By Matt Rodbard
August 27, 2015
Credit: Pau Esculies

It’s no secret that Barcelona is a traveler’s dream, rich with affordable tapas bars, gothic cathedrals, the wonderful Fundació Joan Miró, and the world’s most famous football club. But there is one side of the Catalonian capital that’s less known to visitors: an eclectic bar scene that celebrates high-minded mixology fused with old-world Spanish hospitality, outstanding natural wines and one of the greatest Cuban rum stashes unrivaled even in Havana.

Last fall I spent several days (and a few very late nights) working through a list of spots sent to me by Naren Young, a well-regarded New York bartender and writer. The Naren List was magic, and unlocked a drinking scene that was almost hiding in plain sight.

Spain is one of the gin and tonic capitals of the world, and there is no better place to be schooled in the Spanish style than Bobby Gin, where the drinks are massive and the gin is infused with flowers and mixed with Fever Tree tonic, a premium product made with African quinine and ginger (and is served at some of the finest bars in the world). There are about dozen G&Ts on the menu, and the list tends to rotate depending on which hard-to-find spirits are available. Another top gin spot: Dry Martini Bar, which is run by the celebrity mixologist Javier de las Muelas and was nominated for World’s Best Cocktail Bar at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail event. While the well-polished staff at this slightly hidden spot are dressed impeccably in tailored Zara suits, the vibe is still decidedly Spanish—that is, warm, laidback, and willing to offer suggestions.

The Naren List instructed me to head straight for the Caribbean Club, located on the north edge of El Raval, a major nightlife destination with an illicit past checkered with crime and prostitution. Things have cleaned up a bit, and entering the tiny nautically themed “galley” run by Cuban rum expert Juanjo Gonzalez is like being transported to another era. Gonzalez—who you’ll likely find working the 15-seat bar regaling guests with stories of combing the earth for rare bottles of Havana Club and Edmundo Dantes—may offer up a complimentary nip or two. He’s accumulated more than 150 bottles through years of travel and connections, and most are on display in the striking back bar. And, as you would expect, they serve a mean mojito.

Down the street from Caribbean Club is Barcelona’s oldest cocktail haunt, the Art Deco Boadas. This spot also has roots in Cuba: its founder Miguel Boadas was inspired by El Floridita, Ernest Hemingway's favorite bar in Havana. Not much has changed since it opened in 1933, down to the staff’s pressed white tuxedo jackets, and the Miro sketches and old photos on the wall. The drinks are almost an afterthought here—the ancient man working the stick will make you a Big Gulp-sized a classic daiquiri or gin and tonic mixed with Schweppes. Caribbean Club is a preserved relic of cocktail history—and a good notch on the belt for any cocktail-obsessed visitor.

Located in the spendy Eixample neighborhood, the perpetually jammed Bar Mut is late-night tapas at Barcelona’s best. This is where you’ll find incredible plates of morcilla and egg and langoustine carpaccio. What is lesser known is Mutis, Mut’s hidden bar upstairs, which is governed by a strict reservation-only policy, and booking can be tricky. It’s rumored that Shakira tried to enter without being on the list and was turned away. (Poor Shakira.) My tip? Befriend your server at Mut and see if he or she can get you a table. It worked for me, and at exactly midnight the following day, I became one of the chosen few. First, I checked in with an attendant, who sits at a bare table behind an unmarked door, and then took a slow trip up a service elevator to a converted apartment made to resemble a 1920s Parisian burlesque. Some nights, there’s even a live jazz band. But despite the bar’s cool factor, it’s really the drinks that make it such a red-hot ticket. On the menu: classics like piña coladas (more rum!) made with fresh fruit and adventurous takes on mescal and Scotch whisky. Natural wines are also available from a rotating list.

What I learned from my late nights in Barcelona? That it has a surprisingly diverse cocktail scene—one that includes a surprising amount of rum. And also, that the Naran List was a true gift from the drinking gods. Now if only he’ll help me tackle Paris one day.