Jet Set Bohemian: Modern Day Cabarets

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Jet Set Bohemian: Modern Day Cabarets

A jet-set lifestyle doesn’t have to be all private planes and decadent digs. In our Jet-Set Bohemian series, we blend the best of high and low for just the right balance … enticing everyone from backpackers to luxury boutique hotel lovers to come along for the ride.

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Over the weekend, I messaged a friend from Barcelona to let her know I was coming into town for a few days. “What’s the occasion? Business or a break?” she asked. “I’m just looking to get away, eat and drink,” I said. For a Barcelonian, this was a dream response. The city places high importance on its dining scene, with 23 Michelin star restaurants that easily book out months in advance. “Do you want to go to a cool place for dinner on Saturday?” my friend, Pilar, asked. In a city with “cool” spots popping up one after the next, I figured she would know which one is the “coolest” at the moment. Of course the only reservation she could get was for the 10 p.m. seating.

After a glass of Cava in El Born, we hopped in a cab to the Sant Antoni neighborhood and got out at a pedestrian-only passage. At the end of the alley, we found the spot she recommended: El Mama. From the street, we could peer inside the floor-to-ceiling windows at the restaurant, which looked quiet, despite how late it was. The industrial-style interior could easily have been a scene out of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” with blood red-painted beams and wire fences forming a wrap-around terrace above the wooden dance floor. I walked up to the hostess stand to give our name for the reservation and was greeted by a host who could give Dr. Frank-N-Furter a run for his money. Sporting a neon orange wig, floor-length glittering black gown and heels higher than I could ever walk in, he glided over and led us to our table, strutting as confidently and smoothly as models walking a runway. Now the name El Mama made sense.

Faena Theater courtesy of Faena Theater.jpg Photo courtesy of Faena Theater

One of the newer restaurants to open in the hipster neighborhood of Sant Antoni, El Mama y La Papa (the cocktail bar portion of the restaurant that takes over come midnight) makes the experience extend beyond the cuisine, with a whimsical tapas menu inspired by global flavors (think crispy oxtail croquettes, burrata and truffle pizza, and Pekin duck steamed bao buns) and a show to match. “People, especially in this neighborhood, are looking for something different,” Pilar explained as she helped us navigate the menu. “Sure, the food here is great, but it’s the show that really makes this restaurant stand out from everything else at the moment in Barcelona.”

Just as we sat down, the room started filling up. Every 20 minutes, a new act would take over the stage, singing and dancing in corsets and cabaret attire to songs like Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” while a Mad Hatter-dressed host narrated the show. Muscular male acrobats made appearances replicating similar scenes from “Moulin Rouge,” swinging and swaying in a suspended ring in nothing but a pair of tight black boxer briefs. At the end of each act, it was the audience’s turn to get involved, joining in on a choreographed dance (that we learned at the beginning of the show) to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.”

El Mama y La Papa courtesy of El Mama's Facebook page.jpg Photo courtesy of El Mama’s Facebook page

In similar fashion, clubs from the Cuban-inspired El Tucán in Miami to the Cirque du Soleil-style Heart Ibiza are making the cabaret concept cool again with dinner and a show that not only pushes boundaries (both acrobatically and thematically), but also serves up quality cuisine and cocktails from some of the best names in the business.

Deemed one of the world’s best chefs, Barcelona-born Ferran Adrià (the former elBulli head chef known for his molecular gastronomy) partnered up with his brother, Michelin-starred chef Albert Adrià, and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté to “create a restaurant that is not a restaurant,” as he called it a few years back in a New York Times article.

The result: Heart Ibiza, a “live dinner experience” that starts with street food-inspired tapas on the terrace overlooking Dalt Vila, or the Old Town, before moving inside for the show portion. Dinner is served over Crazy Horse-meets-Cirque du Soleil-style performances from acrobats and magicians who also rove the room mingling with guests. Interaction also extends to the cuisine as characters like mermaids roll up in bathtubs filled with oysters (the audience’s for the taking), ensuring even the shyest diners get involved. Some nights even call for costumes, but don’t worry; if you didn’t pack one, Heart has a costume kiosk ready and waiting at the door.

El Tucan Miami courtesy of El Tucan.jpg Photo courtesy of El Tucan

Cabaret has made a serious comeback in Miami with the opening of Brickell’s supper club El Tucán. The same team behind another Miami hotspot, French-themed Bâoli, have worked their nightlife magic with this Cuban-inspired spot that takes a cue from the island in its 1940s heyday. The 11-piece Latin orchestra that serves as the house band is led by two-time Grammy award-winning pianist and composer, Marlow Rosado, while a rotating roster of acts joins the stage, playing everything from Afro-Latin to Parisian pop.

Chef Jean Paul Lourdes (who cut his teeth working at three-Michelin star restaurants with the likes of Joël Robuchon in Tokyo and Pierre Gagnaire in Paris) is the man behind the Latin-themed tapas menu of yellowtail taquitos and miso seabass skewers. The drinks don’t disappoint, either, with a cocktail menu curated by Miami fave Bar Lab (the guys behind Broken Shaker). Just order the namesake vodka-infused El Tucán, served in a signature copper toucan-shaped tumbler, and you’ll see what I mean.

C'est Rouge courtesy of Faena Theater.jpg Photo courtesy of Faena Theater

At the Faena Theater, over on Miami Beach, acts bring a blend of 1940s Miami glamour and European opera house opulence to the gilded, Old Hollywood-inspired theater. During the C’est Rouge! show, acrobats and singers swing to the sounds of Latin, Jazz, and R&B in French Fifi Chachnil lingerie and Christian Louboutin footwear.

Dinner is fueled by couture cocktails and gourmet light bites like wood oven empanadas and Wagyu beef sliders, but for the full dinner and a show experience, take a seat for the pre-dinner menu by Asian eatery Pao by Paul Qui. The James Beard Award-winning chef (and Top Chef star) is known for mixing his native Filipino flavors with more classic French and Japanese touches, crafting a menu nothing short of spectacular from the pork adobo rice and smoked short rib asado to the Champorado chocolate rice pudding at the finale.

Lane Nieset is Paste’s Jet-Set Bohemian columnist and a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.

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