Els Quatre Gats–Casa Martí

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Els Quatre Gats–Casa Martí

Built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch for the Martí family, this Art Nouveau house, a three-minute walk from the cathedral, was the fountainhead of bohemianism in Barcelona. It was here in 1897 that four friends, notable dandies all—Ramon Casas, Pere Romeu, Santiago Russinyol, and Miguel Utrillo—started a café-restaurant called the Quatre Gats (Four Cats), meaning to make it the place for artists and art lovers to gather and shoot the breeze, in the best Left Bank tradition. (One of their wisest decisions was to mount a show, in February 1900, for an up-and-coming young painter named Pablo Picasso, who had done the illustration for the cover of the menu.) The exterior was decorated with figures by sculptor Eusebi Arnau (1864–1934), a darling of the Moderniste movement—notice the wrought-iron St. George and the dragon (that no Puig i Cadafalch project ever failed to include) over the door. Inside, Els Quatre Gats hasn't changed one iota: the tile and stained glass are as they were; the bar is at it was; the walls are hung with copies of work by the original owners and their circle. (Pride of place goes to the Casas self-portait, smoking his pipe, comedically teamed up on a tandem bicycle with Romeu.) Drop in for a break. Who knows? You might be taking your café au lait in Picasso's chair. Have a quick look as well at the dining room in back, with its unusual gallery seating upstairs; the room (where Miró used to produce puppet theater) is charming, but the food is nothing to rave about. Quatre gats in Catalan is a euphemism for "hardly anybody," but the four founders were all definitely somebodies.

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