A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona
Nursing a chronically sprained ankle whilst periodically pounding the streets of Barcelona on a pair of standard-issue crutches does have has its own advantages.
Although not an exhaustive list, here are just some of the reasons why:
- The polite (but not forgotten) tradition of having doors opened for you at the threshold of establishments is revived with gusto
- You get your own personal ‘shopping assistant’ who will offer to carry your basket for you in supermarkets (most of the time)
- Your faith in the spirit of human solidarity is restored… between other people on crutches
- Motorists slow down – or even stop – as you cross the street
- You have a perfect excuse to temporarily slow the tempo of life down, elevate the feet with a strategically-placed bag of frozen peas, and rest up with a good book
All well and good you might think? Here is the downside:
- Stairs become your enemy.
(In a city where the sheer density of living means the only direction is to build up – or down – there are battalions of them. Ninety-three from flat to street level to be exact)
- Uneven or wet surfaces become a minefield of potentially backside-numbing proportions
- Repeated obstruction caused to more able-bodied pedestrians merely compounds the urge to hobble around with a large sign that reads ‘El inválido que acerca: Ceda por favor’ (Invalid approaching: Please give way) emblazoned across my chest
- Refer back to point one
In all seriousness, my respect and admiration for disabled people who face the challenge of negotiating an urban world designed for the able-bodied on a daily basis has shot up beyond recognition over the last few weeks. I dread to think what living in Barcelona confined to a wheelchair is like and have no intention of finding out.
Now, balancing up this veritable smorgasbord of pros and cons, I have – with the encouragement of former resident of Barcelona and fellow coffee enthusiast Anita Westmoorland – decided to emerge from this enforced period of convalescence and fight the good fight of the crutch-assisted quadruped.
And whilst the torn tendons in my ankle perform their miraculous physiological feat of repairing themselves back to full pedaling capacity, I have resolved to take on some of the the best (and quirkiest) Tapas bars that BCN has to offer; and drink coffee.
So for your delectation, here is the first installment of:
A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona (on crutches)
Bar El Paraigua
Location: Plaça de San Miguel
Crutch compatibility: 2/5 stars (put aesthetics to one side and the immaculately polished chequered marble floor makes the crutch-enabled dash to the baño a sure-footed feat for the brave)
Beans on the Menu: Saimaza Colombian High Roast
Caffeine delivery method: Cortado
Hit to the wallet: €1,65
Music playing: Motown
Put the steep ‘tourist tax’ to one side and this charming Cafeteria-Tapas-Cockteleria-Whisqueria bar is, as the description suggests, more than your average coffee house. Standing on the site of one of the oldest convents in El Barrio Gótico, it opened its doors in 1968 to the good people of Barcelona after a hugely ambitious renovation. In every respect, its beautifully carved wooden interior is a truly authentic homage to the spirit of the early twentieth-century Art Nouveau movement. Every light fitting, marble tile, wall fixture, including the splendid antiquated cash register (dating back to 1898) which sits in pride of place on the mahogany bar, was pretty much cannibalised from a turn of the century umbrella and fan shop down the road, relocated and lovingly refitted, with stunning effect. Setting the walls with floor to ceiling smoke-tinted mirrors is a stroke of pure genius, elegantly achieving the desired optical illusion of space and openness to mask the bar’s diminutive size.
For me, the evocation of this era would have been almost complete if were not for the newly introduced nationwide smoking ban. Call me nostalgic bit some places just have to be fully appreciated through the atmospheric filter of a soft, Gauloise-infused haze; and this certainly has to be one of them. The pricey Cortado was good too, if a little on the milky side.
Yet it comes as no surprise that in an establishment like this, it’s not the coffee that you pay for.
Now, please pass the Gauloises…
Bean on a Crutch rating: 3/5 stars