Two music producers, famously known as the DJs Pin&Pon, serve me San Miguel beer on the terrace of their flat; joining us is Andreu, who has brought me here, and their enormously fat black cat. I am optimistic, says skinny, dark-bearded Pin about the future of music in Barcelona. Pon, broader and more silver, muses over the idea: I am not optimistic. They now run the label El Genio Equivado and represent about 20 recording artists, the bulk of whom are from Barcelona. They say there is an emerging music scene, and they curate a night once a month at one of the major clubs to promote new music. But with so many sound ordinances in Barcelona and new taxes in Spain, its hard for a young artist to come up in a world that feels fully booked.
Left: A sculpture depicting Lenins head, used as a box office at Nau Bostik. Right: Libertine, the restaurant at boutique hotel Casa Bonay.
And it isthe already-large clubs like Razzmatazz and Apolo are flourishing in the current mania for electronic dance music, or EDM. A late-night tour of El Raval, a formerly dangerous part of Barcelona west of the Barri Gotic, reveals a hipster subgenre of nightlife, where every bar has a DJ and every bartender a signature cocktail. Having sampled margaritas in bars along the narrow alleys, we find a perfect one at Betty Fords, a junk shop of a bar with, yes, a DJ, where the bartender happily takes her time preparing our next round.
On my final day, the documentary photographer Mariona Giner invites me to Bar Treze, a dark and beautiful cafe in the northern Sarria neighborhood with high ceilings and an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. She spends her days with the Barcelonans tourists never get to meet: children in Roma gypsy encampments, sex workers in Catalan brothels, and, more recently, nuns. Giner tells me that in the early 20th century, Barcelona was a cutting-edge city; there was even nudism on the beaches. Imagine that! she says. And many want to pretend that Barcelona is still that, still part of that community. Sipping her coffee, she adds ruefully: That time is gone.
She thinks for a moment, then adds, I think I know what you are looking for. Come with me. She means Nau Bostik, a place where art is very much alive in Barcelona. Not the tourist galleries or the governmentsponsored studios, as well-meaning as they may be, but a spot on the northeastern border of the city.
Soon after, I find myself abandoned beside a set of railroad tracks. Giner has waved goodbye. A few blocks west is the working-class neighborhood of La Sagrera, far from the tourist center, with its plain residential blocks. I am at the very edge of the citythere is nothing but mounds of dirt and crumbling concrete walls. I hear the highway humming along nearby. This is Nowhere, Barcelona. Giner has told me to walk until I find a chain-link fence and a rolling gate with weeds growing all around. I haul it aside and step into a concrete yard beside a row of dilapidated factory buildings. Most of the doors are closed, but through one I glimpse a gargantuan sculpted head of Lenin. It is through this last door that I find the artists of Nau Bostik.
In the giant room, by a makeshift bar, sit four or five gray-haired men, smoking. One man raises his hand and greets me in Spanish. After so many days in Barcelona, talking in Spanish about art and music and bluelegged chickens, the fog of language is beginning to clear and I understand that this is Pablo Perez Losada, the photographer and curator I have come to meet.
The artist Blanca Haddad in Nau Bostik, a shared studio space.
We received the key one year ago, Losada tells me, meaning himself and Xavier Basiana, or Xavi, the real mastermind of Bostik. This is the third space they have transformed into artists studios. We have a contract for five years, until the train station is completed. Losada gestures to the north, where construction on a new Frank Gehrydesigned rail terminal is under way. (The government says it will be completed in 2019; Giner thinks there is no more funding.) Bostik houses performance and exhibition spaces, media rooms, and dozens of artists studios. In the future, attic bedrooms will house artists in residence.
Who has a cigarette? asks a woman entering the room. This is Blanca Haddad, one of the artists. A strong, forthright woman with a wild mass of hair who once hired a punk band for her art opening, she joins in eagerly: We have two legs. An artistic leg, and a practical leg. Who wants to wait for galleries? We get freedom here. She stands and raises a fist: Libertad!
