk and jazz, and my last visit involved a maudlin French folk duo which despite being in Spain seemed perfectly appropriate for the location. Rather than recoiling in disappointment by what we found, the sound of live music was just the ticket as we thrust ourselves inside, and leaned over a few bodies to order some drinks.

Although it is a pastis/absinthe bar, strictly speaking, you’ll find a beer/wine easily enough. These are perfunctory efforts, really, slight concessions to what the bar would really rather sell, and merely passable. In addition to the drinks expect to pay a little surcharge for when there’s music on, though this doesn’t run to much more than a few euro. It’s all done informally by way of your first drinks order, which providing you’re not scared yet and wanting to flee, will prove very good value when the music starts.

The owner Angél has a typical René type look, slick back balding hair, roman nose and paunch, and is very much master of his domain.

While the music is playing you’ll find yourself drifting off into the surroundings which are some of the most crusty, ramshackle and amazing I’ve ever visited. The crimson painted walls of this tiny drinking den ran out of space some time ago, taken up with an unmistakably gothic and ever darkening set of paintings, yellowing newspaper clippings and various cultural ephemera from decades past. There is a slight bordello theme with some vaguely erotic stockings gestures and the centre piece on the ceiling, almost certainly a remnant from a Mardi Gras type festival is a suitably macabre mascot for a bar of rich, unflinching, uncompromising character. None of these items appear counterfeit, but inherited, and as a consequence you feel smothered in its history and the gradual accumulation of its importance.

No matter how many tourists attempt a pilgrimage to Bar Pastis, there is always a core fanbase who could be clearly identified from the tourists, while the transient custom of couples and folk music aficionados is only fitting for a bar of its kind.

Although I could suggest a few changes to the drinks roster and seating situation, it seems almost rude in the circumstances to do so, when so much of the place lavishes you with new things to look at, new music and revelry to enjoy, or that bleary eyed soulful haze at the end of a night. The place has a tendency to stay open into the small hours. Rejoining the street and heading down the relative normalcy of La Rambla (2017 terror attack excepted) feels like you just stepped back from a window into another universe, both real and yet unreal. How many bars come close to this?

It is for this reason Bar Pastis gets such a thumbs up from me. One of those places where an average score on Google fails to tell the true story. It’s brilliant – even if you go there once just to say I was there, good on you. You were there.

BRONZE AWARD

Bar Marsella
Carrer de Sant Pau, 65, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –7/10
Style and Decor – 9/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 6/10
Value for Money – 6/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

Pipa Club
Plaça Reial, 3, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –6/10
Style and Decor – 8/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
Value for Money – 6/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

El Bosc Des Les Fades
Plaça Reial, 3, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –7/10
  • Style and Decor – 10/10 
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10 
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 6/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  9/10

Translating to The Forest of the Fairies, this high concept bar is set down an alley entrance to a Wax Museum, and although it is listed as secret (how secret can a bar with over 1000 Google reviews really be?) you’ll find it signposted clearly enough on an arch set off La Rambla.

El Bosc definitely ranks highly for oddness – it is one of those special bars decorated with such care and attention that you can turn your head in any direction and see something new. The main area is quite a sight to behold when you enter in, with tree trunks shooting up and branches crawling along the ceiling to create an enclosed forested feel. Fairy lights make a prominent, predictable appearance, but it’s tastefully done. The central room is largely cleared of furniture to allow more people to congregate. As you’d expect with this décor and this location – it’s a popular spot, both with tourists and locals. No surprise – there’s nowhere else like it after all.

Luckily, there are plenty of other places in the bar to wander to, should you find the going a little bit congested. You will find a small area similar to a snug in a traditional pub (rather unexpected in such a place), a completely different back room with origami beetles in the window, a medieval style rocking bed to sit on, a table held forward by a toy soldier. Then another room, where suddenly the bar turns into a lush upholstered Victorian bedroom with pretty white furniture and billowing curtains – presumably the fairy’s bedroom? Who even knows anymore?! Then, follow through a corridor with huge machine like cogs on the wall and lampshades that look like bats, and a wall covered in backlit butterflies. I wasn’t high or anything, I can assure you. Wherever you turn, something new.

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The beers are the usual limited Spanish arrangement, and aren’t especially cheap (it’s La Rambla, so no surprise). Probably your best option is Voll-Damm, a double pilsner with just enough flavour and just clean-tasting enough to be inoffensive. But hey, at least it’s not Fosters. Voll-Damm services the visit well enough. Grab a bottle and get wandering down.

