Bohemian Barcelona – counter-culture in the Catalan capital

Bohemianism
– The term “Bohemian” was first used in France to describe the Romani people, as the latter were assumed to have come from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic).
– In the 19th Century, Bohemians were re-defined as a sort of literary gypsy who lived a life outside of conventional society.
– This new definition of a Bohemian was introduced to the English reading public in William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic novel “Vanity Fair
– Many famous artists and writers have been labeled “Bohemian”, including Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf and Arthur Rimbaud.

The image of the Bohemian way of life has long been a source of fascination and inspiration for aspiring artists and writers. The Bohemian side of Barcelona is perhaps not as well known as its Parisian counterpart; however, the Bohemian spirit plays a crucial role in the cultural fabric of the Catalan capital. One unique aspect of Barcelona is that each particular barrio of the city seems to have its own bohemian aspirations, from the narrow alleys of El Raval to the bars of El Born and the cafes of Gràcia. In this article, we will provide a short history of Bohemian Barcelona, and we will also reveal a few of the best places to get a feel for this artistic environment in the city now.  The seeds were sown for the Bohemian spirit in Barcelona with the opening of Els Quatre Gats, so it seems fitting to begin our tour in this atmospheric restaurant.

Els Quatre Gats

It was a desire to re-create the Bohemian atmosphere of Paris in Barcelona that lead Pere Romeu to open Els Quatre Gats.  Designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch (one of the foremost architects of the Modernisme movement), this restaurant soon became the point of convergence for artists in Catalonia, including Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas. However, Els Quatre Gats owes no small part of its fame to the patronage of one artist in particular: Pablo Picasso. The young Picasso was a frequent visitor to Els Quatre Gats and even held his first exhibition in one of its rooms. He also designed the restaurant’s menu, and this in itself continues to be a draw for many tourists.

Els Quatre Gats Inside Els Quatre Gats by Pedro y Sergio

The focus of Els Quatre Gats in its original fin de siècle guise was heavily placed on the “spirit of the restaurant”, at the cost of financial gain. Romeu would let customers eat and drink for free if they found themselves unable (and in some cases, merely unwilling) to pay. The modern-day owners are not as idealistic (or, some might say, commercially naïve) as Romeu; therefore, as in many restaurants, the food and drinks in Els Quatre Gats cost money nowadays. However, the fixed-price meals are reasonable, particularly at lunch-time (€14), and this combination of good food and an artistic atmosphere makes this restaurant a must-do for any Picasso or Rusiñol fans.

Bohemian Barcelona in the 21st Century

Nevertheless, the importance of Els Quatre Gats within the landscape of Bohemian Barcelona does not mean that the Bohemian spirit is merely a relic of the past. The concept of a café or restaurant that offers an experience, rather than the sterile ambience of large corporate chains, is still alive and well in Barcelona. Cafes such as Bohemia Café may not be subtle in their branding, but at least they set out to offer something more from a coffee-house. Unlike many other bohemian cafes in Barcelona, it is actually situated in the Eixample (the newer part of the city), but is still dedicated to the Bohemian ideal of exchanging thoughts and ideas in creative surroundings.


Given that Bohemian artists were originally seen as a variety of roving, literary gypsy, it is fitting that there is also a range of Bohemian Barcelona walking tours.  Icono offers a tour entitled ‘Barcelona 1900s: A Bohemian city’, and this is a worthwhile introduction to the artistic movements that arose from the spirit of the age. This tour takes in some of the best Bohemian bars in Barcelona, but is also a useful guide to the artistic development of the young Picasso in the city.  Many of these tours make a visit to Carrer d’Avinyó, the street that inspired one of Picasso’s most influential paintings: “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”.Furthermore, the impact of the bohemian way of life goes beyond the spheres of gastronomy and literature. For example, one of the most famous and lasting impressions made by Bohemianism can be seen in the world of fashion. In Barcelona, this is reflected in clothes shops such as La Bohème on Calle Ferran. Once more, the nod to Bohemianism is less than subtle, but it does offer clothing that is different from the seemingly ubiquitous chain stores on the Barcelona high street, with each item of clothing created by an artist.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by ahisgett

The concept of a Bohemia-inspired business may seem paradoxical, given that bohemianism sprang from an opposition to commercialism. However, the fact that so many tourists are attracted to these tours and restaurants is testament to the attraction that the Bohemian way of life continues to hold.  Therefore, if you are in the city and would like to experience the Bohemian way of life, there are numerous options available to let you follow in the footsteps of Barcelona’s famous Bohemians.


Els Quatre Gats
Address:
Carrer Montsió 3-bis;
Phone: 93 302 41 40
Metro: Urquinaona image image
Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 10am-2pmBohemia Cafe
Address:
c/ Diputació, 174.
08011 Barcelona.
Phone: 934 522 268MAP

View Bohemian Barcelona in a larger map

Are you interested in Barcelona’s bohemian scene? Do you know of any other great bohemian hangouts? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to drop us a comment below.

Clark


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