Spain is famous for its tapas, and if you are in Barcelona you must visit the most popular tapas bar in the city, Cerveceria Catalana. Spanish for ‘Catalan Brewery’, this is a must for any visitor to Barcelona and it certainly lives up to its name with a large selection of beers from all over the world.
However, it is for its wonderful selection of tapas that the locals congregate here in the evenings, and while many Barcelona visitors will have heard of tapas, few will know exactly what they are. Here is a brief account of how tapas might have become established as almost a national Spanish dish.
In Spanish legend, Alfonso the Wise (Alfonso X) of Castile was responsible for the introduction of tapas into the country’s cuisine. During a period of ill health he found it easier to recover by eating small dishes and drinking wine between meals. After his recovery, Alfonso insisted that taverns should not serve wine unless accompanied by these small snacks, or tapas.
This rule eventually became a legal loophole that enabled people to drink when they would not otherwise have been permitted to, although the ruler’s name changes according to who is relating the legend. The truth behind tapas is likely a combination of the legend and the way in which Andalusians covered their sherry glasses with slices of bread and meat to keep the flies out. The word comes from the Spanish verb taper, “to cover”, and in addition to the bread, popular meats were sliced ham and chorizo.
Whatever the reason for their being, tapas are as Spanish as castanets and paella, and the Cerveceria Catalana offers them in a wide variety of forms. They can be cold, hot and can be combined to form an entire meal. This is particularly true of the tapas restaurants in the UK and USA, although in Spain a tapa (the correct singular form) is simply a small dish of food. It is not a starter, and neither is it a type of food. It is simply a way of eating a small snack along with a drink.
The Spanish like to eat when they drink, and they also tend to eat their main meal of the day late in the evening. Afternoon or early evening drinks, therefore, and generally accompanied by tapas, and there was a time when most bars offered the tapas free when you bought a drink. Unfortunately, that is now a very rare service in most parts of Spain, although you may perhaps find a bowl of olives available free in many bars.
However, all that aside, the Cerveceria Catalana is a superb example of a Spanish tapas bar, and is popular with tourists and with local residents. As you walk into this authentic upscale tavern decorated in dark shades and varnished wood with oak bars to your left and right (seating in the back), you are assaulted by the sounds, smells and tastes of authentic Catalonia.
The tavern lives up to its name, offering a wide variety of beers to enjoy with your tapas, both in bottle and on draught. It is a very popular place, and you are advised to have plenty time available when you visit. They don’t take table bookings, so you can have a wait of 45 minutes or more for a table.
It’s no great inconvenience though, because you can have a few drinks in the bar while waiting for a table, and enjoy some of their fantastic montaditos. These are a selection of small tapas available in the bar area. They are absolutely delicious, and the range of tapas on offer is equally fabulous, with shrimp, octopus, squid, mussels and lots more seafood if you like that.
These delicacies usually sit prettily on a lovely piece of crusty French bread complete with a smear of olive oil at it simplest, or goat cheese, tomato or tuna pate at its most complicated.
They also offer a wonderful pa amb tomàquet, the epitome of Catalan food. Their Pimientos de Padrón (peppers) is equally delicious, but if you like cheese their La Mancha manchego cheese is heavenly on Spanish crackers with a rich full-bodied Rioja. Manchego is a wonderful tapa, and you could even try it on toast: Spanish cheese on toast?
The Cerveceria Catalana is ideally situated if you intend visiting the Eixample neighbourhood, because it lies in Carrer de Mallorca, one of the side-streets off the Passeig de Grácia, close to La Rambla de Catalunya. The nearest Metro station is Diagonal. Walk down Carrer del Rosselló about 50 m then turn left at La Rambla de Catalunya. You will find Carrer de Mallorca about 250 metres down on the right.
It’s well worth the effort of visiting because it is one of the best tapas bars in Spain, not only Barcelona. The service is excellent and the staff speaks English. They have a terrace that you can use all year round – tapas al fresco! Sounds great with a locally brewed beer or a glass of fino sherry just as you like it. Another positive aspect of the Cerveceria Catalana is that it is open all day: unusual for Barcelona, and even though it is extremely popular (another good sign) the prices are very attractive.
Don’t miss it because the Cerveceria Catalana is a ‘must’ for any visitor to Barcelona, Spanish or not.
Address: c/Mallorca, 236, Eixample Derecha district
How to get there: by metro Green Line L3 – Diagonal, by FFGC (Ferrocariels Catalanes local train system) – Provenca.
Phone: (0034) 93 216 03 68
Opening hours: From Monday to Friday from 8 A.M. till 1.30 A.M.; Saturday and Sunday open from 9 A.M. Closed on Christmas.