As the food scene in Barcelona continues to change at a rapid clip, with a constant stream of closings and openings, the city’s bodegas are an excellent example of what can be saved. These are businesses that have been updated again and again, sometimes over the course of a century, in order to preserve an essence and an identity that nobody – not now nor back then – wants to lose.
La Moderna, a tapas bar and bulk-wine shop on Carrer d’Enric Granados in the Eixample Esquerra (Left Eixample) neighborhood, is a good example of this preservation model. Established in 1937, the bodega has survived just about everything, including the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), and served as an important gathering place for its customers over the years – so much so that one of its previous names, Bodega Esplugas, is still written on the door.
In 2017, 80 years after its opening, Franxa Tomás and Carmen Fernández bought the place from its former proprietor, known to all as Señora María. At that point, it was still purely a bulk-wine shop – local residents would come in to buy vino by the liter from large barrels. Small packaged snacks, like potato chips, were the only food items on offer.
Franxa and Carmen fell in love with La Moderna at first sight and wanted to preserve the essence and identity of an iconic Spanish bodega: a simple and casual place where friends and neighbors can gather.
“Bodegas were emblematic gathering points, cheaper and more casual than the old Catalan casinos de poble.”
In fact, the bodega offers the best environment for socializing. “Bodegas were emblematic gathering points, cheaper and more casual than the old Catalan casinos de poble [village casinos],” says Ingrid Pérez, a friend of the owners who also helps out at the bodega. The casinos she’s speaking of are not typical gambling casinos, but rather large old-school cafeterias that were often found in village centers. Neighbors would gather in the big space, usually with high ceilings and a terrace, to play cards, chess or dominos and have a coffee or a vermut. Bodegas, however, are smaller, cozier and much more casual, often a combination of a wine bar and a convenience store, where people could talk and drink in smaller groups.
Given their love of traditional bodegas and the fact that they both have backgrounds in the restaurant industry (in addition to his advertising job, Franxa has worked on other restaurant projects, and Carmen’s family owns a traditional Catalan restaurant in Barcelona), it’s no surprise that the only truly new thing at La Moderna is the food.
They kept the whole front of the bodega intact, with its wine casks, bottled bulk wine to take away and old pictures and photos. And while they transformed the former owners’ residence in the back of the building into a homey dining room, the furniture, paintings and lamps still give it the feel of an old house.
In the corridor between these two spaces, you will find an enticing display of the high-quality food products that the bodega serves, like the excellent Casa Santoña conservas (gourmet canned seafood), with a choice of razor clams or mussels, and the famous Cojonudos asparagus, thick white stalks grown and canned in Navarre.
There’s also a small kitchen where they prepare the simpler plates and tapas on the menu, while the more elaborate dishes are made in advance at Carmen’s family’s restaurant. This includes their delicious ox tail casserole, their special snails la Moderna (similar to snails a la llauna, they are cooked with rosemary or oregano over a charcoal grill in an aluminum can and served with a side of allioli) and the callos (a traditional and very iconic tripe stew).
Some of our favorite dishes here are the incredibly tasty smoked oysters and sardines over pan de cristal, a thin and crusty bread, and the cod carpaccio with tomato, olives and delicate Santa Pau beans. Their menu also includes a selection of cured Iberian and Catalan sausages, a diverse range of Spanish cheeses as well as the aromatic Swiss Tête de moine, a cylindrical semi-hard smear cheese. If you fancy something a bit lighter, there are some Mediterranean salads featuring such ingredients as lentils, green sprouts, burrata and ventresca (tuna belly). To properly enjoy all these dishes, don’t forget to indulge in the artisan bread that’s always a fixture on the table.
For a sweet note at the end of the meal, try their homemade deserts like the flan, the Catalan cream or their comforting chocolate mousse. The drink options here range from local beer and house vermut to cocktails and a selection of around 15 Catalan and Spanish bottled wines, in addition to the bulk wine in the barrels.
Preservation runs deep in Barcelona’s bodegas. Not only are many of the products on offer preserved in some way, from the wine to the seafood conservas, but bodegas themselves also preserve an important part of the city’s cultural identity. The immense pleasure of a casual drink and a bite to eat in a simple, cozy and intimate space is, in our opinion, well worth safeguarding.