Marsella bar is almost two hundred years old and has survived bohemian Barcelona, ​​the Franco regime and the transformation of a hopeless neighbourhood.

When Hans Christian Andersen-author of The Little Mermaid or The Ugly Duckling-stayed at La Rambla, he said  the Catalan capital had a Parisian touch. He was right. The city followed the steps of Rimbaud, Baudelaire or Van Gogh. It had all chances to become a mandatory stop for those bohemians who looked for their muses by hard drinking. That’s why Marsella bar was founded in 1820, becoming the oldest in Barcelona.

Two hundred years have passed and Marseille bar has not changed: cracked walls, an old ceiling presided by a chandelier and a bar full of alcohol and dust. In fact, gossiping tongues ​​say that it’s not been cleaned since its inauguration. Despite the Spanish anti-smoking law, there’s a certain haze that makes thinking so.

bares del raval
Marsella bar, in Barcelona.


So, what’s so special in an oppressive, dusty bar located in El Raval? Why is always overflowing of locals and tourists? Easy: history.  Marsella bar is linked to a maudit time. Those Moulin Rouge years where misunderstood artists fell in love with prostitutes. When Art and poetry was in the air and intellectuals argued about politics. A time when Pablo Picasso was tormented by the death of his best friend, Salvador Dalí showed off his eccentricity in La Rambla and Ernest Hemingway was lost in some bar of Barcelona.

els quatre gats
‘The absinthe drinker’, by Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1903).


The absinthe bar

These three geniuses were customers of Marsella bar. They are directly responsible of its long lasting fame. They looked for the same thing: absinthe. Today it is still the top drink of the bar. Gone were the times of green fairies inspiring a piece of art, but the drinking ritual still remains. They used to serve the drink with a fork, a lump of sugar and a glass of cold water. The fork is placed in the aperture of the glass or cup and over it, the lump soaked in liquor, which is set on fire. The water serves to reduce absinthe and dissolve sugar. That’s how les Poètes maudits drank  and that’s how it continues to be done.

Other vestiges of Marsella bar are the “singing is forbidden” and “Remaining in the tables is forbidden” posters. They were hanged to avoid clandestine meetings during the Franco regime. It was suspected it was the meeting point of intellectuals and artists against the regime.

Marsella bar was about to disappear in 2013. The rental license expired and some companies were interested in occupying that space. Thanks to the mobilization of the Barcelonians under the slogan Save Marsella bar. It concluded in the City Council of Barcelona buying the property for more than one million euros. This is how this piece of history was saved; a spirit that, despite the new times, remains.

bar marsella
Absinthe shot.