Arts & Entertainment

April 29, 2005

Volume 33,
Issue 17

Sat, Feb 27, 2016


Out of Town
Barcelona, Spain
by Andrew Collins

Even though Barcelona routinely receives plenty of great press, it’s still vastly underrated, given just how much the city has to offer. This is a world-class metropolis, and specifically a premier Gay and Lesbian destination, especially as Spain’s government prepares to legalize Gay marriage by the end of 2005. Like San Francisco and Sydney, Barcelona combines the sophistication of a bustling, urbane, and progressive city with mesmerizing natural and physical beauty. Its many other assets include superb contemporary cuisine, stunning architecture spanning many centuries, friendly and approachable citizens, fashionable shopping, copious hip Gay cafes and nightclubs, excellent public transportation, reasonable prices (compared with much of Europe), and a temperate, sunny climate.

Perched on the Mediterranean Sea in northeastern Spain, this stately city of 1.5 million fringes the foothills of the Pyrenees. Barcelona is eminently walkable, and if you stay anywhere near the Gay area, you’re within walking distance of most city attractions. Cabs are also plentiful, affordable, and easy to hail from the street, and the city has an efficient and clean metro system.

It’s also a fairly accessible place for English-speaking visitors, as the vast majority of the city’s residents speak at least some English. Barcelona’s mother tongue, Catalan, is still widely used, and many business names and signs are expressed in Catalan, but nearly everybody in Barcelona also speaks Castilian Spanish (the national language). Additionally, Barcelona is quite safe, but for the same problems with pickpockets and petty thievery that plague a number of European cities; violent crime is exceedingly rare.

Probably Barcelona’s most striking feature, elaborate Modernista architecture dominates much of the city. The architect most associated with Barcelona, Antoni Gaudi, lived here from the 1870s until his sudden death (he was run over by a streetcar) in 1926. Definitely plan to tour his masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, which looms high over the Barcelona skyline and can be seen from virtually anywhere. Gaudi began work on this spectacular skyscraping cathedral in 1883, but it’s not expected to be finished until 2015. You can also admire many of his works by strolling through the Eixample neighborhood (especially along ritzy Passeig de Gracia, famous for fine shopping), and also up to Park Guell, the most enchanting park in the city, replete with fairytale-like Gaudi spires, mosaic sculptures, staircases, and benches.

The Eixample extends from the city center up into the hilly residential neighborhoods of interior Barcelona. Developers laid out this regal neighborhood of wide boulevards in the early 19th century, and Gaudi is just one of the fine architects who left his mark on the area. The small section of the neighborhood nearest the Universitat plaza, sometimes nicknamed the “Gaixample,” contains the bulk of the city’s Gay cafe and bar culture. To find these places, just stroll along the handful of blocks intersected by Gran Via and stretching from the Urgell to the Universitat metro stops.

From Universitat you can walk just a few blocks east to the city’s most prominent central square, Placa Catalunya, which is surrounded by department stores and hotels. From here, the city’s famed La Rambla leads down to the waterfront. This broad tree-lined boulevard makes for an engaging stroll, but it’s also the most touristy section of the city, rife with overpriced and unexceptional restaurants and shops.

Barcelona’s waterfront and harbor (Port Vell) received a major facelift prior to the city’s hosting of the Summer Olympics in 1992, and the entire shoreline has continued to improve and develop ever since, with fine beaches, restaurants, shops, and marinas. It’s a great area for a warm-weather stroll, especially during the day, when you can admire the sea.

To find the Gayest section of beachfront, head to the Barceloneta neighborhood (just west of the Olympic Port) and follow it as far west as you can go, not far from the Sant Sebastia cable-car tower. When you’ve had enough of the beach, hop on the cable car, which offers stunning views of the city and harbor and deposits you right on the edge of Montjuic, a verdant and hilly park that’s an absolute highlight of any visit to Barcelona. In the park, you can take funiculars (small aerial trams) up to its highest point, where Montjuic Castle (now a military museum but for many years a fortress and prison) stands sentry over the city. Or you can stroll through the park’s lower regions to explore the lush botanical gardens and the wonderful Fundacio Miro, the art museum dedicated to modern Spanish master Joan Miro.

Another area where you should try to spend at least one full afternoon is Barcelona’s centrally located Old City, which feels nothing at all like the rest of the city, with its extremely narrow lanes and meticulously preserved medieval architecture. This neighborhood dates to the city’s Roman origins and contains several key landmarks, from the magnificent cathedral to the city history museum. If you have a bit of a foot fetish, check out the quirky Museu del Calcat, an entire museum dedicated to the history of shoes.

In the neighboring (and also ancient) Born and Sant Pere districts, you’ll find the Museu Picasso, whose thoroughly contemporary and stark interior contrasts dramatically with the building’s medieval exterior. Exhibits here focus heavily on Pablo Picasso’s early years, so if you’re looking for his most famous works, you may be disappointed. Fans of haute couture must not miss the neighborhood’s Museu Textil, whose collections date back many centuries but include plenty of fashions from the past century, including some donated by chichi Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga.

