El Born is one of those neighborhoods out of a fantasy. As you wander the tall narrow cobbled alleyways, paths twist and turn throughout the shadows as if in constant argument. There’s mystery in the air as you evade the crowds looking for the perfect tapas bar to have a glass of cava or maybe a glass of vermute rosso. It’s magical. It’s the neighborhood Ashley and I fell in love with and consequently in love with Barcelona. During the day, we spent our time wandering the alleyways, shopping, and enjoying the small galleries.
At night, El Born comes alive when the tapas bars are packed and it seems like everybody, tourists and locals alike, have their glasses full and something good to eat in their hands. This is El Born and this is our guide to show you how to eat, drink, see, and do well in one the most gorgeous neighborhoods in Barcelona.
Welcome to our Barcelona Series! Here in this series you will learn everything you need to have a perfect time in Barcelona. We are all about eating, drinking and living local and there is no place we like to do all of that better than Barcelona!
Here is what you can expect from this series:
Unique Things to Do in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Eat Local in El Born – You’re Here!
Drink Local in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Quintessential Barcelona – What You Can’t Miss in the Catalan Capital (Coming Soon!)
El Born has some of the best places to eat in Barcelona. I mean, hell, it’s the Catalan region of Spain, so of course there is going to be fantastic food. The Catalan region is located in the northeast of Spain with Barcelona on its coast. Barcelona is an epicenter for spanish cuisine. One can find great tapas, pintxos, paella, seafood, and quality meat dishes. It’s cuisine is influenced from many other parts of Spain with their own mark on it, making it distinctly Catalonian.
We’re talking mediterranean style cuisine, known for its seafood from the Adriatic, such as anchovies, sardines, tuna, cod, octopus, squid, clams, mussels, and shrimp. Think of tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, capsicum, lamb, pork, veal, and poultry as their main ingredients. You will also be eating some of the best cured ham, Jamón ibérico, cheese like manchego, and great sausages like chorizo. Even the canned food–yes you heard me right, canned food–will knock your socks off. It’s the best in the world and an integral part of the tapas scene. All of this is incorporated into their food here in Barcelona and subsequently, El Born, making it one of the best places to eat local in the world.
*To learn more about Catalan cuisine and how to eat and drink local across all of Barcelona check out our brand new one book “Eat Local in Barcelona: A Guide to Catalan Cuisine” available now in paperback and ebook!*
Carrer de Montcada, 22
Let’s start out at our favorite tapas bar, not just in El Born but all of Barcelona. It’s also among the most well known, as every afternoon and evening the place is slammed with both locals and tourists alike. It’s a great introduction to what a traditional tapas bar looks and feels like. It’s crowded, loud, and fast paced. The tapas are swiftly devoured so nothing is sitting too long, the men behind the bar are in charge, and they know how to keep everybody happy while they serve a variety of tapas and small plates. The best way to start is order a bottle of their homemade cava, then pimientos con queso (small peppers stuffed with cheese), spanish tortilla (think potato, eggs, chorizo, cooked like omelette/frittata but superior to both), and pan con tomate (simple grilled bread rubbed with garlic and tomatoes, a Catalan speciality).
The men behind the bar will help you out with ordering. They mostly speak Catalan but you can get by with Spanish. You can point to the tapas displayed on the counter or order food from the kitchen. There is a menu somewhere but I would rely on the bartender’s suggestions. They will whip you up something delicious, I promise. Make sure you stand at the bar or in the small space outside, be aggressive, and forget about personal space. It will be very crowded and if you aren’t aggressive, you won’t get to order. Once you’ve ordered, then it’s time to relax with a bottle of cava, eat, and enjoy the atmosphere. If you can’t find a place to sit or a counter to lean against get creative or just hold the plate in your hands. It’s worth it, I promise.
Out of the 31 days that we were in Barcelona, we probably ate here at least 31 times or at least stopped by to buy a bottle of their homemade cava or vermouth. Sometimes we would be walking home just as they were closing and if they saw us, they would ask if we wanted to grab a bottle to go. Yes, we went there that often!
