Hipster route in Bilbao
12 December, 2014
There's no doubt that the hipster and hipster fashions are here to stay. While the "hip" subculture dates back to the 1940s, the movement is again on the rise and is clearly marking out its territory.
Bilbao’s fame as a cultural mecca has reached as far as China and beyond, but people may not realise the extent of the hipsterisation of this former industrial city in the Basque country on the northern Spanish coast, thanks to the transformations undertaken in recent decades and the quirky, youthful pulse of contemporary Bilbao. Even the football team, known by its English name of “Athletic Club de Bilbao”, or “Athletic” for short, fits the hipster mould thanks to its peculiar philosophy. And it’s the sole team in the Spanish league that fields only local players.
There are plenty of place for visitors to sleep. One of our choices would be Basque Boutique, a small hotel located in the heart of the Casco Viejo or old city centre. Guests are immediately immersed in the culture, since each of its eight rooms is dedicated to a particular aspect of Basque life or gastronomy: the Karola (a giant red industrial crane that still stands), Marijaia (the rotund figure of the legendary lady who presides over the city’s annual fiesta), or the baldosa de Bilbao (the city’s traditional geometrically patterned paving blocks). The hotel achieves a perfect fusion of tradition and the avant-garde, mixing vintage décor with such modem comforts and television, Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, and en suite bathrooms. It’s an unforgettable experience you sholn0’t miss.
Another spot that exudes charm is the little Pensión Caravan Cinema. Also in the city’s old quarter, it uniquely combines history, atmosphere, and comfort. Each of the five rooms is dedicated to a contemporary Spanish film director: Pedro Almodovar, Alejandro Amenábar, Alex de la Iglesia ,Julio Medem, and Fernando Trueba. Both comfortable and surprisingly economical. If you’re into Spanish movies, this is definitely for you.
Now that we’ve unpacked, it’s time to sample Bilbao’s famed mini food portions, known as tapas in the rest of Spain but pintxos in the food-obsessed Basque country. One place everyone should try is Brass, on Licenciado Pozas street. For breakfast, brunch, or an afternoon aperitif with a pintxo or three, this is where to go. Talented DJs also perform there after sundown, evenings, and you’ll probably want to stay all night. It’s the most hipster establishment of Bilbao, and the prices are quite reasonable.
On the same street is the la tabernilla de Pozas, an old-fashioned tavern that will take you back to the Bilbao of many decades ago. Instead of pintxos, what you’ll find on the high, wide bar are sandwiches made with tuna or anchovies (bocadillos de atún or anchoas), but you’re have to ask for them –there is no sign or indication.
Charlotte, in calle Heros, serves breakfasts, and then pintxos, as well as the most scrumptious pastries. It’s also famed for cocktails that some rank well above those concocted in New York. It’s American-style décor adds to its popularity amongst the local hipster community.
We mustn’t omit Mr Marvelous, on the same street , which is lined with interesting places. A variety of delicious croquettes, incredible loin of venison, poached eggs with truffle and mushroom sauce –you won’t be able to stop eating!
If you still have room after the pintxos, you may want a proper meal in one of Bilbao’s many excellent restaurants, such as la Camelia, for ecological sushi and the organically grown and exquisitely prepared vegetarian dishes. Who knew healthy food could taste this good?
Bascook,in Barroeta Aldamar street, belongs to the famed chef Aitor Elizegi, whose skills and inspiration have won him dozens of awards. Bascook combines traditions and innovation. The food is delicious and the atmosphere cosy. There a very affordable prix fixe luncheon menu.
For the gastronomically adventurous there is Kokken, where fine dining and fine art go hand in hand. The cuisine is Scandinavian and so is the décor –modern, functional, and very welcoming.
One further proposal is that you try Colombo, on Rodríguez Arias street. You won’t know how good croquettes, hummus or ceviche (marinated raw fish) can taste until you’ve tried them here. And the wait staff couldn’t be more attentive and charming!
When we’re able to rise from the table, we might think about hitting Bilbao’s astounding profusion of shops, Hitz for example, sells stationery supplies, gifts, and perfumes in a vintage atmosphere, set off by old steamer trunk, typewriters, and other antiques –totally hipster!
Another must is Flamingo Records, selling vinyl disks –including rare treasures and first editions– In every musical category and style. You won’t leave empty-handed.
The hipster clothing store par excellence is Arizona Vintage Clothing. It features 100% American style gear and accessories.
In the Bilbao La Vieja or Ibaiondo district you’ll find Vacas Flacas, the city’s most spectacular second-hand clothing shop, where goods of the highest quality can be purchased at bargain prices. But you must telephone an hour in advance for an appointment.
One of Bilbao’s most unusual establishments which no visitor should miss is La Casa de Atrás, with a huge selection of old books, many of them out of print for decades, as well as numerous vinyl records. There’s also an on-site tattoo parlour. Could you ask for anything more?.
One of our favourites is the famed furniture and decorations shop Almoneda Campos, on calle Bertendona. Its speciality is old-fashioned lamps and chandeliers, but there’s much, much more to see and fall in love with.
Time for a snack? How about one of city’s most hipster –and friendliest– bars,Residence, on calle Barraincúa, and very close to the Guggenheim museum. The best place in town for a tall gin and tonic or an exotic imported beer. Live music, too!
Another very special spot is La Catedral de la Cerveza, (“the beer cathedral”), a mecca for serious beer aficionados, on Carnicería Vieja street in the old quarter, featuring brews from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, and the Basque Country itself. You can even buy kits to make you own beer.
Let’s not forget bar Marzana, on the street of the same name, which has become a marvellous amalgam of the old and new. Don’t worry if there’s no table. You can sit on the street and enjoy the incredible river view.
A last drink, but where? How about La Karola? It is named for the famous crane that still towers above the site where Bilbao’s Euskalduna shipyards once stood, and which was named in its day for the young lady who used to cross the bridge over the river every day, and whose beauty transfixed the district's industrial workers and passers-by. The bar, opened 40 years ago, has enviable views of the river and food so delicious it will take you breath away.
But there are still more places to visit, such as the café-theatre La Ribera, in the lower part of the La Ribera (“the riverbank”) market. Great food and live music –chiefly jazz and indie. For atmosphere, there’s nothing like it in Bilbao.
If you happen to be visiting the city on the last Sunday of the month, you won’t want to miss The Sunday Market, inspired by such street markets as London’s Brick Lane or Spitalfields. The theme “A passion for pretty things” applies to everything you’ll see there, from decorative items and antiques to vintage clothing, cupcakes, handicrafts, gadgets, art, flowers, charming little shops, bars, and restaurants, live music, etc. Another street market, thel Dos de Mayo is set up on the first Saturday of the month, and is a great excuse to tour the neighbouring shops like Atakontu, Cultto, or Trakabarraka,and perhaps to sample a vermouth at one of the many local bars. If it’s a sunny day the atmosphere is amazing.
And here we end our hipster tour of Bilbao, first reminding you that there’s much more to this fascinating city that you’ll discover for yourself when you come. Now’s the time to book a ticket on vueling!
Photos: Fernando Sanz
Text: Tensi Sánchez de actitudesmgz.com
12 December, 2014