maître d’ - Cafe de l'Opera & Bottle Museum
Written by Tara Stevens
Ask any Barcelona resident where best to tap into the city’s chequered past and they’ll all point in one direction: to the iconic Café de l’Òpera on Europe’s most famous boulevard.
The handsome 19th-century townhouse that the Café de l’Òpera occupies started out as a chocolate and pastry shop that later became a restaurant named La Mallorquina. It was taken over by the father of the current owner, Rosa Doria, in 1925, and those early years were fuelled on the tertulias (social gatherings) of the writers, artists, and actors who flocked there. Among them were Joan Mirу, Salvador Dali, and Antoni Tаpies, who argued, drank, and smoked long into the night, covering the subjects of art and literature, philosophy, and magic with their cronies.
Today, if you sit for long enough at one of the marble tables and shut your eyes, you can almost hear their chatter, for even the dйcor – which reflects the transition stage between the more sedate style of the late 1880s and the flamboyant modernista style of the 1900s – remains largely the same, with some lovely Art Deco details in the painted mirrors that represent the opera stars of the 1890s. After the civil war, however, it was impossible to sustain as a restaurant because of food shortages and a prohibition on alcohol; so the logical solution was to reinvent itself as a café, which it has been ever since. Today, it is celebrated for its churros (hot, finger-shaped doughnuts) dipped in custard-thick hot chocolate, platters of Spanish cheeses and traditional tapas such as patatas bravas (fried potatoes topped with a piquant tomato sauce and garlic mayonnaise), salpicon de marisco (a seafood salad of octopus, prawns, and mussels in a lemony vinaigrette) and sweet pastries to accompany an impressive range of specialist teas and coffees.
Though showing its age, the Café de l'Òpera's appeal endures as a place where you might look up from your sketchpad or notebook to see the actress Marisa Paredes trading gossip with Rosa Doria herself, or even Ferran Adriа – the head chef of the celebrated El Bulli restaurant on the Costa Brava – tucking into some late night snacks (it closes at 2am).
As I headed on my way, the words of Rosa Doria rang through my mind: “The Café de l’Òpera is not just an establishment, it is a shrine to the thoughts and dreams of generations.”
Bottles of secrets
Old man Doria had a penchant for collecting. He began storing bottles of all shapes and sizes in 1928, and even managed to get hold of contraband bottles of whisky and rum from sailors, along with other black-market items such as tobacco, sugar, and coffee.
The story of ‘Nef’
‘Nef’, a Malaga artist, frequented Barcelona during the Movida years. He befriended Rosa Doria, and the cafe and its characters became his muse.
Café de l’Òpera