Poble Sec - a hidden gem at the foot of Montjuic
Poble Sec is a Barcelona neighborhood that forms part of the Sants-Montjuic district. It is located between Montjuic and the neighborhood and its history dates back to the 19th century. At that time the city of Barcelona was still enclosed by walls, and those who couldn´t afford to live in the walled city began to move to Poble Sec. More and more people arrived and by 1987 the urbanization of the Poble Sec quarter had begun.
Poble Sec means “dry village” in Catalan, and it was given the name because it initially had no water supply and the first fountain was not installed until 1894. By the end of the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th Poble Sec had become an industrial neighborhood. The three chimneys of the La Canadenca electricity company still stand today, as a testament to the neighborhood´s industrial past.
Much of the area is residential, so it´s a bit quieter than the center of town, and only a 10-20 minute walk from Las Ramblas. It´s a good choice if you want to be centrally located, but at the same time away from the crowds of tourists that you might find in other areas. At one point the neighborhood was considered to be a bit dodgy, but in the last ten years it has begun to turn around, with fashionable bars and restaurants popping up and giving it a new image. Tourists shouldn’t expect any problems, just make sure to watch bags and purses as you would in any other area.
The neighborhood of Poble Sec has a long history of entertainment and theater. It reached the height of its fame in the 1950s with the music halls on the street Para.lel. In addition, the singer/songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat was born here, which gave him the nickname “the boy from Poble Sec”. These days the nearby La Ciutat del Teatre is the neighborhoods theater and music center.
La Ciutat del Teatre (the City of Theater) is an area of Poble Sec where the Mercat de les Flors (www.mercatflors.org), the Teatre Lliure (www.teatrelliure), and the Institut del Teatre (www.institutdelteatre) are located. The Mercat de les Flors was once a flower market, and is now a center for dance and theater, and the Teatre Lliure is a theater occupying the Palau de l’Agricultura, which was built for the 1929 Exhibition. Both have musical and dance performances throughout the year. The Institut del Teatre is a cultural institution that incorporates the training, research, and promotion of the performing arts.
If you need a place to rest your feet after walking all day, stop at La Fíbula (C/ Blai 46) for a tea. This Moroccan-style tea shop offers over 35 types of tea, a variety of hot chocolates, and sweets such as baklava. It´s the perfect place to have a conversation, relax, or consult your map and plan your next move.
If you´re in the mood for tapas, head to Inopia (Calle Tamarit 104, http://www.barinopia.com/). It may seem unassuming, but Inopia is run by Alberto Adrià, the younger brother of Ferran Adrià (of El Bulli fame) and El Bulli´s pastry chef. Like his brother, he is famous for his innovative takes on traditional dishes, and always uses fresh ingredients. The restaurant is open Tuesday to Friday from 7pm to 11pm and Saturday from 1pm to 3:30pm and 7pm to 11pm. Reservations are recommended.
Another well known tapas place is Quimet I Quimet (Poeta Cabanyes 25). Quimet is a small hole-in-the-wall bar primarily frequented by locals. They specialize in combinados, which is essentially a plate with a bit of everything on it. They also have an amazing variety of cheeses, so make sure to try some. It gets crowded, and most people eat standing up, so it´s not the best place to relax. However, it´s a great place to stop for a drink, if only to see what all the fuss is about.
For dinner, check out Tapioles 53 (http://www.tapioles53.com). Tapioles 53 was created by a Barcelona designer and an Australian chef, and is located in an old umbrella factory. There is a short menu which changes daily using only fresh ingredients and the cuisine is international, with influences from both Europe and Asia. There is no printed menu, instead the owners will come by your table and explain the options. Dinner is reservation only so make sure to call ahead.
For drinks, the Cervesería Jazz (C/Margarit 43) is a good option. This neighborhood bar has a mellow vibe and plays primarily jazz music. It´s a great place to have a chat and chill out, and in addition to the usual variety of drinks they also offer a good selection of imported beers.
For dancing, Sala Apolo (www.sala-apolo.com) is the place to go. Open every night except Sunday and Fridays and Saturdays until 6:30am, it´s an old-time ballroom which has been transformed into a concert venue with regular live gigs and club nights.
Poble Sec doesn´t offer the amazing modernist architecture of L’Eixample, or the artsy feel of Gracia, but it’s a great place to visit if you want to see a more traditional barrio without all the tourists. What´s even better is that many of its bars and restaurants are still relatively undiscovered and visiting them makes you feel like a true insider.
Metro stops: Paralel, Poble Sec, Plaça Espanya