Morro Fi and Mitja Vida are two relatively new entrants to Barcelona’s vermuteo (“vermouthing”) culture, whose history stretches back to the turn of the last century. These two bars are the product of nostalgia for a bygone era fused with the social network- and urban design-driven present.
The vermouth tradition in Barcelona was started in the early 20th century by Flaminio Mezzalama, who represented the Italian company Martini & Rossi in Spain, at his fabulous modernist Bar Torino. Vermut began to be produced in Catalonia, and in the following decades, the province developed its own style of the aromatic fortified drink. At the same time, the custom arose of having vermut before lunch with some pickles to whet one’s appetite. That tradition faded over time but has emerged in recent years as a kind of retro, hipster-approved pastime.
Morro Fi, which in Catalan means “refined snout” or having a gourmet palate, was created by vermouth enthusiasts for those who like excellent eating (that’s all of us, right?). It all started back in 2007 with a blog run by three friends, Marcel Fernández, Marc Monzó and Guillermo Pfaff, about the Barcelona restaurant and bar scene. By 2010, the blog had become famous thanks to a local TV program, and Fernández had taken over a small bar in his neighborhood, which became Morro Fi. Since then, the project has expanded to a second, bigger bar, Mitja Vida – which Marcel runs with his partner, Bárbara Rico, along with Marcos Riera – and to a line of vermouths, preserved foods (such as mussels, stuffed squid, razor clams, cockles, tuna belly and anchovies), and kits for serving up your own vermouth at home – Spanish bar-style napkins and toothpicks included. (All the products are available at the two bars as well as online.)
On a recent rainy day, we sought refuge at Mitja Vida with Fernández and Rico and some vermouth. The drink came in a glass with two rocks, a little orange slice, a green olive spear and an old-school seltzer bottle. The expertly made salty morsels turned out by the kitchen provided the ideal accompaniment to the sweet drink.
To start, we had the patates gruixudes amb mussels, a bowl of thick-cut chips with the flavorful brined shellfish and olives, dressed with a vinaigrette laced with smoked paprika from La Vera. This dish is a study in contrasts: puckery-vinegary and fleshy, tart olives, crunchy, starchy potatoes and saline, succulent mussels. We also loved the pintxo of octopus; the soft, perfectly cooked tentacle came with a slice of tender eggplant, artichoke and a Basque green chili called piparra. A classic pintxo in vermutear, the practice of partaking in and enjoying vermouth, is olives with anchovies, which at Mitja Vida are dressed with that paprika vinaigrette. One of our favorites was the tuna ventresca (the belly cut, which has been canned) with intensely flavorful pimientos del piquillo (red peppers) laid atop a crisp flatbread from Sardinia.
We’re elated by the resurgence of vermuteo. It’s not just a testament to the pleasures found in a glass of red vermouth on the rocks and a plate of salty pickled pintxos, but also to the simple joy of sharing a bite and a drink with good company, in a bar where you’re surrounded by neighbors and friends.
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