Later, we stand on the rooftop looking out on the uncompleted railway station. What happens, I ask Losada, if Bostik does transform the neighborhood, and the train station opens, and their lease is up, and, because of the popularity of the area, they are asked to leave the place they have made? It is, after all, what has happened to almost every collective before them. Artists come, make something from nothing, popularize the place, and then are forced out.
The weeds in the abandoned lots below us blow in the wind. Losada takes a drag on his cigarette and shrugs. Andrew, he tells me, this battle is not the war.
But all I can think about is the day I first arrived in a city gone mad: lovers everywhere; roses everywhere; playwrights everywhere. It is the memory of books that amazes me. Nothing could be less social, less loud than a bookreading is a private experienceand yet in Barcelona, the art form is in full celebration. On the feast day of Sant Jordi, poets are knights and novelists are kings.
I recall Giners statement: That time is gone.
Is it gone? I recall a crowd applauding a bespectacled author arriving at a book signing. This is the city that has just been named a unesco City of Literature. It may seem, to artists who remember another time, as if it has all faded away. The vandal art that Jordi and Jan recall was painted over long ago, or else the buildings were torn down. The painters district is now home to elegant residences; the seedy graffiti-art district of El Raval now has bars and dance clubs for the likes of me. And yet I recall the young artist Mariano Pascual, stroking his beard in a shy manner, talking about artists like himself coming from all over the world to Barcelona, about new galleries opening and closing, about the struggle to make a living that any older artist would recognize. To him, it is not gone. Nor to Blanca Haddad, painting away in her factory studio to the strains of punk rock. Nor to the crowds that surrounded me. The battle is not the war, after all. There is the taste of gin and tonic on my lips; roses decorate the medieval pathways of my mind; the blue legs of the George Clooney of chickens appear in my imagination. Perhaps, as with any romance, Barcelona may struggle to keep it fresh, but it is a city still very much in love.
Left: The exterior of the Monument Hotel, home to Lasarte restaurant, which is helmed by famed chef Martin Berasategui. Right: A plate of roast turbot at ABaC.
The Details: What to Do in Todays Barcelona
Get more editor picks in our Barcelona Travel Guide at http://tandl.me/barcelonaguide, and get the T+L Travel Guide app from the App Store or Google Play.
Casa Bonay: A new design-centric hotel in LEixample where the restaurant staffs uniforms are in the same tropical print as the wallpaper. casabonay.com; doubles from $120.
Hotel Majestic: Every detail, from the lobby chairs to the eclairs, has been polished to perfection at this classic address. hotelmajestic.es; doubles from $275.
Monument: This luxurious, urbane property is set on the fashionable Passeig de Gracia, steps from several Gaudi buildings. monument-hotel.com; doubles from $365.
ABaC: A Michelin two-starred kitchen in SarriaSant Gervasi serving innovative dishes like smoked steak tartare with pepper-bread brittle. abacbarcelona.com; prix fixe from $155.
Cal Pep: Try Spanish classics like arroz con bogavante and tortilla espanola at this famed tapas bar deep in the Barri Gotic. calpep.com; small plates $6$25.
Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey: Chef Estanislao Carenzo serves international dishes like Jerusalem artichokes with sweetbreads. http://ift.tt/2bTD5n1; entrees $15$27.
El Vaso de Oro: Famous for its Padron peppers and steak with foie gras. vasodeoro.com; entrees $13$24.
Lasarte: The dishes at the Monument hotels Michelin two-starred restaurant offer inventive takes on seasonal specialties like Wagyu carpaccio with extract of tarragon. restaurantlasarte.com; prix fixe from $165.
Ona Nuit: The 10-hour Catalan chicken is the thing to order at this Slow Food restaurant near the airport. onanuit.com; entrees $11$20.
Carxofada: The town of Sant Boi de Llobregat honors the beloved artichoke with inventive dishes, tours, and performances. March.
Fira Avicola: The regions popular chicken is celebrated during late fall in El Prat de Llobregat. December.
Sant Jordi: Each year locals celebrate Saint Georges feast day by exchanging roses and books on April 23.