Just a bit farther east, Parc de la Ciutadella is a delightful spot for a walk (it’s not uncommon to see the occasional same-sex couple meandering about the gardens); it also contains the city’s zoo and natural history museum. On your way to the park, drop by the small but fascinating Museu de la Xocolata, which contains amazingly rendered miniature sculptures and dioramas made entirely of chocolate (and no, you can’t nibble on them, as they’re safely ensconced within glass display cases). Not far from the Old City, the up-and-coming Raval district contains the distinctive (and huge) Richard Meier-designed Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), which houses an esteemed collection of contemporary art.

Gay Barcelonians pursue clubbing and bar-hopping with great vigor. Some good bets in the Eixample include Ambar, Sweet, and Z:elta’s, the last being a bit darker and cruisier than the others. Ambar is fun because it has several pool tables in back, and Sweet is brightly lit and contemporary, drawing a fashion-conscious crowd. D-Mer is the main Lesbian hangout, although women have a notable presence at virtually all of the predominantly male bars. The outrageous La Diva presents wild drag shows along with pretty tasty food. Dietrich might just be the hippest Gay bar in town, with a spotlighted garden and a courtly interior. Both men and women frequent this spot, with an especially strong under-30 contingent. Bi-level Punto BCN is light and open, drawing the biggest crowds early in the evening. And to you fans of leather and Levi’s, fear not - Barcelona has its own very popular Eagle.

Among larger dance clubs, the sexually charged Metro appeals to cruisy guys, owing to its maze of dark rooms off the dance floor. And then there are the three pulsing Arena nightclubs - Arena Classic, Arena Madre, and Arena VIP - which all get going a bit after midnight and throb until nearly 6:00 a.m. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday, anybody who loves dancing and muscular men should head to Salvation.

For a memorable meal, drop by trendy Porquesi, where you might try cod with lime, coriander, tomato, and olive oil. The food is reasonably priced (the colorful cocktails more expensive), and there’s a separate lounge filled with white beds and pillows. Friendly La Monyos is a cute and trendy cafe serving brandade and salt cod crepes, apple and walnut salad, and risotto with parmesan and cured ham. You can enjoy an absolutely delicious meal and also browse a fine market of Spanish gourmet wines, olive oils, jams, and chocolates at Origens 99.9 percent, which celebrates all things culinary and Catalan. Snack on rabbit braised in chocolate, cod tripe with snails, and other regional specialties.

Simple and hearty Cuban-inspired Spanish fare, including great roast chicken and black beans, is served at Cubaneo. Irreverent Iurantia, a snazzy little cafe drawing an artsy bunch, serves inexpensive pub fare, including a ground-beef patty known as the “Fuck Mac Burger.” The restaurant Castro has a Gay following - it turns out fine Continental fare at dinner. Tapas are more a Madrid tradition than a Barcelona one, but the city does have some excellent restaurants specializing in these small plates of snacks, including Celler de Tapas, a handsome space with clean lines and several tables along the sidewalk. Crab salad, marinated octopus, and anchovies with garlic stand out on the lengthy menu. To satisfy your sweet tooth, pop inside La Valenciana, an old-fashioned cafe that serves exceptional gelato, coffees, and cakes.

Barcelona has a wealth of charming accommodations, from inexpensive Gay guesthouses to some genuinely enchanting historic palaces, such as the gorgeous Hotel Balmes and the city’s true grande dame, the ultra-luxurious Hotel Majestic, which anchors the Eixample’s main shopping drag. Right on the edge of the Gay area, the six-floor Hotel Caledonian has pleasant rooms (some with terraces overlooking the street) and friendly prices, starting around 90 euros. Nearby, the mid-priced Hotel H10 Universitat has a convenient location - it’s close to La Rambla, too. Free high-speed Internet and a hip restaurant add to the appeal.

Tops among Gay and Lesbian places, the 66-room Hotel Axel is an uber-cool boutique property with futuristic minimalist rooms and a terrific, helpful staff. The hotel’s swish restaurant, bathed in black and cranberry-red, serves such creative fare as cardamom-dusted monkfish and watermelon soup with a dash of rum. On Wednesday nights the Axel throws a big bash on its roof deck - it’s a favorite place for Gay locals and guests of the hotel to mingle.

Hostal Que Tal ranks among the best Gay budget options; it’s on the edge of the Gay area and contains artful, simple rooms with hand-painted murals and super-low rates. Another excellent choice, Friends Barcelona occupies an elegant penthouse apartment with three brightly furnished rooms and three big terraces affording great city views. This smartly furnished guesthouse with a young, amiable staff is one of several top-notch Gay accommodations to open in recent years, a trend that reflects Barcelona’s continued success as one of the world’s hottest queer destinations.


(As of this writing, 1 euro is equal to about $1.30 U.S.)

