Poblenou from Industrial District to Creative Quarter
13 June, 2017
Welcome to Poblenou, Barcelona’s most vibrant creative district! A time-honoured district, removed from the city centre but near the seaside, where the working-class character mingles with cutting-edge trends. An area in constant transformation, from its industrial past to its cosmopolitan present, where Barcelona’s modernity and tradition fit perfectly together.
Its cityscape continually mutating, with avant-garde projects mushrooming on every corner, Poblenou is living out its finest moment. We tour the area to learn its secrets – let’s get going!
Plaça de les Glòries, Kilometre 0
Forget the Plaça Catalunya, the Ramblas and even Passeig de Gràcia. When Ildefons Cerdà devised his master layout for modern Barcelona in the 19th century, he staked out “les Glòries” as his geometric centre. That is where Els Encants Vells has relocated. With a history of over seven centuries, it is one of Europe’s oldest flea markets, where customers can still haggle! A stone’s throw from there stands “La Grapadora” (the Stapler), a grey-skinned building which houses the Disseny Hub, a must-visit shrine for all lovers of fine design.
The phallus, the suppository, the torpedo… there are no end of nicknames for the Torre Agbar. Indeed, this skyscraper, designed by Jean Nouvel, is an endless source of comments. Nouvel claims his forms pay tribute to the Sagrada Familia and the mountains of Montserrat. While we don’t know to what extent that is true, the fact is that ever since its construction, Barcelona’s skyline has become a tad more “masculine”.
Art, Design, Music and Much More
We had breakfast at Espai Joliu, a concept store where plants and a love of good coffee reign supreme. Here they serve up Nømad Coffee, roasted a few steps away and sold at Røaster’s Home. Next door, the premises of a former print shop operate as an art gallery. This is La Plataforma, a venue where art offerings are paired to all kinds of culinary experiences.
Shopping addicts can buy Scandinavian furniture at Noak Room, revamp their wardrobe with colourful prints from Brava Fabrics and augment their collection with vinyls from Ultra-local Records, a meeting point for local music lovers specialising in independent labels.
If you happen to be a culture vulture, Sala Beckett offers the latest in contemporary theatre in a top-drawer modernist setting. More urbane are the offerings at La Escocesa, an erstwhile factory now hosting art ateliers. Each year they hold the festival of murals, when their centuries-old walls become plastered with graffiti. The most innovative trends feature at Hangar, an avant-garde visual arts centre housed in one of the most renowned former industrial complexes in the city.
Needless to say, we wind up the day in Razzmatazz, a veritable clubbing institution where all young Barceloners worth their salt have spent at least one night on their legendary dance floors. Be it indie, electronic or live performances, good music never stops playing at Razzmatazz.
And, with the beat still resounding in our head, we leave the industrial Poblenou and head for the hub of district life here, the Rambla del Poblenou!
The Rambla del Poblenou
In this, the undisputed nerve centre of the district, the laid back rhythm and the sight of people chatting in the sun are the giveaways that this was and still is a village. At weekends, it gets crowded out by groups of friends having a beer on the bar terraces, while during the fiesta mayor in September its streets are taken over by community suppers, parading street bands and nocturnal revelry. This is also the area with the highest concentration of iconic hangouts, where we stopped to recharge our batteries.
Our first stop is a classic among classics – Can Recasens, a delicatessen founded in 1906 which by night becomes a restaurant serving Catalan cuisine. Their assortments of cheeses, cold meats and wines is amazing and you can also buy the products you have tasted during the dinner.
No less popular is the Orxateria El Tio Che, the palace of tigernuts. These purveyors of tigernut milk prepare a 100% craft product based on a recipe which has not changed for 5 generations. Summer sees endless queues of people lining up to seek relief from the heat in this natural refreshment.
And, from the sweetest corner to the corner with the longest history. Across the road stands the Casino l’Aliança del Poblenou, a meeting place which transports the visitor to the times of the Athenian working classes and the struggle for freedom of assembly. If you happen to be passing by, be sure to go inside – its walls breathe a part of Barcelona’s recent history.
Those wishing to wade into the sea up to their calves should press on down the Rambla. A few minutes ahead you come to the beaches of Bogatell and Mar Bella, the least crowded in the city. In summer, the sand is peppered with beach bars and runners trot along the water’s edge to the rhythm of the sea breeze.
We return to terra firma in the direction of the Plaça Prim, the site of fishermen’s cottages in the 19th and 20th century. The square has withstood the test of time and is home to Els Pescadors, a former fishermen’s tavern and one of the most long-standing fish restaurants in town. Here, the speciality is fresh fish and seafood sourced daily at the neighbouring fish auctions.
Nearby streets are seemly frozen in time, swathed in a tranquility typical of coastal villages. However, the hush is in stark contrast to the hubbub of Calle Marià Aguiló, the emblematic shopping precinct where you will come across La Pubilla del Taulat, a wine cellar which opened in 1886 (the oldest in Poblenou) and where you can have wine and tapas any hour of the day.
No less legendary is the bar, El Timbal. Located alongside the former textile mill named Can Felipa, their patatas bravas (spicy sautéed potatoes) are acclaimed throughout the city. They are baked in their jackets and topped with a finger-licking all-i-oli (oil and garlic sauce). You can accompany them with reasonably priced homemade dishes while you have a few beers on their crowded terrace.
From Palo Alto to the Fórum – Industrial Past, Creative Present
A red-brick chimney welcomes us to Palo Alto. This former textile mill is a one-of-a-kind urban island. Remodelled as a creative hub, its former industrial bays have been infused with new trends by a host of resident designers, architects and artists. Stroll through their jungle garden and try the menu at La Cantina, a restaurant offering traditional cuisine which serves a delicious paella on Fridays. Palo Alto is also the site of the crowded Palo Alto Market, a monthly gathering of the city’s “beautiful people” who come to discover the latest trends set by local designers.
And, when you feel low on energy, be sure to seek food and shelter at Bar Tras Paso, a colourful, bohemian eatery with French culinary flavours where you can end the evening with a duck magret and chat into the wee hours, glass of wine in hand.
But, if you still have the strength, you can go up the Torre de les Aigües del Besòs, witness to the area’s industrial past and the spot where the 90s British band Blur recorded their music video, On Your Own. The 60-metre-high water tower has an observation platform with stunning views of the city.
And, from the heights, with the sea a stone’s throw away, and with the Diagonal Mar skyscrapers, Mt Tibidabo, Montjuïc and the esplanade of the Fórum in the background, we take our leave. We have reached the city limits and now it’s time to change course.
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Text by Núria Gurina
13 June, 2017