Salud! Barcelona’s tiny local bodegas saved for posterity

Salud! Barcelona’s tiny local bodegas saved for posterity

Barcelona council has come to the rescue of some of the city’s most emblematic and best-loved bars by adding them to the list of protected sites and buildings. However, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, you won’t be able to get a drink in any of them for at least the next few weeks.

The city has added 11 bodegas to the list of 220 shops that are considered part of the city’s cultural heritage. The move has been widely welcomed, though it comes too late to save many small businesses, from toy and book shops to grocery and furniture stores, that were part of the fabric and essence of the city but were forced out by soaring rents. In most cases they have been replaced by chain stores.

Bodegas are distinct from other bars in that, as well as serving food and drink, most also sell house wine, vermouth, sherry and other beverages from the barrel. Many began life as a retail outlet for wine that the owners produced themselves.

Several are tiny with barely room for a dozen people to stand at the bar or small tables. The dark wood of the barrels and the tiled floors are part of the rough-and-ready charm of a place that feels like it’s been there for ever.

Brothers David and Carlos Montero are the third generation running Bodega Quimet in Gràcia, a Barcelona neighbourhood that is as traditional as it is trendy. The bodega, one of the 11 listed, has been in business since 1954, and they took it over from the Quimet family 10 years ago.

“I think it’s great that the city council is giving us this recognition because we’re part of the fabric of the barrio,” David Montero told the Observer. “If not, it will end up as just another Starbucks. It means that people can come here and eat traditional food such as anchovies, boquerones en vinagre or a plate of jamón.

“We’ve never tried to be fashionable or to attract tourists. We’ve never wanted to lose the essence of being a bodega in and for the barrio.”

Under Covid-19 restrictions, Quimet can only serve takeaways but Montero says they try to serve the same food as always. “If there’s a special pepper that goes with an octopus dish, we put the pepper in an envelope so the customer can enjoy a Quimet moment at home,” he said.

Most of the bodegas have been listed as “having had an important social influence on their environment and retain aspects of historic interest and originality linked to the uses and customs of the barrio”, and, as such, deserve to be reserved as part of the collective memory.

The pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the hospitality business, and the listed bars are only protected as physical entities, not as going concerns. Montero welcomes the fact that owners have access to funds to maintain the fabric of the bodega but says what is needed more urgently is help with paying the rent.

He accepts that closing bars and restaurants may be necessary to stem the spread of the virus but resents the way it has been done, with shutdowns being announced from one day to the next, leaving owners no time to prepare, and landing them with produce they can’t sell.

“We had 10 tables, we agreed to reduce it to five, but they gave us three and a half. Then they say people can’t drink at the bar, and now it’s just takeaways. It all feels very improvised,” he said.

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