Of all the cool spots I’ve stumbled upon over the years, whether close to home or in my travels, none brings such a smile to my face as memories of the bar at the Antic Teatre in the El Born district in Barcelona. After a hectic first day wandering around the very touristy Barri Gótic, the laid back vibe of this secret garden was a joy to find. It illustrates a fundamental principle of travel, especially solo travel: Be brave, throw out your guidebook (sometimes), and just follow the locals.

Antic Teatre: One of the best places I’ve ever stumbled upon

Following young Catalan speakers my first evening in Barcelona, I ducked through a doorway, walked up the short flight of stairs leading into the Antic Teatre, and then very nearly burst into applause. I swear I held onto my hands to keep from clapping.

Hidden from the throngs milling around the Palau de la Música Catalana and the tourist café across the Carrer, was a secret terrace and garden in the middle of the city. People of all ages sat in plastic chairs branded with the San Miguel beer logo, at tables scattered around the base of a tree growing in the center of the garden. Others sat on the walls, or up on the terrace, or even on the ground. Some worked or read; most were chatting away and smoking. Their ages spanned the years, and I think I was the only American there.

I’ll have what she’s having

Having claimed a spot in the garden (there weren’t many), I followed people up to the bar, and ordered a super cheap caña clara (a small beer mixed with lemon soda—think a shandy) copying the order of the person in front of me.

I shook my head and smiled when the bartender asked me, “Algun mas? Anything else?”

“Gracias,” I said after paying, doing my best Barcelona attempt (and failing). He smiled.

Back at my seat, I lowered my head to keep my grin from showing. I got out my book, and made sure that it lay flat to not give me away too quickly, and, looking up, took it all in.

Antic Teatre, Barcelona
Hanging out in the garden of Antic Teatre

Antic Teatre’s unique vibe

There was nothing to do. No waiters wandering around. Some people had plates of food on their laps, eating and talking. Like other European cafés, there was no rush to leave, but the vibe was all its own. I could have stayed there all evening long, nursing one little beer, and no one would have said a word or given me more than a second glance. I just sat and listened to people  around me, enjoyed the shade from the trees in the early evening (even in September, the sun sets around 19:30), and relaxed. Not having to talk a lot is one of solo travel’s greatest pleasures to me.

Milling around the Palau de la Música Catalana

Milling around the Palau de la Música Catalana

The only reason why I had noticed the entrance to Antic Teatre at all was because I’d shown up a bit early to meet my host at the Palau de la Música Catalana, and he was running late. As impressive as the building designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner appeared from the outside, I needed to keep moving (having landed very early in the morning and due to meet my host around 14:00) to keep from falling over.

A hectic first morning in Barcelona, exploring the Barri Gótic

My flight had landed around six o’clock that morning, and, despite my best intentions, I hadn’t slept much. I’d taken the Aerobus from the airport, stashed my bag at Locker Barcelona, and then spent the day wandering round the Barri Gótic before heading over to El Born to meet my host.

After a cortado and some breakfast at Els Quatre Gats (a very touristy spot with a long history; ordering the cortado definitely endeared me to my server), I wandered about the oldest part of Barcelona—and the most touristy.

I like to do a lot of touristy stuff my first jetlagged day in a new place. The shock to the senses keeps me awake, mostly, and it’s also a decent orientation to a new location.

A hectic first day in Barri Gótic

And my first vermut

I took in the incredible architecture, checked out some of the La Mercè festival in the Plaça de Catalunya, and partook of my first vermut in a cool little bar whose name I forget, following the lead of people who weren’t speaking English, French, or German. Two women joined me at the little standing table I occupied, opened a bag of chips, and one of them gave me a little shrug and sniffed as if to say, “We’re here now, deal with it.” She had no idea that I thought it was perfect.

September 24 marks the end of the annual La Mercè festival; it was a holiday, and so there were people everywhere in the Barri Gótic. My senses overloaded, not a bad thing in my jetlagged state, but I was running on fumes. Having arrived at the meeting point to connect with my host, I knew I couldn’t stand still at the Palau de la Música Catalana.

A little wander revealed something that piqued my interest

And so I milled around a bit in the vicinity. Carrer (a street) de Verdaguer i Callís,  a narrow Barcelona side street directly across from the Palau, had a tourist café, a funky bookstore where I browsed for a bit, a museum, and a theater, called the Antic Teatre. People kept wandering in and out of the theater, and they caught my attention.

They didn’t look like they were going to a performance, and they didn’t look like tourists. I peeked in and saw posters for performances. Maybe all these people were in some kind of big production? It didn’t look that way. Hmmm. What’s this all about?

La Ribera, Barcelona
Wandering on the quieter side streets of La Ribera

Following the locals into Antic Teatre

My host texted just then that he was on his way, so I went to meet him, but I resolved to go back there and check it out. Once settled into my very cool flat in Barri La Ribera (and having showered), I headed out for a wander around the neighborhood, in the general direction of Antic Teatre, but along the Carrer de Sant Pere Mitjà, instead of the main drag. I zig-zagged a bit up and down, loving the distinct tall buildings and narrow streets that provide shade in the heat of the day and the quieter pace in the quarter.

Having arrived back at Antic Teatre, I had a brief moment of hesitation before following the young people through the doorway and up the stair. What if I was about to make a huge faux pas? It didn’t last long. I just decided that if I had, I would pretend that I was lost and that I would just never walk down that Carrer ever again.

Be brave 

And so, I followed my own motto: Be brave (there’s a corollary, “Don’t be stupid,” but we’ll get to that another time). Take a risk. Not everything goes right (I did indeed make some faux pas on that day), but not taking oneself so seriously that one dares not venture beyond the guidebooks allows us to find the magic of a place. As a solo traveler, it’s not like anyone would remember your mistake back home anyway. 

Antic Teatre became one of my Barcelona spots

I didn’t go to any performances there, a regret that I would like to rectify someday, but I returned to Antic Teatre repeatedly during my stay. We just don’t have places like that in the US, and I couldn’t get enough. Antic Teatre was pretty unique for Barcelona, too, at least as far as I could tell.  

Perhaps all of our al fresco experiments in these Covid times will lead to something in the US, but it would be a stretch for something so magical to work here. I’m writing this from the terrace of a café around the corner from me, one of my favorite local spots. It’s not the same, but perhaps it’s what made me remember Antic Teatre and tell you about it.

My last time at Antic Teatre . . . for now

A little snippet of the garden at Antic Teatre

My last day in  Barcelona on that leg of my trip, I did something I generally don’t do, I made a little recording of the voices I heard (I didn’t film the people, as that felt invasive). I also had a little conversation with the bartender, who recognized me from my first caña clara. I was truly sad to leave it.

Antic Teatre info and some sad news

According to the website, Antic Teatre dates back to 1979 and the building dates back to 1650. The bar is one of its main sources of revenue for the theatre and helps to keep it running. Antic Teatre is devoted to radical artistic expression.

In researching this post, I’ve learned that the landlord has announced an intention not to renew the lease beyond 2027 without raising the rent 500%, so this is a hidden gem under threat. This place is so special that my heart would break if it disappeared.

May Antic Teatre be saved, but if you’re going to go (and I really hope you do), you should plan to go soon.

What’s your favorite hidden travel find? Let me know in the comments!


Subscribe today and receive a monthly newsletter and other subscriber goodies. Exclusive travel guides coming soon!