The price range is great here at El Xampanyet; tapas are just around 1.50 euro, small plates ordered from the kitchen are around 10-15 euro, and a homemade bottle of cava or vermouth is around 8 euros. Don’t let the tourists throw you off, this is not a tourist trap! There are just as many locals as tourists that stop there throughout the night. These are some of the best tapas you can get in Barcelona and the bustling atmosphere is what makes it great.
Tapas start around 8pm, which is right when Ashley and I would show up. This usually assured us a great place at the counter, which puts you right in the middle of the action. Here are some tips for traveling in Barcelona: get used to crowded tapas bars, don’t be afraid to push your way up to the counter, there is no such thing as a line or personal space, and the guys behind the bar have it all figured out so trust in them; you are in good hands.
Plaça Comercial, 1
My second stop after El Xampanyet is Bormuth. This place will always have a special place in my heart, because this is the first place I drank straight vermouth as a beverage. On top of having both red and white vermouth, it also has amazing food. This place has more of a restaurant bar feel rather than a traditional tapas bar. Generally, you have to wait for a table but after you have been seated you will be offered a menu with a variety of selections that will not disappoint.
This is not your most traditional tapas place but it has some of our favorite dishes. I enjoyed the the pimiento de padron (fried green peppers), the Peixet fregit (small fried fish), the lentil salad, which is super refreshing on a hot day, and the goat cheese with roasted red peppers. I’ll be honest, there was not a thing we didn’t enjoy. Many times, we found ourselves ordering too much because we wanted it all.
This is a really young and hip place. It’s filled with locals in their late 20’s and early 30’s. The place is busy every night and is worth the wait, especially if you have one of their awesome gin & tonics in your hand.This place can serve as a stop for tapas and a drink or a full blown, filling dinner.
Carrer Comercial, 7
Did I mention that you are on the coast of the Adriatic Sea? So you should be eating all the in season seafood you can! The best place to do this is at La Paradeta, where the menu is entirely made up of seafood. This place is BUSY! You will have to wait in line usually around 30 minutes if you don’t get their on time (8:00pm) but who cares when you are about to eat at the best seafood places in all of Barcelona!
After diligently waiting, you won’t be given a menu because you are presented directly with the seafood just as you would see it at a fish market. The selection of seafood will depend on whatever is in season. None of it’s frozen and it’s all fresh and ready to be cooked up for you right there on the spot. If you are not sure how much you need to satisfy your cravings, do not worry, the wonderful people working will help you out.
Ash and I went there twice and we got a variety of different fresh seafood both times. We had the best grilled tuna steak we’ve ever had, a kilo of mussels, clams, whole shrimp, calamari, oysters and sea snails. That is just what we tried, but there are an abundance of options to enjoy Just be aware of how much you are getting, as the price can add up quickly. As far as seafood goes, it is cheap (compared to the states) but it will still be pricier than your average tapas place.
After you place your order, you will move over and order your beverages. I would suggest sticking with the house white wine because it is cheap, crisp, tasty, and will go well with anything you order. You can also choose to add on bread and a salad, then you pay, and are given your receipt with a number on it. At this point, take whatever has already been given to you and find a seat.
When your number is called, you walk up and hand them your receipt. They will give you whatever they have ready and then mark it off your receipt. You will keep doing this until everything is marked off. Not only is the seafood fresh but you get it as soon as it’s ready. Then dig in and enjoy some of the best seafood you will have in the area.
Just remember, you will have to wait in line. It is very popular with locals and tourists alike and it is popular for a reason. Just make sure you are not starving when you get there, expect to take your time, and enjoy. It is my kind of meal.
Plaça de la Llana, 15
This is not a place for dinner but more for a quick snack or if you’re hungry between lunch and tapas time. This place cooks up some of the best empanadas in Barcelona. How can someone not love fluffy, golden pastries filled with all kinds of goodies? The majority of the empanadas are 2.50 euro each. I would recommend picking one off of the drink and empanadas combo menu; they are the best deals if you want more than one. My two favorite empanadas were the spicy chicken and the spicy pork. As I am writing this section, my mouth is salivating. If those don’t suit your fancy, they usually have about 10-15 different varieties available. So if you just want a quick fix but are not craving just bread with ham aka a Spanish sandwich head on over to La Fabrica, you will not regret it. Like I said, how can you not like empanadas?
