Anonymous review for Mr & Mrs Smith – Nov 2013.
The blue dotted line informs us that the Mercer is a six-minute walk from my apartment, but Google Maps doesn’t account for culinary deviations. It’s really just over ten if you stop to gorge on a Michelin-starred mascarpone croissant at the nearby Hofmann Bakery.
I live in Barcelona. It might seem loco to go on holiday just three bakeries, two Chinese supermarkets and seven tapas places away from where I bed down every night, but Mr Smith is visiting from London and flatmates aren’t sexy. From experience I can tell you that Mr & Mrs Smith hotel suites are. As is Barcelona.
It doesn’t matter how many times I wander through the familiar narrow pavements of the Gothic quarter, passing original boutiques, restaurants, dive bars and ruins, I never get desensitised to its whopping great basílica. If you look at Barcelona from a vantage point such as Montjuïc or the secret bunkers of Guinardó, its cathedrals appear as if in quicksand punctuating the landscape. They’re not shy.
Neither is the Mercer. Its cavernous stone arch entrance appears down a cobbled side street. ‘Welcome to Barcelona!’ We’re handed a cold, crisp glass of cava in a chic lobby, which reveals Roman ruins dating back to the 1st Century AD. The manager informs us, ‘These Roman ruins date back to the 1st Century AD!’
His enthusiastic tour reveals a considered interior of Gothic and modern architecture offsetting the historic walls, a busy tapas joint behind Lynch-y velvet curtains, a Mad Men-style bar, a sophisticated restaurant with a glass courtyard of orange trees, and a rooftop pool. To top this off, we’ve been upgraded to the best suite, all because I’m craving the one thing Barcelona apartments are seriously short of – a bath tub – and had requested a room in which I could soak the night away.
Jesús wept! The bath is as big as my bed, the bed more sizeable than my bedroom, and the suite is larger than my apartment. We sack off visiting the decadent Aire Arabian-style Baths in Born for now, as we’ve got our own private bathing zone – and it’s enshrined within a suite of gold Gothic arches, exposed brickwork and deep-purple furniture… plus there’s no old man watching us in Speedos from the corner.
Things get mediaeval. That night we dine on rabbit, pork, ham and mussels in one of my favourite tapas places – Bar Angel – which you’ll find hidden down a side street behind the ornate Estació de França. I’m not ashamed to admit that Mr Smith and I are catching zeds in our oversized bed by the time most locals go to dinner. I fall asleep fantasising that this suite is my apartment, in denial that I kip just the other side of Via Laietana on a glorified camp-bed which catapults Mr Smith across the room if he ‘sits’ on it too excitedly.
The next morning cathedral chimes signal time for more gastronomic joy. Ever since I moved here I’ve been dying to try out the nearby Cal Pep, the traditional tapas place that inspired London’s Barrafina. On this magical Friday afternoon there is no queue. I can tell you now that I’ve finally tasted it, I’d happily stand in line for its tuna tartare. We wash it down with a stop-off at Can Paixano, a one-of-a-kind champañeria down a side street of electrical goods. Hams and chorizos swing above our heads as we get toasted on 4 euro bottles of pink fizz and laugh at any tourists wearing white as it flies over heads.
Apparently there is an art to eating tapas – ‘tapeo’. If it’s artistic to stuff your face at every given opportunity – little and often – then give me a ‘montadito’ and call me El Gordo, because we’re already thinking about what to eat next.
That night we dine in the stunning wine-lined Mercer Restaurant, blinded by a crisp, white tablecloth, followed by an even crisper and whiter waiter. After a decadent one-two punch of goat, then fish, served in the Catalan style (slow), we imbibe a wickedly strong ‘gintonic’ at the adjoining cocktail bar and have a slightly boozy browse through the hotel library, the choice being random and eclectic (covering roof design, birdwatching and vampires).
Spurred on by the finest in food and booze, we venture into the Gothic area to an archetypal cosy Catalan bar called Andú. As is often common in Barcelona, the drinks are large and plentiful, yet the bill is only 15 euros each. Fast forward to daylight as we emerge from a late-night dive bar somewhere in the neighbourhood. It’s confusing, but in the best possible way.
Back at the hotel, it’s time for a game of musical chairs as Mr Smith and I shift from designer chairs as comfortable as a La-Z-Boy, to plump purple couch, to sumptuous bed. Never have we been happier to have such a large mattress on which to flop. A few hours later the blue skies of Barcelona encourage us up and out. Hola, Sunday.
I love a Sunday mooch. With such a central location the Mercer’s Gothic location is ideal. On one side you have the Rambla, the gritty Raval barrio and up-and-coming Poble Sec, and on the other, the chic Born and Parc de la Cuitadella (which I call Hyde-Park-on-acid). That’s not forgetting Barceloneta beach.
We hum, hah and then hire bicycles from Ride or Die (looking likely we’ll do both as more cava is involved). Cycling like born-again tourists in my adopted home city gives me a renewed appreciation of the place as we make our wobbly way along the coast. With Mr Smith here, the port’s local musicians sound like perfect soundtrack to an exotic Latino film of our lives. The next scene opens on a sandy beach, the two of us sunning ourselves with waves shimmering in the distance.
On the journey back, we stop in on Lost & Found vintage market, an infinitely Instagrammable collection of the city’s tat-and-beard brigade. It’s a monthly must see and out-does London for ‘hipsta please’ moments. Fashionista-watching over, we weave our way back to the hotel.
Upon checking out we reflect upon the luxuries of the Mercer Hotel. I ponder again how it might seem loco to holiday in the city in which you live, when Mr Smith, in a rare moment of insightfulness (or a more regular moment of drunkenness) points out it’s not the journey but the destination that counts. When the destination is the Mercer Barcelona, any journey, no matter how short or long, is worth it.
PD. (That’s PS. In Spanish). Do I get props for not mentioning Gaudi?