It was a balmy summer afternoon in El Born, Barcelona’s fashionably offbeat neighborhood. I arrived at 5 p.m. to meet a friend who had special access to Paradiso—the best cocktail bar in the world according to The World’s 50 Best Bars, one of the foremost authorities on the matter. I said to the doorman, “This is tiny, and doesn’t look like a bar?” He smiled and replied, “This is the Pastrami Bar, a front. Paradiso is a speakeasy-style cocktail bar and is hidden.” He then opened an old-fashioned refrigerator door, where I assumed they stored the pastrami for the Rooftop Smokehouse—a gastronomic collective that uses artisan smoking techniques. The mood changed, as I encountered music, laughter and an ebullient atmosphere I wanted to enter.
The owner, Tuscany-born Giacomo Giannotti, grew up in the family ice cream bar, Gelateria Paradiso, which is where he got his whimsy. He then discovered his passion for mixology and bars while studying hospitality. London became his stepping stone to knowledge and success, and after four years there he moved to Barcelona, where he stood out for his ability to make connections. I always say that hospitality is difficult to learn. People are born with it in their genes and it develops with age.
Paradiso’s modern design features sinuously shaped wooden walls, a bar top of Carrara marble, and myriad tropical elements. The bar’s latest cocktail menu is called The Evolution, inspired by discoveries that have marked the history of humankind. It features 14 new drinks—I tried half and all were worth it. After a “palate opener” cocktail, I decided to start with the Legacy, which honors the first writing in 3000 BC. A daiquiri-style cocktail made with Takamaka and Santa Teresa 1796 rums, fennel cordial, caper honey, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto and citrus, it is presented in a closed book. I opened it to discover this potion, covered with a garnish of edible rice paper decorated with scriptures, baked with caramel and capers.
My second cocktail, the Fleming, an ode to the scientist who discovered the revolutionary penicillin, is served in a fermenting glass adorned with a strip of agar-agar and a grapefruit fermented with tempeh spores. But don’t be alarmed—its smoky mushroom flavor is delicious. Like a paloma but bright gold, the drink features aged Don Julio infused in black miso, beer syrup, grapefruit juice, grapefruit kefir and clarified Thai milk. A kumquat filled with a ganache of chocolate and miso is eaten first to accentuate the flavors of the drink. Next, the cosmopolitan-like Voyage is inspired by the exploration of new worlds. My flying-saucer vessel was garnished with an explosive red-fruit-filled bonbon covered in white chocolate.
Two gins, Mare and Principe de los Apostoles, are mixed with shiso, lemongrass, riboflavin, Electric liqueur, grapefruit cordial and chocolate bitters to create Kryptonite, an electric-green cocktail. I could not leave without tasting their take on a dry martini. Though I like mine extra dry with no vermouth, I accepted their Supercool Martini, a dry Tanqueray No. Ten with fennel and oregano, dry Mancino vermouth and a chilled gordal olive with an unforgettable bite.
Paradiso was so good I wished I could have stayed all night. Of all the bars I have ever visited, this is one I will never forget.