Far from a mid-life crisis, Flash Flash, the icon of tortillas and modernity, is still a bright spot on Barcelona’s dining scene.
Barcelona in 1970 was a vastly different place. The city was nearing the end of what was known as the años grises (grey years). Dirty and neglected, its shoreline was cluttered with factories and ramshackle chiringuitos. Washing lines could be seen on the rooftop of La Pedrera and El Borne was considered a no-go zone. It would take five more years for Franco to kick the bucket, an event that set Spain off on the rocky road to democracy. In Barcelona, though, things were starting to stir around El Diagonal — the stomping ground of an arts and cultural movement known as the Gauche Divine (Divine Left).
One fine day, the architect Alfonso Milà (whose most famous works include the remodelling of the Olympic Stadium) and Leopoldo Pomés, a photographer and gastronome, sat down with their respective wives – Cecilia Santo Domingo and Karin Leiz. Together, they hatched a plan to open the city’s first modern restaurant — a casual yet stylish bistro that would be a meeting place for fellow divine left libertarians. Starched table clothes, turned wood furniture and stodgy stews were out. Pop art aesthetics, light healthy food, and an all-hours kitchen was in. Flash Flash was born.
This year Flash Flash turns 50. Like a swinging older sister from another era, its op-art façade on Carrer de la Granada del Penedès remains very much the same as it did when it first opened. Minus a few tweaks and tucks, so does the décor. Its white leatherette banquets are pristine and plush, the high-gloss Formica tables feature not a scratch, and the screaming red bathrooms still impress. The murals all over the walls of a tweed-capped, twiggy-type model still exude youth and optimism. If only all time capsules were this cool.
The birth of Flash Flash united two prominent Catalan families of the arts. On its golden anniversary, they came together to reminisce. Mercedes Milá, niece of Alfons Milá, and celebrated journalist and media personality (she was the original presenter of El Gran Hermano, when it was actually worth watching) talks about hanging out in Flash Flash with Gabriel García Márquez (a regular) and seeking a out smoke-free corner in the day when practically the entire city was clouded by a deep fog of Ducados. Ivan Pomés, architect and son of Leopoldó Pomés, discusses the avant-garde design features of the interior, such as communal seating, low ceilings that absorbed the private chitchat of the glitterati, and handmade furniture that has lasted the distance over the last fifty years. The only living member of the original founders is Karin Leiz, his mother and reluctant model for Flash Flash’s murals, which are in fact photos taken by her late husband Leopoldo Pomés.
The idea for the restaurant was born out of a desire for freedom she recalls.
Spain was still a dictatorship in the 1970s, and between luxury restaurants that were very serious, and casas de comidas that were more about feeding the stomach than the spirit, there really wasn’t anything decent at all. Flash Flash was the revolution people were waiting for.
This new gastro order came in an eggshell. Flash Flash was going to be, and in fact still is, the city’s only tortilleria – mostly because Pomés loved French-style omelettes and his doctor had advised him against eating them. Today omelettes, with fillings such as truffle and sobrasada, are still the menu mainstay. The other is hamburgers, served with fries, bun-less (“A decision made to preserve a sense of decorum,” says Ivan Pomés) and inspired by a trip Karin made to PJ Clarkes in NYC. The third element of Flash Flash’s food triangle is salads. “We were the first in the city to put on a salad buffet,” continues Pomés, “With ingredients like celery and radishes – both totally new for the time!”
If you were born in Barcelona, or have lived here for some years, a meal at Flash Flash is like visiting a cherished old friend; comforting, reliable and a chance to get nostalgic about your wild youth in a period that was giddy with the promise of radical change. For newbies, it’s an opportunity to experience a genuine slice of urban and social history, and ponder, over an omelette, the belief that it’s only things that are genuinely, truly, deeply new and ‘modern’ that remain evergreen.
Flash Flash: Carrer de la Granada del Penedès, 25. Open for lunch and dinner all 7 days.
Want more fun and fashionable dining options? Check out Darial in Eixample.