Some sociologists say that Spanish society and culture can’t be properly understood without spending time in its bars. You can find bars in mountain refuges, subway stations, on the beach and by the highway. In Barcelona, there are as many bars as taxis and ten times more bars than bookshops.
In fact, a recent study by Coca-Cola found that in Spain there’s a bar for every 132 Spaniards. The same study points out that a third of Spaniards wouldn’t hesitate to leave their house keys at their local bar and that two-thirds of them are on a first-name basis with the employees there.
Bar Bodega Salvat in the barrio of Sants is a perfect example of a bar that’s not only a simple hospitality business, but also a second home for its loyal clientele.
Formerly a mule shed, the bar was opened in 1880 by the Salvat family and quickly became a neighborhood gathering place. The space, with its with rococo tiling, white marble bar, wine barrels, old trophies and Barcelona Football Club paraphernalia, acts as an extension of its customers’ own living rooms.
Depending on the time of the day, you might spot housewives sipping coffee before visiting the local food market, workers reading the paper during their break, seniors playing dominos, students doing their homework or Barça football supporters watching a televised live match. On Sundays, the pavement outside the bar is the most crowded in the neighborhood. Waves of customers stand around catching rays of sunshine while enjoying a glass of vermouth and a cigarette.
However, it’s the bar’s famous anchovy dish that attracts people from all over the city. The tasty and fleshy fish, straight from the Cantabrian Sea, is seasoned with a homemade sauce of wine vinegar, black pepper and paprika. Legend has it that in the 1950s, three of Club Barcelona’s most famous football players, the Hungarians Kubala, Kocsis and Csibor – the Messi, Neymar and Suárez of their time – used to go to Bodega Salvat after training for anchovies and alcohol.
The current menu is short but well balanced, with a variety of vegetarian, seafood and meat tapas. Grilled artichokes and onions as well as piparras (Basque green pickled chilies) are good vegetarian options. Meat tapas highlights include torreznos (strips of crispy fried bacon), chorizo and cecina de Lleó (cured beef). Apart from the much-celebrated anchovies, mojama (cured tuna loins) and xipirons farcits (stuffed baby squid) are also worth trying. Croquette lovers make short shrift of the fried breaded pouches filled with cod, botifarró (pork black sausage), beef or cabrales (Asturian blue cheese). Drinking options vary from lager to dark beer on tap and house wine from Priorat, but it’s the house vermouth from Reus that matches perfectly with a plate of anchovies.
As Bodega Salvat’s staff dispatch equal amounts of tapas, drinks and familiarity, you feel that most of their customers would agree that “home is where Bar Bodega Salvat is” and would leave their apartment keys to the waiters without batting an eye.