Day 12: Absinthe, Warm Croissants, and a Lazy Sunday

by Eli Hodapp

One of the most amazing things about Barceloneta is the Baluard Bakery, which is right across the plaza from where we live. My favorite thing about living in Paris was the sheer proliferation of fantastic bread everywhere you went, and I’m beyond happy to have a place like this so close. Everything I’ve tried from this bakery has been to die for, but the croissants are especially out of this world- Particularly when you’re lucky enough to get them warm. At €0,95 a pop, it’s easy to turn stopping in for a croissant into part of your daily routine.

Sunday actually is the worst day of the week here, just because Baluard Bakery is closed. I’m jonesing so hard for a croissant right now, you have no idea. Maybe next week I’ll think ahead and keep an emergency stash for Sundays. But, anyway, let’s rewind a bit.

Last night I met a friend for some really great tapas in Born. I’m not cool enough yet to remember all the Spanish names for everything we had, but it was an assortment of croquets, flatbread smeared with tomatoes and olive oil, some tiny breaded and fried fish, smoked salmon, and some other things I’m forgetting. We also got a decently-fancy €30,00 bottle of wine, which, oddly enough, was totally worth the price. I’m not sure if I can afford to become a wine snob, but pretending once in a while is pretty nice.

From there, we met some other people at a really slick little bar in Raval. So, for the sake of mental maps, Barceloneta is a peninsula which juts out into the Mediterranean. Walking directly northwest from Barceloneta gets you to Born, then as you walk southwest you go through Gotic1 and then on the other side of Gotic continuing southwest is Raval.

Raval is a very dodgy area of town, allegedly filled with pickpockets, prostitutes, and other unsavories. For as much as I was warned about how bad Raval was going to be, it seemed pretty tame. I suspect that has a lot to do with the season, as apparently in the summer you can barely even walk down the streets of Raval there are so many people out. We saw a few prostitutes and a higher concentration of the €1,00 beer guys than usual, but that was about it.

The first bar we went to called Pesca Salada and was about the size of a typical bedroom. Maybe a little smaller. The walls were tile, but everything has a delightfully over the top nautical theme to it. This bar could only hold maybe 20 people, and every seat in the place was taken. It was staffed by a single bartender, and your drinks are served to you whenever he feels like making them.

As I’ve mentioned before, the gin and tonic is an ultra trendy drink here. So, just like the decor, the gin and tonics we ordered were totally over the top. Mine came with four massive cucumber slices artfully arranged, with a sprinkling of actual rose petals also included. Looking around, it seemed like all the drinks they were serving at this place were equally ridiculous, with various other slices of fruit and flowers. It makes the dry pathetic wedge of lime you’d typically get in American bars seem so inadequate in comparison.

We finished out drinks and made our way to Bar Marsella, an absolutely ancient absinthe bar. You can tell you’re getting close to Bar Marsella because the people you see wandering around Raval might make you think, “OK, that could be a prostitute I guess,” to “Oh wow, this is something else.” Walking through the door was like stepping through to some kind of alternate universe. I really didn’t know it was possible for places like this to exist.

As soon as you set foot inside, you’re met with the intoxicatingly strong scent of anise and a humidity level that’s only a few percentage points lower than your typical steam room at a gym. My glasses instantly fogged up, which had me looking over the rim of them to take in everything that was going on around me. Bar Marsella looks like the product of what would happen if you discovered a very fancy and elaborate yet entirely abandoned bar about 300 years ago. Then, in that 300 years, all you ever do is serve absinthe, and I mean that’s all you ever do.

The ornate chandeliers overhead were coated with what looked like entire lifetimes of dust. I’m not sure what color the walls were originally painted, but everything seems stained with the smoke from billions of cigarettes to be this ruddy yellowish brown. You could see the contrast of just how severe the smoke staining was on every surface by looking under the peeling paint which is absolutely everywhere.

The walls were all covered in shelves which were home to bottles that I was told, “Americans love because they’re older than their country.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love ’em, as they looked just as forgotten as everything else that wasn’t either touched or used as part of the daily operation of the bar. Every movie that ever took place in any kind of absinthe bar totally makes sense to me now, as I’ve never been anywhere else on this planet that had the same vibe.

Of course I actually tried absinthe as well, and did the whole burning the sugar cube ritual to drink it properly. Absinthe tastes a lot like an incredibly alcoholic version of NyQuil. After hearing just how strong it is from multiple people, I was expecting it to be a lot less drinkable, but it actually wasn’t that bad. I’m not sure I felt any absinthe-specific effects, but between a bottle of wine, massive gin and tonics, and absinthe I was doing A-OK.

We closed out Bar Marsella at what must have been around 3:30 AM, and I finally found myself back in my bed at a little after 4:00 AM. This afternoon when I finally woke up I wasn’t really sure if I was starting to get sick or was just hung over, so I decided to follow the Jim Plachy Method™ and find some orange juice to chug from the corner store. Spanish juice is very strange, or at least, the juice I’ve tried so far. It’s less of what you’d think of as juice, and more just the bare minimum amount of liquid you’d need to form a complete pulp suspension. Odd. Either way, it seemed to fix me right up, so that’s good.

After showering and getting moving I decided I’d walk around Barceloneta a bit more, as there’s just a ton of things here. The street density is so high that you have to zoom in all the way on Google Maps before it even displays anything between the actual streets. I found a pizza place that looked like they served some very European looking mega-thin crust pizza. So, that’s been added to the mental map to try later. Also, the concentration of corner stores here is just insane. Someone could literally blindfold you, spin you in circles, then send you walking in a direction and inside of two minutes you’d be at a corner store. Very convenient.

That’s it so far today. I hope to take my housemates out to dinner tonight since Jonathan is leaving for Denmark on Tuesday and they’ve been so kind inviting me to various dinners since I’ve been here. I’ve got no idea where we’re going yet, but it’ll be somewhere good and local for sure.

  1. Or, the “Gothic quarter” to Americans. []