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Another place undergoing something of a facelift these days is Poblenou. Not so much the Meatpacking District it aspired to be in the early days, but Williamsberg certainly, with its lofty spaces and wide avenues, not to mention craft breweries like the Edge, avant-garde weekend markets like Palo Alto, and fabulous cocktail bars like Balius, which definitely gives you a slice of New York ambience, while still feeling thoroughly Barcelona.
Owned by Rosa Solà and Mike Cruickshank (the good folk who brought us Bar Xix over in Sant Antoni), the venue is an old ironmongers on Carrer Pujades, with the original tiled signage on the front and lots of preserved details, such as the glass-fronted cabinetry behind the bar, which lend a reassuring ‘been-here-a-long-time-and-not-going-anywhere’ kind of vibe, despite the fact it’s just under a year old. Elsewhere it’s been jazzed up with colourful Moroccan pressed concrete tiles on the floors, low-slung sofas and marble topped tables, as well as the grooviest bathroom in town. The first time I happened by was on a Saturday afternoon when it was rocking to the tune of ‘Burn baby, burn’ and filled with couples holding hands and singles nursing grown-up drinks and a book. I was hooked.
So I returned a few nights later and met Cruickshank for dinner and he talked me through the concept a little more. His wife, Solà, is heavily involved in the Catalan division of Slow Food and wanted to revive some of the more traditional conservas that were popular 40 odd years ago, while Cruickshank set his sights on moving the vermuteria concept up a notch with a range of vermouth-based cocktails. And their combined efforts have resulted in a place as fresh and exciting as any of the new wave design bars.
We sip Reserva de la Luna, a biodynamic vermut made in the Priorat, which has a lovely orangey nuttiness with just a streak of bitterness. It goes perfectly with a paper cone of house-fried crisps and slivers of peix sec made by a Formentera fisherman who dries skate wings in his garden before bottling them to create something quite wonderful between jerky and confit. There is also some excellent cured arenque (herring) from Almeria and bonito (horse mackerel) adobo, based on a technique for pickling shark in Andalusia, but less commonly seen here. We nibble the silkiest slices of mojama (cured tuna) from Barbate and a bacalao potato salad that was inspired by a dish referenced in Don Quixote. Then we move to conserved meat, like velvety lomo de orzo that sees pork loin preserved in spiced fat, and a meltingly tender sobrassada from Menorca. All of it is organic and from small, highly specialised producers with a tale to tell, turning bar snacks into something quite extraordinary.
But the best was yet to come in the form of a Boulevardier. Combining bourbon, vermouth and Campari, it is the ultimate, non-cloying after-dinner tipple. So good, I had two. To the protectors of good things, cheers!
Pujades 196. Tel. 93 315 8650. www.baliusbar.com
Open daily 12pm-8.30pm (vermut and non-stop kitchen), 5pm-2.30am (cocktails). €25-30 for several tapas to share and drinks.