emorable bars tend to go unnoticed. La Bodega d’en Rafel, one of Sant Antoni’s monuments, in theory does not meet any of the requirements that would enshrine it as a culinary temple. No designer furniture, nor an exclusive parish, nor star-studded cookers. Not even a terrace: «I bought tables and chairs, but the Town Council would complain about it and decided to store them in the warehouse», explains Rafel Jordana, the district’s most popular celebrity and the place’s owner.
From Carrer Manso, the only thing you see is a glass door jammed with advertising leaflets. Once inside, our sight zooms in on its extra-long counter top and its patrons perched on it, quenching their thirst. Only by forging our way through the crowd can we spot its marble tables and hideous mosaics, as well as its Andalusian patio, of its tiled floor. You had been warned; here glamour is conspicuous by its absence.
And yet the place, La Bodega d’en Rafel has a certain aura, an elusive je ne se quoi that converts this complete wreck into one of the most beloved joints in Barcelona. Maybe it is because of its nosh-up, or its amazing Olympic and surprisingly cheap cured ham. Or its clientele ranging from morning retirees to evening youth through Erasmus students, freelancers and students from surrounding regions. Or maybe the secret lies in its personnel, locals like Michael, for years the star waiter –at least our top-notch waiter–, a real rockabilly that would get stressed out when the place got busier and would take the orders up to three times. He died a few months ago but, luckily, he managed to go to Memphis and do the Elvis tour: when he came back, he would recount it to everyone in full detail.
«You could have the best local market in the world or serve the best food on the planet, if you have no sympathy and don’t care about your clientele, they will never come back». And he is right: judging by the long queue formed outside, Rafel must certainly have a big heart.
Who knows, maybe the best secret of La Bodega d’en Rafel is, quite simply, Rafel Jordana himself. He admits he would have never imagined himself as a bartender. Born in Astell, in the Vall Fosca region, he came down to study in Barcelona and soon found a job in the bikes and publicity market. «Until the father of Maria, my wife, the joint’s owner, fell ill and died. I left the bikes and took over the business». Since then, he has been at the forefront of the bar for over four decades. Formerly called «Terra Alta», the place was renamed under its current name. Accordingly, the official renaming as La Bodega d’en Rafel is tightly linked to the district’s awakening process, fifteen years before becoming the current hipsterland.
Be that as it may, Rafel, quiet and discrete, really knows how to build up loyalty-driven trust more than any business card. He claims confidence is a family legacy, a gift from his parents, true benchmarks of the region of Pallars: «They taught me how to sympathise with people. Everybody has passed through Astell’s family home, and the mother has cooked for Josep Pla, for many politicians, and also for the Roca brothers». This sense of hospitality, an increasingly rare feature in a time of results, profits and loss accounts, could be another reason behind the Rafelian intangible assets. After all, «a business is made by its owner » is one of the house’s mottos. «You could have the best local market in the world or serve the best food on the planet, if you have no sympathy and don’t care about your clientele, they will never come back». And he is right: judging by the long queue formed outside, Rafel must certainly have a big heart.