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Like a faded polaroid from the past; the corners blurred with cobwebs, the colors dulled by time and cigarettes, the walls and the ceiling showing wrinkles as the faded paint peals free, old liquor bottles frozen in time in their cabinets frosted with dust, and an old wooden bar stands at the center of attention of the rickety tables and chairs, Bar Marsella wears the scars of time proudly. This is a place that has housed many characters over the years, a place that seems to know all the secrets of the once infamous neighborhood of El Raval. Through the years it has inspired artists, brought sorrow to the depressed, joy among the cheerful, and gave courage to young men to call upon the women in those brightly colored dresses and rosey cheeks waiting for them outside. It is a bar in all senses of the word and the years have broken it down into a faded memory from the past yet still burns brightly as the memory lives on.
Bar Marsella has been said to be the first of its kind in Barcelona, established in 1820. Even though it looks like a faded memory from the past, Bar Marsella is still operating today and is considered one of the best bars in Barcelona. Every night locals and tourists alike congregate in this old dusty bar that stands stout in its dilapidated elegance to drink and to drink one thing, absinthe.
Absinthe is a high alcohol spirit that uses botanicals including wormwood for flavoring. The process to make absinthe is very similar to gin. Absinthe over the years has been vilified as a dangerous psychoactive alcohol that will bring upon the imbiber hallucinations due to grand wormwood, one of the ingredients in the spirit. Well, don’t listen that propaganda, absinthe is not any more harmful than any other high spirit alcohol. If anybody tells you different they are pulling your leg or are just clueless.
When I was younger I did believe all the horror stories of this drink so of course when I moved to Europe when I was 18 I could not wait to drink it. What I found was a sugary cheap version of this drink but I was 18 so who cares. My father introduced me to a better version in his liquor cabinet that he uses for cooking and in Prague I found a great absinthe bar that served a wide selection of very nice absinthe and I really grew to appreciate this spirit. So, when Ash told me that there was an absinthe bar in Barcelona I, of course, had to check this place out.
This bar is packed every night with tourists and locals alike drinking their homemade absinthe. The look of Bar Marsella alone gives you the proper setting to indulge in this spirit. Everything in the bar looks as though it has not changed since its grand opening in the 1820’s, except for the clientele, which went from ruffians and prostitutes to study abroads and spanish university students. The vibe of the place is very welcoming as you come in and find a table. The waiter comes up to to take your orders. Yes, they do have more than just absinthe here so if it is not your thing you can bow out. I suggest going with the homemade stuff though because it is delicious. Once you order the homemade absinthe you are rewarded with a glass filled with the spirit, sugar cubes, a fork and water bottle with a hole poked through the top.
If you don’t know what to do they will show you but here are the steps if you want to act like you know what you are doing:
Take the fork and lay the head of the fork across the top of the glass. Then place the two sugar cubes on the fork. Then proceed to spray the water on the cubes until they completely dissolve and the liquid has gone to a milky yellowish green color. This is supposedly when the green fairy is released. Then mix everything together and drink. Absinthe has a very strong botanical flavor especially because of the anise but the sugars cuts that and give you a delightful bittersweet drink.
Bar Marsella is a popular bar but I never felt overwhelmed by the crowds, however I did not go on major nights out. I really enjoyed sitting and sipping on my drink as I pictured myself back in time drinking with the likes of Hemingway (“Hemingway being to bars in Spain what George Washington is to inns in New England.“) and Picasso who supposedly frequented this bar quite often. I’m sent back to a romanticized version of the past for a very enjoyable and relaxing evening.
When Ash and I head back to Barcelona, Bar Marsella will be one of our first stops. It really is a charming place and if you love absinthe it will be the best absinthe bar that you will visit. It is a place trapped in the past which will allow you to escape from the worries of today and be sent back in time to enjoy, for even a little bit, a more simple time.
A Few Things to Know:
If you love the Absinthe so much you can take it home in a liter bottle for 40 euros.
A glass of Absinthe is between 4 and 5 euros.
It is open from 18:00-02:30 Sunday through Thursday.
It’s open from 18:00 – 03:00 Friday and Saturday
Carrer de Sant Pau, 65
Oh, and Woody Allen used the bar in his film Vicky Cristina Barcelona
That is it for this week’s Sunday Wine Down. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed. I’ll leave you with a few questions that you can answer in the comments below
Have you ever had Absinthe? And more importantly, did you enjoy it? Have you been to Bar Marsella? How would you describe Bar Marsella?
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