Bodega la Puntual
Carrer de Montcada, 22
Bodega la Puntual is right next door to El Xampanyet. We found this place when we decided to try something new and it had been catching our eye for a while. The front of the restaurant is quite small and always busy with a tapas bar vibe and the back opens up to a indoor courtyard with two levels for a more formal dining experience. The feel of this place is a little more formal, you should at least have on a collared shirt for dinner here but really for any dinner in Spain. After all, you are in Barcelona and the Spaniards know how to dress.
The food, of course, is the main show. If you want tapas, I would recommend the sardines, cockles, or slurp down some oysters if they have them. Remember, the great thing about Spain is that everything is in season. Ashley loves the Gazpacho Andaluz, which is a cold soup made of raw vegetables typically using tomatoes as the base. If you never had gazpacho, this is the place to try it. This dish originates in the south of Spain but Bodega la Puntual does it right, I promise.
For the main course, Ash and I had the Barcelona style cod with spinach, raisins and honey. I really should not have to say anymore but this dish was one of the best fish dishes we had in El Born. The flaky, tender flesh permeated with a buttery flavor paired wonderfully with the sweetness of the honey and raisins and the heartiness of the spinach for a delightful summer evening dinner. It was fresh but still savory sweet.
Bodega la Puntual is the perfect place to go for a great dinner. It will be one of the first places we go back to in Barcelona. The prices are fairly reasonable; no dish goes above 22 euros,with most of the dishes around the 10 euro mark. It truly is an excellent place to go and share a meal.
Carrer d’en Giralt el Pellisser, 2
Bar Joan is a local secret and not easy to get a seat at because it’s always packed. Bar Joan is located in the Santa Caterina Market. It is a long bar counter that runs the side of the market with bar patrons sitting on stools to enjoy their meal. They have a few tables on the side but I would recommend sitting at the counter if there’s a seat! I like to watch the fast pace of the people working and serving; this is a no frills kind of place, you seat yourself by waiting behind people eating until they’re done and you grab their seat. The ordering is simple; you pick a starter, a main, and a desert accompanied by bread and a drink for only 11 euros. Yes you heard me right, 11 euros. So for you budget travelers out there, this is perfect place for you.
I know in the States meals can be fast paced, but when in Spain do as the Spanish do and take your time ordering each course. You order your starter and then eat your starter. When you are finished the waitress comes up and ask for your main. There is no rush when you eat here and there never should be even with people waiting behind you. The menu only contains about 5 or so choices for each section but they have a little of everything.
I indulged in the macaroni bolognese. I know it is not a Spanish dish but all the locals were chowing down on it, so I thought hell I have to try that. Then I went for the grilled tuna that was cooked to perfection. My sweet tooth kicked in after that and Ashley and I finished our meal with some coffee flan. During the entire meal, I was washing it down with a bottle of the house vino tinto (red wine). As I mentioned before this place is a dive located in a food market and when we ordered two glasses of wine, we were given the bottle to refill our glasses when we wanted to!
This place is full of locals; you hardly heard anyone speaking anything other than Catalan and you can tell who the regulars are. Also, you know the food is fresh; can you guess where the ingredients come from? You guessed right, the market that you are in. You cannot really ask for more, especially at the price. We walked out of there for 22 euros, which included 6 dishes and a bottle of wine. What a steal!
Plaça de les Olles, 8
Cal Pep is a must stop when you are in El Born. This place has classic, Catalan food. Don’t let the tourists in the front of the place throw you off! They sit all the tourists up at the bar as the locals get shuffled back to the dining room. Us tourists have to wait in line for a counter seat. However, it doesn’t matter because Cal Pep is always worth the wait because the food and the atmosphere are traditional Catalan all the way.
You will have to wait in line for this place, end of story, and be happy about it. Well you probably aren’t too happy at the moment because the line is torture as you are behind all the people eating at the counter and you have to stand, watch, and smell all the amazing food being made. Our suggestion is to use this time to look at your options. Stare at people, see what they are eating, ask what they are eating without shame or abandon (everyone else is doing it); this is the time for you to do research for the meal that is ahead of you because a menu is not provided for you. To help you wait, ask for a beer or a glass of cava, the staff will be happy to oblige. It will end up on your final bill after eating anyways so don’t worry, these workers have memories like elephants.
