Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world. As the Spanish would say, tiene un encanto. Basically, it’s a charming city and there’s no other place like it on Earth. There’s just no match to its historical stone-laden calles, incredible architecture (thanks, Gaudí), sandy, blue water beaches, and trendy food scene. I love how you can get lost in the quiet, narrow back alleyways of the city, popping in little artisanal shops, and then wind up back in one of the main intersections, thrilled at how the city feels so small and large at the same time.
Spain is known for its laid back culture and tendency to enjoy lots of time outdoors—walking outside for the majority of the day and frequently stopping at a bar or café to tomar algo is very common. Honestly, I think this culture of enjoying the sun and snacking/sipping throughout the day is why Spaniards are happier and healthier. After all, it was just named the healthiest country in the world.
In Barcelona, cava is the must-try drink when you stop for tapas. Cava is a sparkling wine, basically the Spanish version of champagne. Similar to French champagne, only sparkling wines produced in the traditional method in the region of Catalonia can truly be labeled “cava.” The history of cava is embedded in the city’s roots and to this day, you’ll find several Xampanyerias (champagne/cava bars) scattered around the city.
My favorite champagne bar in the city is called El Xampanyet. Open since 1929, it has perfected the art of cava and tapas. The authentic bar even made an appearance in a Chef’s Table episode, where Albert Adrià stopped for a quick bite to eat (that in and of itself was enticing enough to get me to go).
From the outside, the bar looks like a quaint little place to stop and drink some wine and eat some jamón. But step inside and it immediately earns its bustling reputation. You’ll be packed shoulder to shoulder, and during dinnertime, you’ll find a healthy mix of tourists and locals—you might even end up sharing a small table with a few strangers. The walls are lined with colorful tiles, an eclectic mix of pottery, and dusty old wine bottles.
We put our name on the growing list (they don’t take reservations), hovered around a friendly couple’s table, and then were ushered to our own table in the front corner—the perfect vantage point. Our waiter greeted us at the table and here’s how the conversation went:
“Do you like champagne? Yeah? Okay, four glasses.”
Cue the champagne bottle popping and a few bubbles fizzing out with a hiss. The sound of the cava filling our glasses was just like musicians in an orchestra. The effervescent liquid rose to a crescendo and closed on a note of stillness. It was fruity, velvety, and addicting.
We never even saw a food menu.
“Do you have any allergies? No? Do you like seafood? Yes? Good.”
So then commenced the swift rounds of tapas that our waiter had selected for us. First, pan con tomate. The best kind—crispy baguette slices with fresh tomato smeared onto the olive oil-doused side. Then chorizo-stuffed tortilla de patatas, garlicky garbanzos con espinacas, tender calamares over a bed of DELISH pisto, bolognese pasta with a bite, and the most tender meat I’ve ever tasted alongside charred padrón peppers. All of it was incredible.
Even though diners were jam-packed into the space, it still felt like we were the only table in the room being attended to. The service was exceptional and the food came out in record-time. The food our waiter chose for us was the perfect representation of El Xampanyet’s heart and history. And the cava...buenísimo. No wonder it’s such a staple in Barcelona.
Basically, El Xampanyet is a mandatory stop in Barcelona. It’s best to get there early to secure your spot, and pop as many cava bottles as you can until closing at 11pm.