Why are you seeing colorful, 1960s-era carbonated water siphons everywhere in Barcelona? Because they’re the symbol of our beloved vermut ritual.
The phrase hacer el vermut (literally “to do the vermouth”) in Spain has for decades described not only that delicious beverage, but also any kind of pre-lunch aperitif. But since the end of the 19th century in Barcelona, the vermut ritual – a fresh drink accompanied by tapas composed usually of preserved food, cold cuts, cured or marinated fish or seafood – has been a way to bring people together before meals. Perhaps no one is more responsible for vermouth’s popularity here than Flaminio Mezzalama, the Italian Martini & Rossi representative in Spain, who in the first decade of the 20th century opened two beautiful Art Nouveau vermouth bars, which became hugely popular. Mezzalama died in Torino in 1911, but the fame of vermouth in Catalonia only grew, with local investors putting their money into production of Catalan vermut.
While the vermut ritual languished a bit in recent decades, it never really disappeared, and the last five years have seen its revival through a mix of nostalgia and the modern taste for the finer things in life.
It’s tough to limit ourselves to a Top 5 list since the number of great vermouth places in Barcelona is vast and ranges so widely in concept and personality. There are a few important ones we haven’t listed here, such as the Adrià brothers’ Bodega 1900 (Tamarit 91) and Jordi Miralles’s new Senyor Vermut (Provença 85), which offers some 40 different vermouths. And then there are the small neighborhood bars that have been serving up drinks to thirsty locals for decades: L’Electricitat, Bodegueta Cal Pep, Champanyet, Vermutería del Tano, La Plata, Cala del Vermut, La Pubilla del Taulat, Vermutería Lou and so many, many others.
Morro Fi, Mitja Vida and Dalt de Tot
The Morro Fi project, with its four bars, represents the new generation of vermut in Barcelona, bringing great quality and selection to all its products, drinks and tapas. The partners behind the project have put out their own line of vermuts (red, red reserve and white), made in a fresh style, with real love for the original ritual, and their growing success means these bottles can be found all across the city and at all kinds of events. The original venue, Morro Fi, has a younger namesake inside La Illa Diagonal shopping mall. We also recommend the other two in Gràcia/Sant Gervasi: Mitja Vida offers a bit more elbow room, and Dalt de Tot has a few tables on the street and a little kitchen that turns out more elaborate dishes, such as eggs, butifarras, omelets, croquettes and more.
Morro Fi: Carrer Consell de Cent 171, L’Eixample
Mitja Vida: Carrer Brusi 39, Sant Gervasi
Dalt de Tot: Carrer Saragossa 66, Gràcia
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 6-11pm; Fri. & Sat. 12-4pm & 6-11pm; Sun. & holidays 12-4pm
Quimet i Quimet
Address: Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes 25, Poble Sec
This classic bar, which opened in Poble Sec in 1914, is the most international vermut bar of Barcelona. On offer is the wonderful Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva vermut, but an equal draw are the montaditos, made with extraordinarily high-quality canned and preserved ingredients combined in the most delicious ways, including smoked salmon with Greek yogurt and truffle honey and Nevat cheese with Cantabrian anchovies and tomato marmalade. Locals tend to buy a bottle here and leave it at the bar because they prefer to drink here rather than at home.
Telephone: +34 93 442 3142
Hours: Mon.-Fri. noon-4pm & 7-10:30pm; Sat. noon-4pm; closed Sunday
Address: Carrer Rosselló 442, l’Eixample-Sagrada Familia
More than a simple bar, Casa Mariol is a winery from Terra Alta that produces several kinds of wine and vermouth with accessible prices, available by the bottle or in bulk from the wooden barrels in the shop. The Carrer Roselló shop, which is very close to the Sagrada Familia, also offers bar service with tables. Here you can have a glass of vermut made from macabeu grape and 150 different herbs in the company of a very good selection of cured and preserved foods – from cockles and stuffed olives to ham and cheese. In New York City, their products can also be found at Death & Company, Amor y Amargo and Maison Premiere.
Telephone: +34 93 436 7628
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 9am-10pm; Sat. & Sun. 10am-3pm
Address: Carrer del Torrent de l’Olla 7, Gràcia
This lovely restored bodega connects vermut, wine and tapas with art and culture. Paintings, illustrations and other works adorn the interior, and one corner has been given over to book swapping. There’s an excellent selection of wine, cava and vermut by the bottle or in bulk from barrels. Owner Pau Raga hails from Valencia, and the influence of that city can be seen in some of Lo Pinyol’s tapas – like the esgarraet, for example, a cod salad very similar to Catalan esqueixada. We love to sit at the marble tables of the bar to enjoy a drink and a nibble, and the bar sweetens the deal with offers such as a vermut (or wine or beer) with the tapa of the day for €3.50.
Telephone: +34 93 217 6690
Hours: Tues.-Sat. noon-4pm & 7pm-midnight; Sun. noon-4pm; closed Monday
Address: Carrer de Vic 23, Gràcia
The owners who took over in 2010 very smartly left the original 1950s décor of this bodega intact, which is a large part of why this place feels so charmingly old-fashioned and welcoming. Quimet makes the classic combination for vermut, mixing cured anchovies, tuna, cockles or razor clams with the typical dressing of olive oil, vinegar and parkia. We also love the more elaborate tapas here, including baby fava beans with poached eggs and ham and scrambled eggs with chorizo. Besides vermut, there’s also a wide selection of great wines and craft beers.
Telephone: +34 932 184 189
Hours: Mon.-Wed. 10am-11:30pm; Thurs.-Sat. 10am-12:30am; closed Sunday
(above photo by Johanna Bailey; all other photos by Paula Mourenza)