Photo by Richard Owens
The renovation of the car park behind the Boqueria hasn’t been terribly kind to the businesses around there. Bar Ra had to relocate to Cañete—a top-notch, Catalan-oriented tapas bar on Carrer Unió—at the end of last summer, and one can only imagine that the noise and dust has put many a roving tourist off sitting down to eat anywhere in the immediate vicinity. The good news is, once the car park is underground, we citizens of Barcelona will have a much bigger plaça to play in.
Meantime, one man’s challenge is another’s opportunity as they say, and Bacaro—which means wine bar in Venetian—opened earlier this year on little Carrer Jerusalem as a welcome antidote to the seemingly never-ending sea of burger joints landing on these shores. Don’t get me wrong: I like a burger as much as the next girl, but finally, somewhere for dinner!
To give a bit of background, owners Alfredo, Mauri and Pablo were part of the troop of Venetians who opened Xemei in Poble Sec and Santa Marta on the beach. They’ve broken off—amicably—and gone their own way, serving simpler dishes than those at Xemei, more upmarket wines than those at Santa Marta.
The space itself is small, casually thrown-together, a bit chaotic with part-owner Mauri zooming around yelling, “come in, my love” to anyone who happens to walk by. A pal of the trio visiting from Venice hands out slices of beautiful, fennel-infused salami for customers to try. Alfredo pours me a goldfish-bowl-sized glass of Strada de Guia 109 Valdobbiandene, Foss Marai, Extra Prosecco (note the wine glass, not a flute) that they are trying out, so fresh and lively it actually makes me feel 10 years younger and transports me right back to the Rialto market in Venice where I’d stop in for cichèti—the Venetian equivalent of tapas—and a glass of wine after shopping.
This isn’t really a cichèti bar, but they have captured the heart and soul of the bacari. The mood is boisterous and convivial as complete strangers share nibbles and notes on topics of the day (in this case FC Barcelona’s spate of victories), and yell across the room at each other: “Where are you from? Oh, yeah. I got a cousin there. You tried the salami?”
Half the clientele are resident Italians, the rest a mix of Catalans and expats, but what’s so gloriously refreshing about the place is it feels like everyman’s home: the kind of place you could show up to on your own and run into a bunch of friends or soon make them. But even if you didn’t, you’d be very happy sitting at the bar chatting with whoever happened to be there.
In the end we are seated upstairs in the mezzanine pondering a snappy menu that combines staunchly Venetian dishes like sarde en saor (sweet and sour Venetian sardines) with burrata (that delightfully gooey mix of buffalo mozzarella and fresh cream), bresaola (paper-thin slivers of air cured beef) and bright insalata caprese. There are a couple of innovations too, like beetroot gnocchi with prawns, and Mauri tries to sell us a monster sea bass that they’ll lightly grill and do nothing much to, but we’re seduced by the promise of retro crowd pleasers lasagna and aubergine Parmesan. Both superb.
And so the wine and conversation flow freely over princely portions that are both soulful and sturdy, much as you imagine they’d be at the hands of an Italian nonna, and all the while Mauri flutters about urging us: “eat, eat”. As the two of us on aubergine parmesan are gradually beaten down by the sheer size of it (note the other dishes aren’t quite so big), he finally concedes they might actually be a little much and mooches off to the kitchen muttering about lily-livered appetites. We shared starters and dessert, kept our mains to ourselves, drank gallons of Prosecco and a couple of bottles of Treviso white with dinner and stumbled out of there feeling all was right with the world.
So, long live the return of the affordable, fun, neighbourhood eatery, I say. And keep that Prosecco coming.