Once you make it to Shangri La, pull up a seat, and get ready. One of the guys tending bar will come up and ask your preferences; or if you’re brave like me, I ask them to pick my meal for me. I tell the waiter what I don’t want and what I am really craving; then they bring out delectable, creative dishes one at a time.
The second time we went to Cal Pep, we were really craving seafood so we told him that we wanted a seafood heavy meal and our waiter delivered. If you see something down the counter that looks good, let your waiter know and they will make sure it ends up on your plate. This is a great place to put your appetite to the test.
*If you don’t want them to choose your meal for you than just tell them what you want and they will cook it up. The research you do while waiting in line is vital here and if you are curious about the menu it is posted on the door outside but in Catalan… Personally, I like trusting the people who work there because they know what is good at the moment.*
One of the best dishes we ate at Cal Pep was a whitefish in a butter sauce. The whole fish was cooked up with fried garlic and a little bit of lemon and served whole, which our waiter deboned and served for us table side. The flaky fish melted on our tongues and was bursting with flavor. On top of this ridiculously delicious fish, they also cooked up juicy shrimp, tender shellfish, and some of the best Spanish tortilla I have ever had.
Warning: make sure you bring your money. This place is not cheap and it adds up quickly, especially when there is no menu or prices in front of you. I would come here for a big meal that you don’t mind splurging on. You get your money’s worth here; you will leave stuffed to your gills but it all adds up quickly. I suggest to get a couple of bottles of white table wine and drink until you forget about the price. Cal Pep is open for lunch and dinner (except on Saturdays) and if you don’t want to wait in line then get there when it opens.
Bar Cel Ona
Carrer de la Cirera, 2
Bar Cel Ona is the least traditional place we went to while we were living in Barcelona. The restaurant focuses on a fusion of Spanish, Italian, and Japanese cuisine and brings these cuisines together in a really cool artistic setting. Ash and I finally sat down at this restaurant after walking by it numerous times about a week and a half before we left Barcelona; it was well worth it. We started with sharing chicken yakitori and then I had seared rare tuna, while Ashley had grilled gambas (aka shrimp) on top of pan con tomate. The whole meal used very simple ingredients but packed so much flavor.
We kept it light for this meal but everything we had was spot on. I suggest the seared tuna with sesame oil sauce topped with sliced onions. Unfortunately, we only had one meal here but it will be a must stop when we get back to Barcelona. Even though I can eat tapas all the time, it was nice to switch it up. If you want something a little different than traditional tapas then this is a must stop.
Barcelona is a city that really comes alive at night. Dinner does not begin until around 10 p.m., so after dinner it is time to go out on the town and enjoy some drinks and cocktails. The Spanish know how to have a good night and it is easy to find many great bars and places to drink in the Neighborhood of El Born. These are just a few of places to put you on the right path.
Carrer dels Consellers, 4
If you don’t know anything about the bar industry, ash and I are here to tell you the cocktail is BACK! Ashley and I are very supportive of this movement and when we learn about a great cocktail bar, we must check it out! One night in El Born, we were searching Foursquare for a cocktail bar with our friends, Edna and Joe of Expat Edna and we were in luck! Collage was just around the corner from where we were. Collage has an extensive cocktail menu but perhaps the best are the tiki cocktails. If you are not a fan of tiki cocktails then we can’t be friends, end of story. 🙂 If I was on a deserted island, the first thing I would bring with me (besides Ash) is one of these tiki cocktails! They are even better when they are made right and you don’t get that nasty, sugary hangover the next morning.
Collage is THE place to go in Barcelona if you like to indulge in strong drinks served in a tiki head. Even though my belief is that nothing ever good happens after 2 a.m., Collage is open until 4 and a wonderful place to go at all hours for awesome cocktails and conversation. If you are lucky, the bartenders will even pull out their tiki cocktail recipe book and discuss cocktails with you. We also bonded over a favorite cocktail bar in Paris, Red House, which just happens to be the bar where we met Edna and Joe for the first time! If you want a well made cocktail with a great atmosphere then head on over to Collage because it is a must stop for me.
