Barcelona at night. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Ah, Thursday night—the only truly social night of the week. It’s the night when babysitters are booked, friends convene and drinks are imbibed. There are no family obligations to fulfill, no amateurish weekend crowds to elbow through—and the possibilities are endless. The night starts after work and ends whenever you want. In any city. All over the world.
This week, we present the perfect Thursday night in Barcelona:
Interior of El Bulli (Photo: Getty Images)
It’s no wonder that chefs Ferran and Albert Adrià set up shop in Barcelona after announcing the 2012 closure of their legendary El Bulli. El Bulli, near the town of Roses in Catalonia, was widely considered the world’s best restaurant, known for its molecular gastronomy and 35-course meals that would take six hours. Running it was wearying: Every year, the restaurant would serve 8,000 guests but get around 2 million reservation requests.
Tapas dish of Galacian octopus (Photo: Getty Images)
Unlike El Bulli or the tasting-menu temples of San Sebastian, the food scene in Barcelona is a lot more chill. It’s not uncommon to bounce around to tapas bars all night long, sharing small plates and drinking with friends, family and strangers. This is where you can visit an Adria venue, order a few small plates and cocktails, and then just leave. It’s a perfect city for a free-flowing Thursday night, where you can eat and drink like a king, without committing hours to any single spot.
Barcelona’s Boqueria market (Photo: Getty Images)
Check into a hotel on or near Las Ramblas, the famous promenade where you’ll find the Boqueria food market, street performers (including many “human statues”), and landmarks including the Font de Canaletes, the Christopher Columbus Monument, and Port Vell. You can deal with all of that tomorrow, when you recover from Thursday night at a properly leisurely Spanish pace. Coffee at the Boqueria will likely be necessary.
We like staying at Casa Camper, where you’ll find an inordinately helpful English-speaking staff, charming and comfortable rooms with separate chambers across the hall (where you can watch an NBA game in the middle of the night while your spouse sleeps in the main space), and the tentempié: an always-open and complimentary snack bar where you can grab sandwiches and beverages before you head out for a walk.
Zara Store Front (Photo: Dmitry Valberg/Flickr)
From Las Ramblas, it’s a pleasant stroll to El Born, a shopping district where you’ll find both haute couture and mass-market fashion: Carolina Herrera dresses, Beatriz Furest handbags, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada shoes, Custo Barcelona and Zara everything. You might also encounter unmarked, fly-by-night shops selling rare sneakers and streetwear.
Cal Pep (Photo: Tiffany Garritano/Flickr)
Dinner at Cal Pep doesn’t start until 7:30, and many Barcelona locals dine much later. But you’ll want to get in line early to ensure you snag a counter spot at this always-jammed tapas joint that serves some of the city’s best seafood. If you’re up for a tasting, the efficient kitchen can make you 10 courses in an hour. Or just order a glass of wine, some fried padron peppers, and a plate of fried fish — grilled shrimp, clams, octopus or baby squid.
Dishes at Paco Meralgo (Photo: David Berkowitz/Flickr)
Casa Camper is also home to Dos Palillos, a restaurant where former El Bulli chef de cuisine Albert Raurich blends Spanish tapas with Asian influences. Like a dim sum parlor, this is a place to sample a lot of different dishes without stuffing yourself. But unlike a dim sum parlor, you’ll want cocktails, too: Starting with lychee-infused sake is never a mistake.
Or take a quick cab ride to Paco Meralgo, a tapas bar that’s a favorite of both globetrotting real estate moguls and world-famous chefs: Eric Ripert of New York’s Le Bernardin is a fan of both Cal Pep and Paco Meralgo’s seafood, and Bobby Flay was so obsessed with a scrambled eggs and artichokes dish at Paco Meralgo that he put a version of it on the menu at his new Gato restaurant. Paco Meralgo’s coquinas (tiny clams), cuttlefish meatballs, and fried courgette flowers with mozzarella are also dishes you might think about long after your vacation is over.
Tapas Bar Tickets (Photo: Getty Images)
End your personal tasting adventure at Tickets, the casual, whimsical, brightly-colored tapas bar run by the Adriàs. But make sure you’ve made an online reservation well in advance or had a concierge hook you up. Tickets is next to the brothers’ 41 Degrees, which combines a cocktail den with four-hour meals in the way that only the Adriàs can. But you’re in Barcelona, where there’s little reason to spend huge chunks of time in only one place. So soak up the scene at Tickets while you try Adrià greatest hits like spherical olives that melt in your mouth and improbably light air baguettes with Iberico ham. The Adriàs serve food that resembles magic tricks. Enjoy the show.