If La Plata is good enough for Paul Hewson, it’s good enough for everyone. More commonly known by his stage name, Bono, Mr. Hewson ate here in June 2009 a few nights before kicking off U2’s 360° world tour at Camp Nou in Barcelona.
Located in an area of the Barrio Gótico known for its plethora of tascas (traditional tapas bars) that historically catered to fishermen, La Plata is a stone’s throw from the sea. You would be hard-pressed to find a tapas bar that packs more atmosphere per square meter than this diminutive local favorite.
As La Plata is hugely popular, with folks usually milling outside, scoring a table here is unlikely. It’s best to park your elbows on the marble-topped bar, relax and admire the lovely interior: a real feast for the eyes, with ochre walls and beautiful Spanish tiles. Pepe, who has worked behind the bar for 40 years, will tell you that La Plata serves four tapas: tomato, onion and Arbequina olive salad (anchovies optional); botifarra (local sausage); fresh anchovies; and the house specialty, deep-fried sardines. Wash these down with a chupito of Penedès wine served straight from the barrel in small glasses of red, white or rosé, and you have all the trimmings a local, a tourist or a rock star could ever want.
Dating back to the 1920s, La Plata is the kind of bar where old men stand shoulder-to-shoulder talking to one another. On our last visit – and we generally keeps to ourselves in public, for whatever reason – we ended up chatting with two caballeros standing next to us at the bar. “I used to come here when he had hair,” laughed Luis, pointing to Pepe’s doorknob-like dome. “Our hair wasn’t grey either,” added Manolo, who explained that he and Luis used to come to La Plata with their fathers when they were kids. “They habitually ordered el plato típico de toda la vida: fried sardines.”
Gastronomes may note that La Plata’s plato estrella can actually be deep-fried sardinas or boquerones, depending on which type of fish is available at the market. Boquerones are small, fresh anchovies. Sardinas are a similar type of small, oily fish related to herrings. On the Atlantic coast, eating grilled sardinas is a favorite pastime. They can be quadruple the size of the typically smaller variety abundant in the Mediterranean. Fried whole, these fish are real crowd pleasers and are best served with a glass of cold beer.
Ferran Adrià has eaten here, as has his brother Albert, who paid homage to La Plata on the menu of his now-defunct restaurant Inopia, naming one of its salads “Ensalada del bar La Plata” – proof that La Plata is not just any old bar that U2’s famous singer stumbled into. So hurry down to this classic fishermen’s haunt and tell Pepe that Bono sent you.