Carrers dels Mirallers
Bodega is a bar that was literally across from our front door. We would walk out of our apartment and there it was waiting for us to come in. It is a super local hangout that serves homemade vermouth and tapas the traditional way. There is more than just vermouth served at this bar but for some reason I can’t recall anything else worth trying. The place is open from 6-10 everyday and is a perfect pre-dinner stop. Every time you order a drink, you get a new tapa like chorizo, or olives– very simple finger food.
The vermouth comes in half liters bottles filled by the man that owns the bar. Then he will bring you a couple glasses with ice, orange, and an olive along with soda water and bitters. Pour the vermouth in the glass, add some soda water, and then a couple dashes of bitters and you have a perfect glass of vermute rosso. This is a no nonsense in this place. The place is a local spot so don’t be surprised if you are being served by a 12 year old, he knows what he is doing. This is definitely one of the best vermouth spots in town.
Carrer de Montcada, 22
We have already mentioned El Xampanyet for eating, now let’s talk about drinking. Ashley and I drank here more than any other place in El Born. The cava here is so good that it should be the only thing on your mind when you enter this place. You might think only cheap wine is sweet, but not so fast—we’re in Spain. Here their cava is a semi dry cava that goes down really easy. If you don’t like a little sweetness in your wine, then just get over yourself (or get something else, I am not the cava dictator…). Not all wine should be dry however, especially on hot days, and it is nice to have that residual sugar. This cava is not a dessert wine; it is just a semi dry cava and it is delicious. Our fridge at home always had a couple bottles in it.
They also make their own vermouth rosso that is spectacular; both come in liter bottles and if you drink in house, it is 8 euros and if you take home it home, it is 10 euros for the liter. Not a bad deal. A lot of times Ashley and I would buy a bottle or two of the cava and stand outside and drink it with some olives or peppers. I would fly back to Barcelona right now just to drink it and stockpile it.
Carrer dels Assaonadors, 16
This next place is a dive tapas bar that serves really cheap but great glasses of albarino wine, which is a local Spanish grape. A glass of albarino goes for about 2 euros. I mean, how can you beat that? Add some manchego and chorizo to the mix and you’re set. It was an awesome wine bar set in a cellar atmosphere filled with a variety slew of characters and we were the only tourists. The place is definitely a dive of a wine bar. We ended up drinking with this local who had indulged in a little too much wine and wanted to talk about the meaning and philosophy of life. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, especially after a couple of rounds of wine. This is a nice stop while you are tapas bar bouncing and you just want to have a couple of glasses of wine.
La Vinya del Senyor
Plaza Sta Maria, 5
La Vinya is another wine bar that just happens to be right around the corner from us. It took us about 3 weeks to stop in and finally give it a try because it was sandwiched between two very touristy restaurants. We just happened to take a peek at the wine list and were surprised by the stellar prices for wines we had come to love during the beginning of our stay in Barcelona. They also had a brut rose cava so Ash and I were sold. Once we found this place, it was a nightly stop for a glass or a bottle of wine. We love wine bars, and this one was a great find. It is right next to Santa Maria del Mar church; it is in the heart of the hustle and bustle of El Born and a must stop for a quick drink, cheese, and charcuterie. If you like wine, then this is a place for you.
While El Born may not necessarily be swimming in tourist attractions like its neighbors, the Gothic Quarter and Las Ramblas, it does have a lot to offer especially if you enjoy photographing quaint streets and hipster shops. There are a few things, however, that I definitely suggest you take the time time to see.
Santa Maria del Mar
Santa Maria del Mar is located in the heart of El Born and is really one of the focal points of the neighborhood. You cannot miss this imposing, medieval, gothic church as it rises out of the weathered apartments of El Born. This church is something to look at but it is really the inside that is impressive. While the outside may be overbearing in its size, the inside of the church manages to convey lightness and space. You are not oppressed by the grandeur of this church; instead, you are left in awe of the space, light streaming through, and its simplicity. Built from 1329-1383, it reflects Barcelona’s maritime preeminence and has cohesion of style often unseen in such large medieval buildings.
Santa Maria del Mar is still a working church and does offer services. We actually even saw a wedding here one evening when we popped in. Check out their website for times when they offer services.
