Carrer del Baluard in Barceloneta is the sort of place you might once have expected to see tattooed sailors lurching out of bars, grubby-aproned fishwives gossiping as they thwacked the heads off merluza and children playing in the street under the watchful eyes of the neighbourhood matriarchs. It’s still a bit like that now.
Even today, there’s a strong feeling of community in this working-class area of fishermen and port workers, despite it having undergone a massive transformation since the city started preparing for the 1992 Olympic Games.
Running parallel to Passeig de Joan de Borbó, C/Baluard cuts through the heart of Barceloneta alongside the fancy new market building in Placa de la Font and on towards the sea.
Pilar Montolio at Can Maño (no.12) – a raucous and popular tapas bar – has seen it all. She grew up among the bubbling pots of home-made stew and frying fish in the kitchen of Can Maño, which once belonged to her grandmother. She now runs the place with husband, Francesco and dad, Bernardo. They serve a regular crowd of old-timers, office workers and tourists. “Barceloneta has changed a lot” she says. “Flats are small here and people move out to get more space. There used to be more locally-owned businesses like this one but now there are Pakistani-owned supermarkets on almost every corner.”
Down the road at Floristería Lola (no.44), Agustina Perez and Carmen Saez are happy with the changes that have been made to the area. “The square is much prettier now and there’s even a Michelin starred restaurant (Els Fogons de la Barceloneta – Placa de la Font)” says Agustina. “But to honest, she continues in a conspiratorial whisper, “I like the food in La Cova Fumada.”
And who doesn’t. Lovers of this spit and sawdust tapas bar at no.56 want desperately to keep it a secret but can’t help enthusing about it. Even Josep María Solé, the owner of La Cova Fumada is happy to keep it hush-hush. The bar has been in the same family for 65 years but they still haven’t got round to getting a sign above the door. His mum (a good but strict boss we’re told) is responsible for churning out plate after plate of succulent sardines, freshly-caught fish and the bar’s signature dish, la bomba. Made from crushed potato and mince meat, the bombas are wrapped in breadcrumbs, deep fried and then smothered in fiery garlic and chilli sauce.
Next door is Comestibles Sant Carles (no.58). A veritable haven for foodies, the airy shop sells healthy food, wine and French and Italian cheeses. Their €6 take-out menú del dia is a big hit with beach-going gourmets.
A few doors down and the waist-expanding continues. New kid on the block, Eike Philipps from Germany owns the organic ice-cream shop, Rosa Canina (no.52). In partnership with his brother Reimar, this tiny Barceloneta shop is the little sister to their two stores in Berlin. Reimar – the Willy Wonker of the operation – makes the ice-cream in Germany and it’s really quite something. Made without milk, preservatives or artificial ingredients, flavours range from rich vanilla to mango lassi and raspberry with basil.
Barceloneta’s market has been around since 1884 although the current building and spacious remodelled Placa de la Font are new. Stall-holders however, have been serving the residents of C/ Baluard for years. Eva Vidal Lladó of the Martinez fish stall loves the new space. “It’s a local market” she says, stopping – as if to prove a point – to greet everyone who passes by name, “although we do get a lot of tourists popping in during the summer.”
Across the road from the market is Baluard (no.38). It’s only been open for three years yet many devotees claim it bakes the finest bread in the city. Owned by Anna Bellsola (who trained in Italy and France and has baking in the blood), the shop does a brisk trade in loaves, baguettes, croissants, pastries and cakes. “Bread should taste like bread” insists Anna. “We use good basic ingredients with proper yeast and bake it here on the premises.” It’s definitely not a job for the work-shy. Some of the seventeen strong team start baking at 1am and the shop is open from 8am to 9pm, 6 days a week.
A far cry from bread buns is Creart (no.3), a tattoo and piercing parlour that’s been inking skin for the last nine years. About 90% of the clientele are local and are charged anything from €50 upwards for a tattoo. According to owner Tony Ramallo, piercings aren’t as popular as they used to be but there are still some brave souls who pay good money to have metal put in some (ouch!) very private places.
Iris: objetes de regal esoterisme (no.11) isn’t the kind of place you’re likely to find on Passeig de Gràcia either. Run by a collection of friendly folk, the shop offers courses in tarot card reading, homeopathy, Bach flowers, Reiki, angel workshops and candle magic. Pop in for a browse or a chat and you may be told things you never expected to hear, like your future chances of finding love for example, or the fact that candles talk to you.
Stranger still is the extensive range of dog clothes on sale at Dog in Fashion (no. 68). Owner Rosario Hidalgo has been catering to pampered pooches for the last three years. Dogs of all shapes and sizes come in for a wash, trim and pedicure and while they wait, owners can browse the doggie boutique.
Turn right out of the shop and C/Baluard looks like any other narrow street in Barceloneta. Washing hangs from tiny flats, surfboards and bikes perch precariously on balconies and stern-looking elderly residents smoke in doorways. But 200 metres further on, the street suddenly stops and countless bronzing bodies and the never-ending blue of the Mediterranean are right there in front of you.
First published in Metropolitan magazine, July 2010