The Lung Brothers

Hanging out at the extreme end of the long tail ...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Obits and Pieces Nº. 2 – Chez Popov.

As mentioned previously, my intention with this series is to pay homage to all those wonderfully grungy dives that the Elder and I used to frequent during our first heady years in Barcelona and which tragically no longer exist.

Within the cannon of Spanish-nightlife jargon, one often comes across the word ‘El After’. This little bon mot refers to those bars that remain open long after the standard bars (which already stay open pretty late) have pulled their shutters.

Now to refer to Chez Popov as an ‘After’ would be doing it an injustice. Chez Popov was the last-resort oasis that would welcome you with open tentacles when all other watering holes had dried up and you were too drunk to know better. Chez Popov only began to hit full swing when the street-cleaning machines were hitting the streets. Chez Popov was in essence the ‘After’s After’.

Please note that any difficulty I may have in describing the place is not due to a lack of expressive ability on my part but more down to the fact that when there, I was never, ever even remotely sober. So pray, cut an old drunk some slack.

The bar was located down a litter-strewn, urine-marinated back lane which ran parallel to the Ramblas. One would never guess while sitting during daylight hours in the charming and civilized Café de L’Opera that right behind your bar, another far seedier one sat waiting for night to fall.

So you’re on the streets of the Raval in the wee hours of a Sunday morning after having been slung out of some overcrowded drinking pit. You’re enjoying the oxygen-rich night air, working very hard in the field of optical focus and trying desperately not to have your pockets picked by the local North African entrepreneurs. What to you do? Well heck, you decide to have one for the road, don’t you? This is because you are a moron.

So you tramp back across the Ramblas trying not to slip on the recently hosed paving tiles, pass McDonalds with its characteristic McDonalds' stench, swing a left through the piles of cardboard boxes and suspicious looking puddles. You toss a mental coin in your head as to whether this new stench is worse than the previous one. And finally you arrive at the gigantic wooden door with the proprietor standing outside vetting all those who enter.

A little man with the bitter face of a bulldog licking piss off a nettle, he stares at everyone who arrives with total and utter hostility as if they’d all been dipped in shit and then sent to rob him. He still lets them all in though. You often wonder what he’s looking for with this little checkpoint routine. I mean, if he’s letting every drugged up, drunken lowlife inside the kip, what exactly would it take to get refused at the door?

You enter. The place (if beer-doused memory serves me well) looks a little like an Andalucian tapas restaurant, whitewashed walls with some decorative tiles, wooden benches and stairs, black cast-iron lighting fixtures. Breathing the air in Chez Popov challenges any preconceived notion you may have had about human sweat being exclusively a liquid.

El Diabolico comes over and gruffly takes your order. Poor guy. He may be a wonderfully warm human being when you get to know him but everybody calls him El Diabolico because he has the most evil face you’ve ever seen. It’s quite impressive really. Imagine what the actor Dan Hedaya would look like after knocking back a draught of Dr. Jekyll’s potion.

The moment you take the first slug of your beer you realise what an idiot you are. You have passed the peak of your buzz and this beer is not going to get you any drunker, just woozier. Chatting with your friends has become an effort so you look for some other distraction. As always, there is the video jukebox in the corner, as always there is you fiddling clumsily in your pockets for some change and like on every other visit to Chez P, you observe yourself punching in the same damn code. You sit back on your bench, ignore your friends and wait for the bright and glaring primary colours of Kylie Minogue’s, Confide In Me to appear.

You are amazed at the video director’s skill in being able to reactivate the libido of what is essentially an alcohol-saturated sack of skin and flesh. You can imagine yourself long into the future, a frail 92-year old, not too many marbles left to lose, half-abandoned in a remote old-folks home. And in some televised (or pod-ized or whatever the technology will be then) tribute to the nineties, that video once again pops up on the screen. You’d like to think that, despite your diminished constitution and meagre mental fortitude, the video will still work its old magic and get the sap flowing in your twig-like frame. The nurses will not believe their eyes when they notice that the image isn’t the only thing that’s popping up.

The rest of the evening is a blur and you only half remember the walk home. You of course, realise what an utter spa you were to have tried to squeeze more out of the night and swear never to return to that armpit. I honestly rarely enjoyed my time in that damn bar but now that it’s gone, I really miss knowing it’s there.

So I salute you Chez Popov, for your likes will not be seen again.

Next instalment - The Salam Sandwich Bar