Parc de la Ciutadella
This park is just on the outskirts of El Born and is a perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. We are huge fans of heading to Mercat Santa Caterina and picking up picnic supplies for an afternoon here. There are many shaded grassy areas where you can snag a spot for a relaxing picnic. There is a small lake where you can rent rowboats and adjacent to the pond is a fantastic fountain by Josep Fontserè; it is rumored that a young Gaudi helped design and construct the fountain as well. Pay a quick visit to the grandstand just next to the fountain. It is dedicated to Sonia Rescalvo Zafra, a transsexual, who was murdered on the spot on October 6, 1991. The city’s zoo is also located in the park, although, we did not get a chance to visit it.
Arc de Triomph
Located just north of the park is the Arc de Triomf that was constructed in 1888 as the entrance for the World’s Fair held in Barcelona that year. It was constructed in the neo-mudejar style, which brings forth the old Moorish style of architecture that was deemed as an entirely Spanish style of architecture. The arch is worth a detour out of the park to visit along with a map of Barcelona on the promenade floor that leads up to the arch.
The Picasso Museum
The Picasso Museum is one of the highlights of visiting the El Born neighborhood and I HIGHLY recommend it that you visit. If you are feeling frugal and don’t want to spend money, visit on a Sunday when the museum is free. However, make sure to arrive early so the line is not so out of control. We arrived when the museum opened and only waited about 20-30 minutes to get in (which considering the line, was not bad at all).
The Picasso Museum is incredibly fascinating because, just like the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, it takes you through Picasso’s art from his youth, his time in Barcelona, and the evolution of his style from the Blue Period to Cubism. You can really see the different artistic periods that Picasso had and who and what influenced him in his art. For me, these museums (The Picasso and Van Gogh Museums) are the most fascinating because you can really see how such iconic artists developed, defined, and refined their own personal styles.
Visit Mercat de Santa Caterina
This is one of my favorite markets in Barcelona, probably tied with the one we shopped at in Barceloneta, and it is probably because this market is made for the locals. La Boqueria on Las Ramblas is sensory overload but here, at Mercat de Santa Caterina, the locals come to make their purchases. There are amazing fruit and vegetable stands (we bought SOOO many plump, juicy, vibrantly colored varied cherry tomatoes one day) and an almost overwhelming amount of fresh seafood and meat stands. If you are looking to cook local Catalan cuisine, this is the market you need to head to or just spend some time here wandering the stalls to see how locals live and shop in Barcelona.
Wander the Streets
El Born was made for wandering. If you do anything at all in your time while visiting El Born, take time to go on a stroll. Get away from the church and pop down alleyways. You never know what you may find as you stroll the streets. We stumbled upon numerous artists’ studios, a modern art museum, boutiques full of locally made clothes, and a Bar Brutal, a natural and biodynamic wine bar (which was unfortunately closed whenever we walked by!) There is so much to see in this neighborhood. Get lost for a little, bring a camera and soak up the ambiance.
Where to Stay
Spotahome – Arkupe Apartments
We were able to score an awesome apartment in the heart of the El Born neighborhood through Spotahome. This website specializes in one to six month rentals all over Barcelona and we absolutely loved our apartment. The landlord, Chus, for Arkupe Apartments was just lovely and willing to help us with anything. We were so centrally located in the neighborhood that we walked out our door and there was Santa Maria del Mar. We could not have asked for a better studio apartment in the heart of this neighborhood.
If you are looking at staying somewhere else in Barcelona, check out the best neighborhoods to stay in in Barcelona!
We absolutely loved El Born and we hope that you are able to use this guide to discover all that the neighborhood has to offer. From great tapas, to cava, to vermouth, to markets, to shops, El Born has everything that you are could be looking for in Barcelona without being completely run over by tourists. It still has a neighborhood feel, which is refreshing in a city as large as Barcelona.
Have you ever been to Barcelona, what was your favorite place to eat there? Did we miss anything in El Born you think we should have included? Let us know in the comments; we are heading back to Barcelona so we would love to try new places!
Read On to Read the Rest of the Series!
Unique Things to Do in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Eat Local in El Born – You’re Here!
Drink Local in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Quintessential Barcelona – What You Can’t Miss in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Heading to Barcelona soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance! Sure you may not use it but its always good to have. We recommend World Nomads which we have been using for years and have always made us feel secure as we travel around the world!
Pin for Later to Remember Where to Eat Local in El Born, Barcelona
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