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Hot Corner: The avenue’s new temptation

Barcelona Wine Bar has taken over an iconic East Passyunk Crossing corner, adding a fun and exciting vibe

Photos by Tom McGovern

By Bill Gelman

When people used to stroll down East Passyunk Avenue the sign for A Man’s Image could be seen from blocks away. Abe Mandel ran the store at 1709 E. Passyunk Ave. for 60 years. Some even described it as a neighborhood institution. Abe, at age 75, rode off into the sunset last year. A new sign has since risen on this triangular corner of the avenue, and it’s becoming a real conversation piece.

It reads: “I can resist anything except temptation.”

Yes, it’s an Oscar Wilde quote, and it ties in perfectly with the new place on the block, Barcelona Wine Bar. This sign is one of the first things people see coming around the corner approaching the Spanish tapas bar/restaurant.

Adam Halberg, the senior vice president of the Barcelona Wine Bar restaurant group, said the quote describes the type of fun it brings to the space, creating a “That looks like fun” vibe.

“In moderation, a little temptation wins. It builds for a fun experience,” Halberg said.

Barcelona Wine Bar has multiple locations up and down the east coast, including Washington, D.C., Connecticut and Massachusetts, but it doesn’t operate like a corporate chain model. The South Philly space, which seats about 180 people, including the outdoor patio, is all about fitting in with the community vibe. It’s a place for families to enjoy an early dinner or to grab some tapas and a glass of wine before heading down the strip for a dinner reservation. Others enjoy the late-night atmosphere it delivers after most of the other restaurants have closed for the night.

“It was more about the neighborhood,” Halberg said. “East Passyunk has developed tremendously in recent years.”

When the striking building became available, the Barcelona Wine Bar team jumped at the opportunity. The raw materials from the old clothing store, such as the cinder block walls, were incorporated into the design. Add a little artwork, some planters from avenue neighbor Urban Jungle and a kitchen, and suddenly what might seem hard to visualize transforms into a “wow, got to check this place out” reaction. Sure, there is still the occasional customer recall “the rack of men’s shirts used to be over there,” but this is now a place to enjoy food, drink and good times.

General manager John Scott, who is a Bella Vista resident, may even stop you on the street to say hello, as being part of the community is a big part of what Barcelona Wine Bar is all about.

Being a South Philadelphian, he enjoys interacting with his neighbors, whether it be participating in the recent Up on the Roof event at Bok or simply saying hello to people.

“Sometimes we will be outside talking to people. We are welcoming and friendly,” Scott said.

He also has a knack for remembering names,helping to build that strong neighborhood vibe.

Saturday nights, like at most restaurants, is the busiest night of the week with more than 400 customers coming through at some point of the night. Weekend brunch, which is expected to be rolled out in coming weeks, will add another wrinkle to the busy day. A build your own Bloody Mary bar will be included on the brunch menu, along with the traditional omelettes and breakfast items with a Spanish twist. For now, lunch and dinner are the focus for executive chef Paras Shah. Pulpo, grilled octopus, is one of the more popular dishes. Being Spanish-inspired, paella is another of the house specialties, and falls under the to share portion of the menu. Those who visit Barcelona more than once a week will notice different dishes. Sometimes Shah decides to change things up, while others are based on an ingredient or two he picks up at the Italian Market.

Executive chef Paras Shah

While the food and wine selections — many of which are imported from Spain — are the centerpiece of the operation, Barcelona Wine Bar is quickly establishing itself as the new spot to mix and mingle with neighbors.

Following the words of Wilde, it’s hard to resist temptation.

Barcelona Wine Bar
1709 E. Passyunk Ave.

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