For someone who happily refers to himself as a schmuck, Moe Aljaff is a pretty damned sharp business person in our book. Don’t let the ripped jeans and slow drawl fool you: he’s gone from little known bartender working in dive bars and punk rock venues to one of the major players on the global bar scene.
That’s no accident, it’s the result of a constantly whirring mind and bloody hard work. Left to a less driven personality Two Schmucks, the venue he opened in Barcelona along with fellow schmuck AJ White in 2017 would be just another neighbourhood dive bar. But his unique brand of natural and savvy marketing skills, engaging disposition and relentless drive has resulted in the bar sitting comfortably at number 26 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, with him positioned at No 21 in the BarWorld Top 100.
He’s also incredibly bright. When covid restrictions made it practically impossible for Two Schmucks to operate (footfall had to be reduced by 30% and as the bar only seats 30, the numbers didn’t add up), he opened Two Schmucks on the Terrace. Originally intended as a pop-up, it’s now a second, very successful permanent site called Fat Schmuck. That was in August this year. On 20th October, just a few months later, the Schmuck family will welcome another addition to Carrer de Joaquín Costa. Get ready for Lucky Schmuck and the arrival of Schmuck Street.
Three venues, three concepts, all brought together on one vibrant strip in El Raval. It’s a dream for Moe as it takes him back to his early days. “One of my first ever jobs in this industry was walking up and down the street handing out fliers for nightclubs and now we’re building a bar street, it’s crazy!,” he says, beaming. “It’s one of the major things that’s motivated me to do this project.”
While the five star dive bar ethos is very much alive and kicking in each of the venues that sit under the Schmuck or Die umbrella, Lucky Schmuck is where it will be dialled up to the max. “Unlike Two Schmucks and Fat Schmuck which are about the service and drinks, Lucky Schmuck is going to be about the atmosphere, we purposely don’t want the drinks to play the starring role,” Moe explains. Not that drinks won’t feature on the menu, they’ll just be more easy-going, less serious. “It’s our largest indoor space to date and we want the focus to be on fun.”
Conspiring on all things Schmuck is James Bligh. The pair have worked on all three sites, conjuring up everything from the look and feel of each venue, to the sourcing of materials and getting down and dirty on the actual construction. “James does a lot of the build and we both get on with bringing the vision to life,” Moe explains. “Even if someone wanted to do the work for free, I’d tell them to fuck off – this is the most enjoyable part for me. Designing the place and being able to work on it is really important, we can walk someone around every part of the building and tell them the stories behind it.”
There are plenty of stories to tell about all of the venues. But like we said, Lucky is where Moe and James have really indulged their passion for the five star dive bar look and feel. Inside it’s all bright neon lights, retro American diner-style booths and a wooden home-style bar. “We’ve taken inspiration from places in Nashville, Austin – the Southern States,” says James. Hence the decor is what he lovingly describes as ‘horribly lovely’. “We’ve gone for granny pink and baby blue floor tiles, latex padded walls and an overall vibe of 1950s bubble gum shop in America,” he adds smiling.
So how does it work, three venues on one street? Allow us to be your guide.
A WALK DOWN SCHMUCK STREET
Carrer de Joaquín Costa, Barcelona
Where: Joaquín Costa 8/Plaza D’emili vendrell 1
Why: For feel-good, comfort food and easy-going, smashable drinks
On the menu:
Drinks: Aperol Spritz, Garibaldi, House Gin & Tonic, Bloody Marie
Food: Fried chicken and waffles, kimchi philly, soft shell crab in a bun, beef cheek donut
“Initially, we only offered weekend brunches as it was supposed to be a bar with a terrace, somewhere for our customers to go during the lockdown restrictions. So the menu was made up of 10-12 cocktails and as we were serving drinks we decided that we needed some fatty, guilty pleasure-style food that would go with the boozy brunch.
“We started with four dishes but people kept asking for more. So the next week we had five dishes, then six, then 10, then we added a dessert. I remember looking out on the terrace one day when it was full and thinking “how the hell did we open a restaurant?!”
“The visuals at Two Schmucks were very black and white but as Fat Schmuck was born through the pandemic, we decided to inject more colour into everything – from the design of the menus and terrace, to the bright interior.”
Then stop at…
Where: Joaquín Costa, 52
Why: For clever, creative cocktails by Juliette Larrouy and Pom Modeste.
On the menu:
Drinks: Curry Colada, Clean Cut Mojito, Breakfast In France
Food: Lighter bites including fish in a tin, pastrami sammy, grilled cheese
“When we launched Two Schmucks in 2017, we wanted to do so many things but it became too much. Now that we have the two other spaces, we’re able to focus on this being the bar for more advanced cocktails. All of which are entirely down to Pom and Juliette, this is their place to do what they want.
End your night at…
Where: Joaquín Costa 36
Why: For good times, good vibes and late night shenanigans all set to an indie and punk rock soundtrack
On the menu:
Drinks: Easy-going tap style drinks, including five cocktails, beers and ciders
Food: Burgers, hot dogs and deep-fried burritos
Not to say that anyone goes to a Schmuck venue for anything other than a good time but this is where it plays a starring role. As well as the karaoke room and live music, expect a few surprises. “We even have a vintage leather pummel horse!” A what now? They both laugh. “When James and I saw it we were like, ‘hell yeah!’”, Moe says. “I remember seeing one in a Russian-themed bar in Norway a while ago, people were hanging out by it and I thought it would be really cool to have one. It’s actually a super sturdy piece of furniture, plus it’s really quirky.”
Unlike the other two venues on Schmuck Street, there won’t be any table service. Instead, they’ve installed a window where guests can order food and drinks, called rather aptly ‘Greasy Moe’s’. “It’s an ugly delicious menu,” Moe explains. “It’s the kind of thing that Californians and Texans have done with Mexican food – deep fried burritos and hotdogs, the kind of fatty food you need at 3am.” And in another smart business move, the food will be available until 3am while the rest of the neighbourhood stops serving after 1am.
“We have around 20 taps, mostly ciders and beers as well as a few tapped cocktails including a Frozen Irish Coffee. Everything from speaker system to the lights have been carefully thought out,” says Moe excitedly. “We can’t wait for people to come and enjoy it.”
Any plans for adding more venues to Schmuck Street? “Not here,” says Moe. “Three’s a crowd.”
Lucky Schmuck opens on 20th October. For more details, see two-schmucks.com and follow @lucky.schmuck for updates