As a grubby American expat living overseas, there are few trips home. They’re long, expensive journeys that seem too long when you’re planning them and too short when you get there. However, I’ve found a home away from home on the Iberian peninsula. As a matter of fact, with just one trip, you’d feel like it was home as well. The welcome is warm, the jokes are well-worn, the food is delicious and the drink is, well, El Xampanyet.
Just a few steps down the street from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona is my home away from home. It’s not much when you pass by. Just some “botes” hanging from the doorway, and a glimpse of tile and nice white marble bar. However, a cursory walk by misses what lives at the heart of El Xampanyet. It’s the soul of the family the runs it. (The owner and patriarch is pictured above.) At least three generations are there, manning the bar, serving up sardines that explode in your mouth like M-80s and delightful cherry bombs of goat cheese stuffed red peppers. The house drink is, of course, El Xampanyet (a sort of Cava-spritzer) but everything else is available with which to satisfy your thirst.
There’s rarely a place to stand and it’s even harder to find a place to sit. Crowds come in before going for the big night out. Every night. During our last trip there, we shared the area in front of the bar with everyone from trade show tourists to self proclaimed Spanish royalty. The funny thing was, they gave drinks to everyone at the same speed. They were gracious, did their best to remember our last visit, and made sure the lady with us did not go thirsty. ( Really, she tried to, but they wouldn’t have it. I’ve never seen club soda forced on anyone.)
The Spanish proverbs that hang on the wall just add to the ambiance. Loosely translated, one says, “When feeling ill, inject platelets of jamón and red wine.” Sage advice – heeded. When you’re there, you feel like an honorary Spaniard. There’s no pretense, just tons of good food, very little elbow room and a cold, glistening silver tap to make sure your caña is never empty. ¡Viva El Xampanyet!