You Had Me at Beach Bar

As my friend, Sarah, noted: “It looks like the arrow was painted after visiting said bar.”

“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”
― Hunter S. Thompson

Ever since moving to Jávea seven weeks ago I have been dying to go to Bar La Barraca, a kooky little beachfront bar and cafe near our house. To get there, you walk down a steep incline to the rocky Barraca Beach bounded on the right by a large outcropping. On the cliff wall the word “Bar” is painted coupled with a squiggly arrow, guiding the way along a narrow strip of land to the destination.

We had hiked down to the place a few times on our daily morning walkabouts and had admired it from La Falsia mirador 100 meters above, and once stopped in early one morning to use the servicios (restaurants and bars in Jávea are great about allowing non-customers to use them). We even ended up getting into a somewhat heated but still good-natured argument involving steamed versus fried clams with Tony, the manager/bartender/cook/dishwasher — a balding, middle-aged Spaniard, who looked like he hadn’t slept in two days, wearing a blue apron over a faded polo, and smoking a cigarette while holding a tray with two beers destined for a couple seated a few feet away who seemed nonplussed by the ashes near their drinks and the delay in their impending arrival. But we had never officially patronized the place, so it seemed like as good day as any to do so.

Without a single modification, the place could host a scene from a film set in 1952, or in 1902. La Barraca is a slightly faded and weatherbeaten white stucco structure with cobalt blue accents and a large outdoor wooden patio on which about 12 tables overlook the water. The menus are chalk boards, hand written in both in Spanish and English and featuring a variety of tapas, primarily fresh local fish. Colorfully painted pots with jewel red geraniums are mounted on the outside walls. Nearby, a little room enclosed on three sides but open towards the sea houses an assortment of paella pans in various sizes hanging on the walls. They look well used — a good sign.

As it was not even 11:30AM and a weekday and we were well aware that a steep walk down means even a steeper walk up, we opted for coffees, a shame because Bar Barraca is the perfect place to sit by the sea, listen to the surf and the seagulls, and drink one…or seven beers. Tony wasn’t there but the guy on duty looked remarkably like him, down to the cigarette dangling from his lips as he took the order of two people seated a few tables away. Bar Barraca appears to be a one-man show. Whoever works a given shift seems to do it all, from cooking paella to breading clams to frying sardines to pouring drinks to making espresso to washing dishes. Not-Tony nodded in our direction indicating he’d be with us soon so we sat at a little table that was half in the sun, half in the shade and gazed at the water sparkling beneath us.

Our coffees arrived complete with sugar packets emblazoned in fortunes. Mine translated from the Spanish to “I am what you expected. You are right, I am much more than you were looking for.” Tom’s was, “In life we all have an unmentionable secret, a regretful, unattainable dream, and a love [something something something]. Unfortunately, the sun blocked the rest of the quote in the photo I took so by the time I got home and tried to decipher it even my Google Translate was stumped.

Our Coffees

Before we knew it, almost an hour had passed. Not-Tony never once hassled us about ordering another round or the fact we weren’t eating (again, typical in Jávea). At the table next to us a man in athletic clothes who looked to be in his late 40s sat down and ordered a beer. He opened a book and began reading but when his beer came, he picked up the glass, and raised it to us in a sort of half-toast. I understood the sentiment. It’s hard for me to take a drink in public without that sort of acknowledgement. After awhile, Tom, whose philosophy of life boils down to that quote about strangers just being friends one hasn’t yet met, greeted him. It turned out his name was François and he was from Nantes. His English was about as good as my French so we limped along in conversation learning about each other’s lives. He told us that he and his wife, who was working back home, had an apartment down by the port. He explained they were avid hikers, cyclists, and travelers and seemed to appreciate Tom’s and my hiking attire. We exchanged WhatsApp contact info with the promise that when his wife was in town, the four of us would meet up. It’s one of the things I love most about this part of the world – the ease with which one makes friends.

As we walked out we passed Not-Tony in the paella pan room, cheerfully scrubbing dishes in the sink, cigarette dangling. He raised a soapy hand in farewell, his recent animosity toward Tom who had paid for our two coffees with the only money he had, a 50 euro bill, apparently forgotten.

Oh, and if you can figure out the rest of the fortune, I’ll buy you a beer. Or seven. But you still have to walk uphill on the way home.

View from La Falsia down to Bar La Barraca, about 100 meters below.

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