On Barcelona’s cocktail corner, you could be forgiven for think you’ve just entered a time machine and ended up in the sophisticated 1930s (with the occasional time warp nod to the 1970s). This is without doubt the high end of Barcelona’s cocktail scene complete with white jacketed waiters, sophisticated cocktail bars and even a hidden Speakeasy.
Within a few hundred feet, you will find easy access to some of the coolest places in town for a quiet drink, a romantic liaison or just a casual encounter over your favourite gin-based beverage.
So, purely in the interests of science, we thought we’d try them out and let you know what we think:
A Barcelona classic and often appearing in the top 10 lists of best bars in the world, this is like stepping back in time. The bar is a decent size with panelled walls, leather chairs and banquettes, a long bar, retro and classic artwork and a jazzy, 1930s vibe. As the name suggests, it has become famous because of its excellent Dry Martinis (gin is best, obviously) and they even have a digital counter clocking up in real time every Dry Martini they have served.
Waiters are in white jackets, food is of the elegant tapas variety and prices match the salubrious atmosphere. In addition to their classic martinis, they have a good selection of gins served up in classic tumblers with Schweppes Premium tonic water as standard.
The clientele is generally well heeled – but on the night of our visit, there was a mixture of affluent locals, curious tourists and cocktail fanatics sitting at the bar.
This place gets busy, especially later – so get there early for a seat. Service can be a bit patchy but if you’re patient, you’ll be rewarded with a well-made G&T, a classic evening and a great cocktail. And if you’re in the mood and can get a table, try out the Speakeasy restaurant, hidden behind a door in the panelled wall. Another connection to the 1930s.
Tanqueray 10. We started off the evening with a round of Tanqueray 10s served with tonic and garnished modestly with a thinly sliced lemon wheel and poured down a “gin spoon” over large lumps of cocktail ice.
This seemed like a good choice to start off with at Dry Martini, since it was specifically blended to go into one. But we thought we’d see what it works like in a normal G&T and we all thought they were excellent and set a good benchmark. All the G&Ts were bought to the table by the waiter and presented on a small tray, free poured direct to the glass and with a decent measure of gin in each.
We all agreed that it was a great way to start the evening. Also, Tanqueray 10 was especially created as the perfect gin for a Dry Martini, so we were in the right place and were delighted with the citrus notes, the lime and grapefruit and the heavy juniper, all balanced nicely with the creaminess of the chamomile and the savoury notes from the coriander. Afterwards, we ordered a round of different gins, some of which we had never tried or heard of before. Here are our thoughts:
The Foxtrot – This was the most refreshing and aromatic of our drinks, and what made it special was the roof of frozen tonic and lime that brought out the citrus notes of orange and grapefruit and the powerful lime zestiness. As we drank it, the lime came through loud and clear and for some of us it had notes of mojito, for others it was a bigger hit of lime, similar to a gimlet, which receded after the ice had started to melt, resulting in a better balanced and blended drink that retained its characteristic citrus sharpness. Either way, it was delicious and one of our favourites of the evening.
Star of Bombay – Bombay Sapphire’s flagship gin, like the others, was poured at the table with great fanfare and it ended up being one of our favourites of the evening. Served in the standard Dry Martini tumblers with plenty of ice, it was also (bizarrely) served with a single chocolate (courtesy of the marketing team at Bombay Sapphire). This was a mistake and didn’t seem to go with the gin at all. We picked up a saltiness to this gin (alongside the citrussy taste) which just didn’t work with the gimmicky chocolate), but we concluded that this gin would be delicious on a hot summers day, sipping slowly at a little chiringuito or beach bar on the nearby Med.
Porte des Indes – This was the most disappointing of the gins we tried at Dry Martini. While it received the same presentational treatment as the others, it lacked any distinctive flavour and competed with the Schweppes tonic water for taste. It was also slightly less carbonated than the other drinks (maybe a result of the stirring at the table) and the overall impression was to make the drink taste like diet tonic had been added to it. Won’t be rushing back for this one (but their strawberry version is delicious!)
Bloomsbury – not bad at all, but definitely not the best that we’ve had this evening. Made by Tanqueray, it is the latest of their Limited-Edition gins and to us it felt like it was tangy, dry, citrussy with floral notes that smelled almost like lavender. The angelica bark, cassia and juniper add some woody notes to the small, but when added to the Schweppes tonic water, it became almost piny with a pleasant bitterness that lasted until the bottom of the glass.
No gin list.
Note: Dry Martini also run a cocktail school and have opened the Dry Martini terrace next door, so sign up if you’re interested in knowing their tricks and secrets.
Right across the street from Dry Martini is one of the latest additions to the cocktail scene in Barcelona. Solange sits on the opposite corner, looking out at its more well-known neighbour. But this place is cosy, intimate, jazzy and sophisticated (in a sort of 1970s, chicken Kiev kind of way). The gin selection is awesome and features prominently on their bar display with some established brands and some more unusual ones all waiting there, tempting you to try them out.
Speak to the head bartender and you’ll find he has history (some of the Savoy bar staff popped in to check things out on my last visit there), this is a classic place with a growing reputation and while it might be trying too hard for some people’s tastes, it’s ideal for a pre-dinner drink or a post-dinner nightcap (or frankly anything in between). One thing is for sure, this is a place that takes real pride in every drink they pour. And it shows.
Talk to the knowledgeable staff about any cocktail and they’ll happily share their insight and knowledge with you while offering handy tips about things to do in Barcelona. This is probably my favourite bar in town. It’s not cheap, but worth every penny if you want a sophisticated haven to escape the Barcelona heat in the Summer or for a warming drink in the winter.
Il Gin del Professore Monsieur/Madame (The Professor) – this was dry, citrussy with notes of lemon peel and it tasted like a proper gin. It had a slightly bitter edge, which reminded us of lime marmalade or bitter orange. It was Juniper dominant and after a few sips, its spicy, aromatic side came through which worked well with the cardamom camomile, cinnamon and vanilla. Soft, with jammy feel in the mouth, we loved it Delicious.
Old Raj – This was a classic gin with loads of botanicals, including juniper, citrus, coriander, cassia. It had a slight golden tint delivered by a hint of saffron. Served with a twist of lemon rind, it was slightly bitter but we felt it lacked some of the structure and complexity of other gins available. All in all, it was a bit disappointing bitter die to its lack of depth and neutral flavour balance.
This was the last classic cocktail bar on our list but it was definitely last but not least. In fact, all four of us (and I swear it wasn’t just the gin kicking in!) looked at each other and said it was our favourite.
With some of the classic pedigree of Dry Martini, but less of the slightly tourist touristy vibe of Solange, this felt like it was an old school cocktail bar that has got it just about right. A long bar, 1930s artwork and atmospheric lighting add to the art deco mood and while we weren’t able to access a menu, their gin selection is extensive and they know their stuff.
Our waitress guided us to the gin wall where we selected 4 gins that we had never tried before and we were delighted with the results. The crowd was low key and happy and it felt like this was tapping into the local neighbourhood for many of its customers. Classy and full of charm, this is the bee’s knees, the top banana and the dog’s bollocks all rolled into one.
You get the feeling that this place is the sort of place you stumble across once and then make a pilgrimage time and time again to get more. The music was low key, the crowd were chilled out and the bar staff were the most knowledgeable.
While Dry Martini felt like it had become a bit of a business and might be resting on its reputation, and Solange looks like it’s parked its tanks on the lawn opposite to stake its claim and build its reputation, the easy ambiance and relaxed vibe of Tandem felt like we’d discovered the real deal. Definitely our top pick for a classic cocktail bar and one of the best places to drink gin in Barcelona.