While London has a severe case of Polynesiaphilia (six Tiki bars opened there this year alone) and Hamburg, Oslo, and even Moscow show signs of infection, Barcelona has long been Europe’s most Tikified city. And Kahala has long been it’s most Tikified bar.
The Beachbum’s host during a recent Barcelona visit, Ivan “Bastardo Saffrin” Castro, filled us in: “You know why Kahala has such good decor? In the 1970s there were 12 Tiki bars in Barcelona, and the owners used to play poker together. And they bid with their Tikis. And Nicolas, the owner of Kahala, was a very good poker player.” The decor is indeed impressive, from the jungle lagoon foyer — whose wooden bridge takes you over a babbling brook past temple ruins — to the artfully lit friezes adorning the bar, where each drink is served in a different bespoke Tiki mug, many dating back to Kahala’s opening day in 1971.
Kahala served Cantonese food until 1977, but stopped when actual Chinese restaurants began popping up in Barcelona. Encouraged by the global Tiki Revival, Nicolas has restored Kahala to a full-service restaurant. His new chef, Santi Lafonfioni, offers a luau that starts with classic pupus, done to a turn, followed by a whole roast suckling pig, and a show-stopping dessert tray featuring a delectable Fog Cutter Mousse and mini Easter Island moais made of Portuguese marzipan.
After pausing to admire Nicolas’s Tikified Harley parked on the sidewalk (complete with coconut headlight housings), we headed across town to Barcelona’s newest Tiki bar, Tahití (pictured above). The boxy room is short on decor but long on aloha. Alberto and Vasco, the friendly, enthusiastic bartenders, serve every drink with a smile — and a flaming sugar cube.
One thousand eyes watched us stumble to our next bar. They were all affixed to the walls of Ohla Hotel, whose surreal exterior presaged the Cocteau-esque drinks of Max La Rocca and Giuseppe Santamaria, the team behind Ohla’s Boutique Bar. Working side by side with serene economy of movement and a limpid, almost feline grace, Max and Guiseppe served us a progression of increasingly complex setpieces: a Deconstructed Negroni with kumquat jelly … a Rhubarb Crusta … a Gin Mai Tai topped with cherries soaked in Port, Dubonnet, vanilla sugar and bitters … a tripartite cocktail called Three Is The Magic Number, with three base spirits, three bitters, and three sweeteners, all bound together with chocolate smoke wafting from a hand-blown decanter (pictured below). This last was a command performance, a pas de deux of concentrated but seemingly effortless industry. It topped even Giuseppe’s Mulata Mojito, whose never-ending garnish began with chocolate swizzle sticks and ended umpteen items later with a cascade of gold dust.
Anything after Ohla would have been anticlimactic — with the possible exception of Las Boadas, founded in 1933 by Miguel Boadas Parera upon his return from Havana, where he’d tended bar at La Florida, Constantine Ribalaigua’s legendary “Cradle of the Daiquiri.” Our heart leapt as we entered Las Boadas to find barmen mixing drinks the old Cuban way, “throwing” them from mixing can to mixing can. We couldn’t place our order fast enough: “Daiquirí, por favor!” Feeling like the victim of a bait-and-switch scam, we watched our Daiquiri being mixed — in a blender. This, of course, is no sin: Constantine used a blender for many of his drinks, and so do we. But our Las Boadas Daiquiri was served slushy in a tall tumbler. And it was even sweeter than the canned maraschino cherry that topped it.
Fortunately, Ivan had a solution. He marched us around the corner and through an alley to The Caribbean Club. Our ruffled feathers were instantly smoothed by walls of dark polished ship’s wood, porthole windows, an extensive cocktail shaker collection, and display cases full of antique nautical curiosities. Ivan ordered Daiquiris for our party of four — which barman José Antonio made all at once in a large vintage Parisian shaker. We have read that Constantine measured his drinks so precisely that when he poured from his shaker into a row of glasses, the last drop filled the last glass right to the rim. So it was with José. The drink itself was perfect: tart, strong, frosty. The bum’s compliments, delivered in broken, dimly remembered high-school Spanish, must have made some sort of sense, as José grinned (whether at our gratitude or our ineptitude, we cannot say) and offered us a shot of one of the extinct rums from the Caribbean Club’s collection. We chose a limited-edition numbered bottle of 40-year-old Spanish rum, “Ron 1818,” which had sat unmolested on the shelf for so long that it took a pocket knife to pry the top loose. It took a crowbar to pry us out of José’s hideaway.