Believe the hype about the Guggenheim Bilbao, built in 1997 by Frank Ghery. Well, believe the hype if you don't live in Spain. For 3 years, my Catalan friends (don't be offended, y'all!) have slandered that museum. I'd heard everything. "It's the only thing to see in the neighborhood," "They just plopped it in the middle of a slum," and the worst: "That building is disgusting!!". (Seriously. And if you can find a better translation for asqueroso, let me know. I'll amend.)
Frank Ghery famously sketched the design for the Guggenheim Bilbao on the back of an envelope in pencil, not lifting it until he was finished. The result is a playful, dancing creation that works even better from the inside. What look like random curves and awkward protrusions from the outside make for organically-formed installation nooks. Keep your contrived walls and square corners. Gimme the Guggenheim.
Our original plan was to sample executive chef Martín Berasategui's dinner menu at the Michelin starred restaurant housed in the museum, but upon hearing that the lunch menu was a quarter of the price, well....
To tell you the truth, overall, it looked better than it tasted. The eggplant stuffed with mushrooms and Bechamel I ordered for a starter had us singing such praises, the waitress ended up gifting us another. Though my little balls of bacalao in tomato sauce were a disappointment (no one does bacalao like in the Caribbean, Spanish and English speaking) Hollywood's mushroom filled tomatito over squid ink risotto was stellar. Good wine selection, great presentation, and an understated but scrumptious chocolate desert, I can't say that I wouldn't go back.
Go to the Guggenheim, however, for the art. The contemporary wing hosts a great mix of pop art and grand interactive installations that engage you as both viewer and participant. I'm gonna hope for your sake you make it while "Stillness (in 3 movements)", UK artist Tacita Dean's somber, brilliant multimedia tribute to late modern dance legend, Merce Cunningham, is still on.
In a word, the surrounding neighborhood is tony. Hotels, shoe shops, high end bakeries, and a short walk away from Gran Vía, where you can find the oldest cafés and more shopping. The Guggenheim is the what-to-see in Bilbao, but the entire city seems to have polished up to match the museum's titanium shine.
Michelin star, cafeteria-style at the Guggenheim Bilbao.
Mushroom and Bechamel-filled eggplant.
Tomatito over squid ink risotto.
...filled with mushroom...so yummy.
Fuck if I know. Flan??
Chocolate bizcocho and honey ice cream.
I almost jacked this Almodóvar cup. Almost.
* From the Guggenheim Bilbao, catch the nearby tram to the Casco Viejo (the oldest part of the city). It's a great way to get the lay of the land and make a full day of it.
* The six-course dinner is actually only 75 euros per person. But you can still say you've eaten at the Guggenheim for 20 euros at lunch. Make reservations in advance.
* Check the website for special events happening while you're in town. There are big monthly museum night parties at the Guggenheim showcasing famous DJ's from around the world. We missed it by a week, but it sounds like it could be a classic night out with cool locals!