Fin de Siecle Groceries in the 21st Century: Queviures J. Murria and Colmado Quilez

At the corner of Valencia and Lluria streets stands the fabled J. Murria grocery store. It’s a remnant of another era: The store has lived through more than seventy years of Spanish history, and has the patina to prove it. Murria and the equally impressive Colmado Quilez, a fixture of the Rambla de Catalunya, are among a handful of old-fashioned general stores that carry on the century-old tradition of the Spanish general store. Raw milk cheeses imported from France, wines that range in price from a few euros to a few hundred, shelf after shelf of high-end canned goods, and savory preserves will entice any gourmand on any budget.

Walking into one of these impeccably organized shops in the Eixample is like stepping backwards in time: You can almost hear the clomping of horses’ hoofs over the roar of modern automobiles. Colmados, or Queviures (as they are called in proper Catalan), migrated from the historical city in the late 1800’s, following their high profile clientele to the Eixample’s tree-lined streets and spacious, well-lit apartment buildings. Today, workers dressed in light blue smocks chat with clients, advising on purchases and handling orders. Service is friendly, but formal, with many products kept out of the client’s reach, behind the counter. Receipts are hand tallied, and payment is made at a separate cashier’s desk. These grocers aren’t your run of the mill food-sellers, but rank as some of Barcelona’s most respected gourmets and boast some of city’s leading chefs as regular clients.

J. Murria is a French-style afineur, meaning Mr. Murria cures cheeses in the basement; the heady, floral fragrance of cheese (over 200 varieties) perfumes the entire store. Inside, it is a gourmet’s paradise, but the exterior is just as famous. Hand-painted advertisements from the 19th century continue to promote delights from a by-gone era. The advertisements are anchored by the famous Anis del Mono painting by Barcelona native and modernista phenomenon Ramon Casas, based on the prize-winning “La Mona y el Mono” (the stylish lady and the monkey) poster that he designed for the anis-flavored liquor in 1898. It is definitely worth a two-block detour from Gaudí’s buildings on the Passeig de Gràcia to see this modernista treasure.

Colmado Quílez, in turn, is installed in a stately apartment building, built in 1898 by Ramon Botet i Fonolla, a farmacist who made his fortune in colonial Cuba selling cosmetics and skin-lightening creams. At the time, the Eixample was just becoming a fashionable place for middle-class families to set up homes in apartment buildings like this one. Botet spared no expense: Figural sculptures, wonderfully textured stone carvings, and a profusion of cast-iron balconies give the building a particularly rich texture. The decoration showed the depth of Botet’s pockets, and distinguished the building from the generic apartment houses rising in the Eixample during in this period.

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