Bar Marsella is a bit of an institution in Barcelona. Famously, the bar is where Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemingway used to get their drink on. Located in the Raval neighborhood, it’s not far from the touristic Las Ramblas and yet inside the bar you’ll find as many locals as tourists. Unfortunately, for reasons I can’t fully understand, Barcelona’s oldest bar is now closed. Kaputt! This all since May when I visited.
On the night I was there, I’d already been out drinking all night with two Germans. This was our nightcap — an iconic glass of absinthe. Walking into the bar, I was surprised at how unpretentious the bar was. Back in my college days when I was slightly obsessed with cocktails, the only bars in Boston that offered absinthe-based drinks were high-end, upscale yuppie bars. Not that I’m complaining—but just to emphasize the initial shock of walking into Barcelona’s most famous absinthe bar…and realizing it’s a dive.
Inside there were all sorts of revelers. The room was large and open, and surprisingly well-lit. We walked up to the bar and ordered what EVERYONE (and really, I mean everyone) in the entire bar was drinking: glasses of absinthe. There a few important things to know about drinking absinthe at Bar Marsella. First, it’s a do-it-yourself project. For 4€ you get the shot of absinthe in a glass, a small fork, some sugar cubes and a bottle of water. Here’s what you do.
- Place your fork across the top of the glass.
- Place a single sugar cube on top of the fork.
- Squeeze the water bottle to spray water (through the pre-punched hole) on the sugar.
- After a drink or two, expect to start seeing things like Picasso.
Bar Marsella is one of those truly cool travel experiences. It’s unpretentious but also has that air of historicity about it. And don’t forget to pack a Hemingway book! You can’t embrace bohemian Barcelona any better than sitting in a dive bar, drinking absinthe and reading Hemingway.
Carrer de Sant Pau, 65
Neighborhood: El Raval
This sounds interesting but can you explain to me why you need to do all those things? Like why do you need to place a fork across the top of the glass?
Hey Jemma, for the uninitiated – drinking absinthe is a process. Because it’s such a strong liquor with a very high alcohol content, the sugar and water make it much more drinkable.
These days it’s quite popular to find absinthe shots/chasers, but traditionally it is served as a drink that you sip, by mixing in the water and sugar. The sugar needs to be melted, obviously, so use the water to melt it. Some bars can get pretty flashy with this technique and actually poor the absinthe over the sugar cube and then light it on fire for a full-on spectacle.