I visited El Bosc with my partner and we both felt the bar strikes a good tone, not too masculine or too twee, but occasionally fanciful and macabre, likely to appeal to both sexes and anything in between. It’s also pretty cosy if you get the right seat.

If you ever fancied combining a night out with the aesthetics of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this is your chance. No, this place doesn’t quite have have the raw power of an alternative bar, indeed it’s been lavished with money and attention to the extent it moves past a ruin-bar feel and there are some areas that verge on anodyne, but it’s so unusual, outstanding in its distinctiveness, so well-done in its execution, you can hardly walk past it without popping in for a drink and a nosey around. With any luck you’ll get a spot on the swing!

Although we always love obtuse and obscure selections on European Bar Guide, when the mainstream knuckles down and devotes some effort into making something fabulous, it can be well worth your time and attention. El Bosc goes way past the call of duty, pushing beyond the normal boundaries and expectations. When you leave, or perhaps even during your stay you may find yourself reassessing the question – what actually is a bar?

Garage Beer Co
Carrer del Consell de Cent, 261, 08011 Barcelona, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –9/10
Style and Decor – 7/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 8/10
Value for Money – 6/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

Bier CaB
Carrer de Muntaner, 55, 08011 Barcelona, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –10/10
Style and Decor – 6/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 6/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 8/10
Value for Money – 6/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

Kælderkold
Carrer del Cardenal Casañas, 7, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –9/10
Style and Decor – 7/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 6/10
Value for Money – 6/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

Manchester
Carrer de Milans, 5, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –7/10
Style and Decor – 6/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
Value for Money – 8/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

L’Ovella Negra
Carrer de les Sitges, 5, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –6/10
Style and Decor – 8/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 9/10
Value for Money – 8/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

Can Codina
Carrer del Torrent de l’Olla, 20, 08012 Barcelona, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –8/10
Style and Decor – 7/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
Value for Money – 6/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10

Palma Di Mallorca

SILVER AWARD

Lorien
Carrer de les Caputxines, 5A, 07003 Palma, Illes Balears, Spain

In a city geared up for café culture, tapas, pintxos and wine, the pastime of drinking beer and pub-going currently plays a definite bit-part role in Palma. Going for a night out here generally revolves around visiting various tapas bars on an evening, which are often lively and buzzing but lacking any standout décor and character to distinguish themselves. Indeed, the crowds in those places, the endless snacking and paucity of good beer options become a drawback after a time.

Thankfully Lorien has stepped into the breach, a superb genuine beer pub with a Lord of The Rings theme. This whole notion hangs loosely around the frame of the pub though, think tasteful artwork, motifs and patterns rather than role play and costumes! It isn’t like The Prancing Pony either, although few places are.

The pub tailors itself for an audience who have been starved of choice and quality of beer, stocking a range of Spanish and Mallorcan craft ales on tap along with a healthy supply of beers from more traditional parts of the world. This will come as a refreshing change of speed from the relentlessly uniform options of Estrella or Mahou everywhere else in the city. You’ll be surprised at the length and breadth of the beer menu.

There is a corresponding uptick in price which is hardly surprising given the sheer lack of competition, but given the alternative option is standing around food-munching Mallorcans in corporate tapas bars, or drinking wine in inappropriately intimate cellar bars, it’s worth it.

Furthermore, Lorien succeeds by being a real pub. You will find corner bench seating arranged in a communal, inwardly facing main room – a pub, in essence – and unsurprisingly a rather different crowd of young people than the dress-to-impress crowd in the tapas bars, going for a drink and a chat in a cosy and informal setting.

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The bar staff are almost textbook beer monsters: bald, big beards and big beer guts, and are more than happy to chew over your drinking options. You’ll find English is commonly spoken, as is often a big plus of craft beer places abroad when you’re trying to decipher what to drink, or just to have a friendly conversation.

However, this is more than just a venue for craft beer, there is a real effort made to engender a local drinking spot and community. Thankfully Lorien strikes the balance right between the studious beer contemplation and a friendly community.

Anyone frustrated by the other options and angling for a good beer and a communal pub in Palma must start by making a pilgrimage to Lorien, perhaps meeting your own Lady Galadriel along the way!

There are no two ways about it – if I lived in Palma, Lorien would be my local of choice.

Bodega Bellver
Carrer de Can Serinyà, 2, 07003 Palma, Illes Balears, Spain

Quality and/or choice of drinks –6/10
Style and Decor – 8/10
Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10
Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
Value for Money – 7/10
The Pub-Going Factor – 9/10