But the art work, designed by Ramon Casas, was modern and exciting, and helped the restaurant stand out in the crowded Barcelona social scene. The restaurant quickly turned into a watering hole for members of Barcelona's bohemian set. Modernist writers, poets and artists gathered here to exchange ideas, meet each other's sisters and get drunk. In addition to socialising, the groups also organised literary circles, gatherings and conferences.
In 1899, a young Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) held his first-ever exhibition at the restaurant, and it was there that he received his very first paid commission - designing the front cover of the menu. Picasso was hooked! As was the young sculptor Julio Gonzales aka Juan Gris who began to visit Els Quatre Gats where he of course met Pablo Picasso.
Entrance to the restaurant in 2012
Of course Picasso was under age, but we can see even today why this place might have attracted young artists on the make for their careers and for their social lives. Picasso had visited France a number of times, but by the time he left Spain for a permanent home in France in 1904, some of his paintings had already been hung on the walls of Else Quatre Gats.
Pere Romeu was an attentive host; he sat with his customers and presided over social gatherings in which "the world was fixed". As they did in Paris, Els 4 Gats staged exhibitions, musical meetings and every other activity that could amuse the minds of the creative set. In 1899, Ramon Casas started a literary and artistic magazine, and sought contributions from other regulars. The magazine only lasted for 15 editions, but it became the basis of other, more ongoing literary productions. Shows of Chinese shadows and of marionettes were put on and, to announce them, Ramon Casas painted posters following the fashion of the time.
Main restaurant space, 2012
Art is still hanging on the walls.
For decades the building was used for many other purposes and wasn't restored to its former glory until 1978. But the timing was right for Barcelona. The despised dictator General Franco had finally died in 1975 and the Catalan capital could breathe a sigh of relief. The transition to democracy was accompanied by great food and drink, well displayed art and a powerful sense of history.
Readers might like to read about Bar Marsella, also in Barcelona.