by Joseph V. Amodio
Im lost in an alley in the middle
of a twisty maze of tall stone buildings somewhere in
the old section of town. This being Barcelona, Im
not worried. Getting a little lost here is standard operating
procedure, almost part of your hotel package. Or it should
Barcelona is the New Orleans of Spain.
Nestled on the countrys northeastern coast, this
easy, breezy port city feels exotic, colorful, and nonconformist,
a delectable amalgam of cultures thats part Spanish,
part French, part
something else. That something
else is Catalan, a little-known people boasting their
own proud history (Catalonia was its own country for
five centuries until Spain swallowed it up in the 1400s),
cuisine (lots of fish, legumes, pork), and language
(Catalan sounds like a combination of French and Spanish).
Here I am, eager to shed my plain ole American Joe-ness
and test out my high school Spanish, but in Barcelona
I find Im not José but Josep (djoh-SEPP),
and its not buenos días but bon dia.
The one thing I do know about Barcelona,
and all of Spain, is that Ive got plenty of time
to figure things out. Literally. Here, even the squares
dine at 10 P.M., and hipsters dont hit the bars
till midnight. The dance clubs? Figure 1A.M. for starters,
while 2 A.M. to dawn is the sweet spot. That leaves
plenty of time during the day (even if you sleep in)
to peruse the citys great shops, galleries, museums,
the gloriously Technicolor parks, and decadent architecture
by the renowned architect Antoni Gaudí.
Stare at a Gaudí building long
enough and Barcelona seems easier to understand. He
and his surrealist pals eschewed all things straight,
establishing here a love of wiggles and curves
were not just talking walls.
Indeed, there are few places in Europe
where gay and lesbian travelers will feel more welcomed.
The number of gay clubs, bars, and shops is astounding.
This summer, Barcelona hosts the annual Gay and Lesbian
Film Festival in July, then the Circuit Festivala
week-long nightclub fiesta in August that is expected
to draw 30,000 gays and lesbians from around the globe.
On my visit last fall, I searched for
Cómplices, Barcelonas first gay and lesbian
bookshop, tucked within the Barri Gòtic (or Gothic
quarter), a neighborhood known for its labyrinth of
cobblestone streets and charming, hidden courtyards
(Think Venice without the canals). After losing my way,
I stumble upon the teensy shop, and peruse its wide
selection of literature, maps, and nightlife guides.
I grab some reading material, turn the
corner, and plow into Avinyó, a street with edgy,
eclectic boutiques that would feel at home in Manhattans
East Village. Like Sushi & Moda, a brilliant retail/restaurant
hybrid, its front filled with funky mens and womens
wear, leather duffels, and purses trimmed with Cher-hair-length
fringe; in back, tables are open for dinner. Across
the alley, music lovers squeeze into LEscala,
a dim, smoky cubbyhole packed to the rafters with vintage
vinyl LPs and 45s. Round the next corner, and theres
Custo Barcelona, a shop brimming with crazy, colorful
sportswear. The city is full of such surprises.
Eventually I find Las Ramblas, and am once
again oriented. If the Gothics streets meander like
capillaries, Las Ramblasa thoroughfare stretching
from city center to waterfrontis the jugular vein,
surging with the life blood of Barcelona. The boulevard
is teeming with pedestriansyoung, old, locals, touristswho
stroll past the performance artists and spray-painted
human statues, the flower and bird stalls, and the overpriced
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On one side of Las Ramblas sits the
Gothic quarter, and beyond that El Born, a chi-chi shopping
district. On the other side youll find El Raval,
a once sketchy barrio, now home to artists, students,
a modern art museum, and the famed Boqueria greenmarket.
Above Las Ramblas lies Eixample, a classy neighborhood
of high-end boutiques (including Spanish brands like
Purificación García, Armand Basi, and
Camper shoes), art galleries, modernist architecture,
and a cozy hood-within-the-hoodcalled
Gayxamplewith bars, restaurants, saunas, and other
venues catering to gay and lesbian fun-seekers.
Is that rumbling you hear? Could be
a bass beat seeping out of a gay bar, but more likely
its Francisco Franco, the homophobic tyrant who
ruled Spain for four decades, rolling over in his grave.
Cranky Franky died in 1975, and ever since, the country
has been getting in touch with its pinker side. In 2006
they even legalized gay marriage, a stunning move in
a country thats Catholicand big-time.
When it comes to accommodations, youll
find the city offers many excellent gay and gay-friendly
options. The Axel Hotel, in the heart of Eixample, is
unsurpassed with Vitra furniture, Kenzo fabrics, a restaurant,
bar, spa, chill-out zone, pool, and solarium. Gay-friendly
Hotel 1898, with colonial-era ceiling fans, leather
club chairs, romantic terrace, and two pools, is another
great choice, while Casa Camper, a boutique hotel run
by the Spanish shoe company, hangs bicycles from the
lobby ceiling and displays artifacts found during the
buildings renovation: a vacuum, ceramic cats,
a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee tin
I decide to check out the Hotel Casanova,
which seems to fall into the very-friendly category,
given its high design, spa, rooftop pool in the works,
and toy dogs permitted policy. Renovated
last year, the 124-room Casanova lies smack dab in the
middle of the city, between the shops, galleries, and
gay outposts of Eixample, and the lower citys
clubs, Ramblas, and historic sights.