El Raval: the alternative Gay District
8 February, 2017 - Barcelona
Barcelona is a city with different faces and personalities. Not all neighborhoods are the same, some of them are more hectic, others more calmed. Some are touristic and loud, some others more traditional and relaxed.
Certainly one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Barcelona is El Raval, located in the center of the city, with its own character and lifestyle. It is completely different from the rest of the city and it’s normally a taboo area for a lot of tourists (as well as for a lot of Barcelonians). It is the favorite neighborhood of a lot of art-lovers, as well as of those who love alternative lifestyles. But, what has this neighborhood that fascinates so many people and frightens so many others?
Quick history recap
El Raval is a neighborhood located inside of what used to be Barcelona until 1860, when the construction of the Eixample began. It is located on the left side of the famous street Las Ramblas, a boulevard often used as a “secure border” by many tourist, who are normally advised to avoid all the area on left part of the street (El Raval) and to visit the area on the right side of the same street (El Barri Gòtic). This is not surprising, since El Raval is crammed with pickpockets who steal wallets from unaware tourists and prostitutes who sometimes harass male passers-by, without mentioning the junkies that are to be found in some of its hidden corners, as well as disputes (sometimes even street fights) that may occur between the different communities of immigrants that live in El Raval.
But if it is such a conflictive neighborhood… why is it so frequented? Or better yet… Is it interesting for gays at all?
El Raval LGBTQ
The answers are to be found in the history of the city. Formerly, El Raval, known as Barcelona’s China Town, was the district of the city to which everything that was not fully accepted by society was displaced. It was an area full of cabarets where sailors would go to satisfy their lust and where other not pleasant communities were fast displaced to, like immigrants and (the reason of writing this article) homosexuals.
Jean Genet, for instance, describes in his autobiographical book “Journal du voleur” how it was living in Barcelona’s China Town at the beginning of the 30’s by talking about the misery on its streets and his homosexual romances in the neighborhood. This neighborhood was also the home of different anarchists projects (or organizations) frequented by a lot of different artists.
With this past and adding the attempts of the city to rescue this neighborhood with initiatives such as the construction of the MACBA and the Videoteca or the emplacement of the Philosophy and History faculties of the University of of Barcelona in the neighborhood, El Raval has now an unbelievable cultural mixture, where Muslim stores are placed next to artistic exposition halls and where Philippian hairdressers converge with gay flags.
An alternative atmosphere
For all these reasons, El Raval is the perfect place for those who love art and alternative lifestyles. This has also contributed to the perpetuation of an alternative gay atmosphere, different from the typical gay atmosphere (normally more influenced by beauty and glamour), offering a more alternative gay lifestyle with bars like la Concha, an Arabic gay-friendly bar where you can smoke a chicha; el Cangrejo, where artists like Lady Gaga are never played; la Pradera, a small bar where visitors are not separated by different tables but rather gathered in a more propitious place to interact with each other; or la Penúltima, with retro style sofas on which you can relax when the bar is not crowded or on which you can have interesting conversations with strangers when the bar has more visitors.
This is also the perfect neighborhood for those gay tourists who wish to see an alternative face of Barcelona, different from the typical Gayxample, without having to explore a more “adventurous” atmosphere like gay saunas or fetish bars.
El Raval is a different neighborhood that allows its visitants to get to know people like Mónica del Raval (which has turned into a kind of a public figure within the neighborhood). It is also perfect for seeing contrasts between people selling beers on the black market and the university students walking by, as well as interesting buildings like the ancient Hospital de Sant Pau or the famous Gato de Botero sculpture.
It is an excellent neighborhood if you wish to discover a different side of Barcelona.
And if you would like to discover all the secrets of Barcelona with an LGBTQ private tour guide, feel free to check out our Rainbow tours here.