Ambar (Casanoa 71, 93-451-5994). Arena Classic (Diputacio 233, 93-487-83-42). Arena Madre (Balmes 32, 93-487-83-42). Arena VIP (Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes 593, 93-487-83-42). Cubaneo (Casanova 70, 93-454-8394). Dietrich (Consell de Cent 255). D-Mer (Plato 15). Friends Barcelona (34-652-32-16-63, Castro (Casanova 85, 93-323-67-84). Catalan Tourist Board (serving Barcelona and Sitges, 93-484-99-00, Celler de Tapas (Plaza Universidad 5, 93-317-64-88). Eagle (Paseo San Juan, 93-207-58-56). Hostal Que Tal (Mallorca 290, 93-459-23-66, Hotel Axel (Aribau 33, 93-323-93-93, Hotel Balmes (Mallorca 216, 93-451-19-14, Hotel Caledonian (Gran Via de las Corts Catalanes 574, 93-453-02-00, Hotel H10 Universitat (Ronda Universitat 21, 93-342-78-50, Hotel Majestic (Passeig de Gracia 68, 93-488-17-17, Iurantia (Casanova 42, 93-454-78-87). La Diva (Diputacio 172, 93-454-63-98). La Monyos (Muntaner 18, 93-454-53-58). Metro (Sepulveda 185, no phone). Origens 99.9% (Enric Granados 9, 93-454-6116). Porquesi (Comte Borrell 122, 93-454-82-45). Punto BCN (Muntaner 63, 93-453-6123). Salvation (Ronda Sant Pere 19-21, 93-318-06-86). Sweet (Casanova 75). Tourism Spain website ( Turisme de Barcelona website ( La Valenciana (Aribau 18). Z:elta’s (Casanova 77).

Andrew Collins is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA and nine additional travel guides. He can be reached care of this publication or at


Barcelona’s Park Guell is an excellent place to admire the fanciful architecture of Spain’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. (Photo by Andrew Collins)
For Gay and Lesbian travelers, a side trip from Barcelona to the nearby beach village of Sitges is de rigueur. This intimate village of narrow, cobbled lanes, just 30 minutes by train from downtown Barcelona, feels much like a Spanish version of Provincetown, with its numerous art galleries, ice-cream shops, souvenir stands, Gay accommodations, and mix of both campy and trendy bars and restaurants. It’s something of a zoo during the warmer months, and it’s always great for people-watching. In fall and spring, the weather is still wonderful for sunning, but the crowds are far less intense.

You can wander along the medieval streets of the oldest sections of town, and admire the wealth of elaborate modern architecture elsewhere. Or just relax on the beach, where you might join a game of pick-up volleyball, or you can nosh on good food at one of the many nearby cafes.

Excellent dining options in Sitges include intimate Restaurant La Borda (Sant Bonaventura 5, 93-811-2002), which serves outstanding international fare. For fine French food served in a slick, contemporary space, dine at Mezzanine (Espalter 8, 93-894-99-40). Romantic El Jardin (Bonaire 26, 93-811-44-42) is the perfect Gay-date venue. Seafood is a specialty, with tuna grilled over couscous among the better bets. End your meal here with the decadent coconut flan. For a truly special occasion, book a table at Al Fresco (Carrer Pau Barrabeitg, 93-894-06-00), one of the finest restaurants in town, overlooking an attractive square and serving delicious Asian-inspired Mediterranean fare.

After dinner, head to Mediterraneo (San Buenaventura 6), a lovely high-ceilinged bar with a patio in back, or El Candil (Carreta 9), another hip and attractive hangout. Early in the evening, everybody hobnobs at Parrot Pub and Parrot Pub 2 (Placa Industria 2), which sit on a cheerful square. It’s also popular in the morning for breakfast. Women tend to frequent Marypili (Joan Tarrida 14), a cozy bar and cafe. The best nightclubs, which don’t get hopping until late (meaning from about 2 a.m. till dawn), are Organic Club (Bonaire 15) and Trailer (Angel Vidal 36), while El Horno (Juan Tarrida Ferratges 6) draws a bearish bunch, and cruisy B Side (Sant Gaudenci 7) has a back room.

Although it’s easy to visit Sitges in an afternoon (train service runs from about 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.), to fully partake of the town’s festive and friendly nightlife and to truly appreciate its romantic personality, plan to spend at least one night here, if not a full weekend. Of the many Gay-friendly lodging options right in town, basic and budget-minded Hostal Termes (Termes 9, 93-894-23-43, and the gracious and attractive Hotel Romantic (Sant Isidre 33, 67-811-41-29) stand out. But for a particularly memorable experience, book a room at Estela (Av. Port d’Aiguatk, 93-891-4545, This whimsically decorated hotel sits right on the water by a marina, an easy and fairly scenic 20-minute walk from the village center. Rooms are done with colorful murals but have otherwise sleek, modern furnishings; all have balconies, many with unobstructed water views. It’s the best way to enjoy Sitges’ happening Gay scene without necessarily staying right in the thick of it.

Contact the Sitges Tourist Board (93-894-50-04 or 93-894-42-51, for further information.

Leslie Robinson

Madelyn Arnold

Paula Martinac