Vermouth in Barcelona
Sitting in bed, lights off, listening to the neighbors next door watching soccer. Lena’s fast asleep. I don’t mind them talking loud and excitedly at two in the morning. It’s like listening to cars on a highway. Makes me think of distant places. Has me remembering our month in Europe.
People ask me my favorite place we hit on our trip. I liked all of them. But there’s no denying we had the most fun in Barcelona. Big surprise.
It was in Barcelona that we went to our first vermouth bar. It was a city for a lot of firsts but let me keep it respectable for the moment. The bar was called Morro Fi. I never knew this was a thing, but it soon made sense. Many thanks to Rob Jacob Drennan, aka the Dingo, for the rec. We tried to hit as many places as we could on the list, buddy. You’re good at this stuff. Wish we had caught you. Goddamn. Imagine that. The Dingo. The apex predator.
It was a warm night but there was a small breeze, just enough of it to make you feel young. Young in the right way. The hole in the wall ended up being not even a block away from the Air BnB we were staying in. Gotta love it when life works out like that. We must’ve passed the place several times, but now the metal gate with the graffiti on it was lifted, like we’d taken all the right steps. Said the words just right. The entire space was the size of my living room, people stuffed in and conversation buzzing, and a couple of tables out on the sidewalk. The people hanging out were good looking without having to try and languidly inspected Lena and I, but Lena was looking better than good that night and I wasn’t looking awful either. We squeezed into the place and came up to the counter and my eyes got big looking at all the food sitting in the window case, ripe, juicy, and ready for the picking. Real tapas. Boquerones, all kinds of olives, pulpo, cheese, salumi. Not like the bullshit they had downtown for the tourists on La Rambla. I remember seeing hundreds of signs down there saying “tapas,” and pictures right next to them, pictures of hamburgers, pizza, and chicken wings. Funny. Every place is the same in some ways. In New Orleans, you got Bourbon Street. In Memphis, you got Beale Street. In Barcelona, you had La Rambla. But I always looked at it like a video game. Zelda, Mario Brothers, doesn’t make a difference. I’m going past the first level, baby. Gimme the cheat codes. Or I’m just that damn good.
This place made all it’s own vermouth and their own cava too. A bunch of different types of vermouth. Bottles lined the walls on shelves above us. You could drink them straight, mix them up, however you pleased. Vermouth is fortified wine. They’re fortified with whatever kind of botanicals you wanna use. Roots, seeds, spices, roots, etc. Typically they’re used as aperitifs. Lena knew more about vermouth than I did but I was there to appreciate a proper introduction. I could appreciate anyone who wanted to specialize in their craft. Become a master of one thing, know all the ins and outs, dedicate the time. I was more of a renaissance type of fella. I liked to have my hands in a bunch of different pies. But I always enjoyed sitting down and listening to an aficionado. The love shines through.
The lady behind the counter with the thick rimmed glasses and the sun kissed skin spoke to me in rapid Spanish and I think I said something like two drinks because that’s what she gave me. I handed one to Lena and we clinked our glasses together and smiled at each other like we were in high school and took the first sips and we weren’t disappointed. It was good with a perfect tinge of bitterness and citrus. Lena loved a good negroni but typically I had a taste for things on the sweeter end. We were able to meet in the middle here. The lady behind the counter saw me staring at the food and when our eyes met, I smiled big and nodded and said pick four of your favorites and she did. I think the first time I ever had anchovies out in a restaurant was in the Netherlands, out to eat with my uncle Tieke. It was a Spanish tapas bar in Utrecht. We went to the same place again this same trip, except with Tieke’s son, Pasquinel. The anchovies were way, way better in Spain. Big surprise, dummy. What made it better? You’d be surprised at how good something is when you keep it simple. Fresh. The little fish was already packed with flavor. Flavor of the sea. Maybe it’s not for everyone. But I feel sorry for you if it’s not. The anchovies lay in a little bit of olive oil and when she brought it to us she asked if we wanted a little kick to it. I nodded enthusiastically and she added a dab of chile paste on top. Perfection. I could eat this all day. By themselves, on a chip, with a cheese stuffed olive. This was it.
Yes, of course, food makes you happy. A good cocktail delights you. What’s nicer than that is when you have an idea and you find something that fits that idea. It feels like paying off a credit card or giving your lady an orgasm. There’s a kind of relief. A settling of bliss. You just become happier. You want to do nice things for strangers all of a sudden.
We struck up conversation with the lady. She was a real sweetheart and had a nice raspy voice and her English was endearing. She did this thing after she poured you a beer. She’d slam it on the counter and then shave off the foam from the top of the glass. The first time she slammed it, I instinctively flinched. That reaction from working in the industry too long. I got a good memory of an old boss of mine having that same reaction. Liam Deegan. It was a pretty chill night at the bar and a bunch of us were standing around talking about nothing and some Led Zeppelin was playing and a customer slapped the bar real hard with the palm of his hand at a certain part of the song and it made Liam jerk to see what had happened but it was just this guy, this one guy by himself, getting really into the song, God bless him. Liam just smiled and shook his head, easing up. Maybe that’s too simple a description, but it kind of made an impression on me. Shit happens, you know? I don’t know. Chill, hombre.
We ended up staying til the gate was closed back down and the tables were brought in. It just worked out that way, natural, the way natural things work out. We were talking with a few others by then. A good looking couple from Hamburg and two other Spanish dudes that laughed a whole bunch and were pretty jovial in general. Just happy to be there really. The conversation went all over the place and everyone was completely honest and true and laughed loudly. Everyone cared and loved each other but not unbelievably. Just in the way one ought to every time they found themselves in that ideal and wonderful situation. That good and natural and satisfying evening when you come back home and sit on the bed and sigh and think now that’s why I go out, that’s why I talk to people, that’s why I still give a shit. True, it happens much more seldom as the years go by but it can still happen and it’s still rewarding and it still gives you faith.
I tried to pay three different times and maybe I paid a couple of those times but as long as we stood there a new drink appeared. She liked to take shots. She’d make us these negroni shots and she shook them but she didn’t have the proper tools to shake them with even though you don’t shake a negroni anyway. What the fuck does it matter at that hour of the night, right? I swear to God, by now I’ve seen every single kind of way you can make an old fashioned and of course I got my preference but at the end of the day just get the job done or fuck off and go home. We’re all here to live.
She was an artist and she lived in the Gothic Quarter and even though her place had been robbed she loved it too much down there to leave it. She said she was into house swapping and we told her when we got back to the States we were gonna settle in Los Angeles for a time and she said she’d always wanted to visit California. So the bargain was struck, one day she’d stay in our place in California and we’d get to come back to Barcelona. We could walk through her apartment barefoot and look at her paintings and stand on a balcony and watch people walk the narrow streets below and drink vermouth and cava and eat olives and lay by the beach. Pakistani boys will walk by calling “mojito mojito mojito” and older women who used to be unbelievable beauties in their youth will still take off their tops and sun themselves. I’m a fella that appreciates that.
Those guys are really cheering next door. I’m not mad at you tonight. I won’t promise tomorrow.