Lonely Planet Writer

How Tarragona now boasts the West’s first North Korean-themed bar

If you’re fascinated by North Korea but think it’s too far or too difficult to get to, don’t worry. You can now enjoy a taste of the mysterious state closer to home – at a bar in Tarragona, Spain.

Kim Jong-un.
North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Image by petersnoopy / CC BY-SA 2.0

Cafe Pyongyang was founded in the Mediterranean city – more famous for its stunning Roman remains – to support Kim Jong-un’s rule. The bar’s owner, Alejandro Cao de Benos, has long spoken out in favour of the regime.

Pyongyang Cafe
Pyongyang Cafe Image by Pyongyang Cafe

The venue is decked out in North Korean memorabilia, including a huge flag behind the bar. The walls are lined with propaganda posters and a bookshelf carries volumes written by rulers from the Kim dynasty. Once there, you can sample a range of North Korean teas and Asian beers.

An ardent Communist, Cao de Benos began his love affair with North Korea after the fall of the Soviet Union, when he befriended North Korean families in Madrid. Regular trips to the country led to his presidency of the Korean Friendship Association, which has members in more than 30 countries. North Korea have even appointed him as a special delegate for international cultural relations – he is the only Westerner to hold such a position, even if it is only honorary.

Pyongyang Cafe, Tarragona.
Pyongyang Cafe, Tarragona.

“North Korea is the world’s big unknown”, Cao de Benos told The Local. “We want to break with all the myths… And as not many people can go to [North] Korea, because it’s complicated and far, they can come to our cafe”.

While North Korean-themed bars and restaurants are relatively commonplace in Asia, Cao de Benos says Cafe Pyongyang is the first such establishment in the West. A North Korean restaurant opened in Amsterdam in 2012, but closed soon after.

The bar has been receiving around 35 visitors a day in its opening weeks. The plan is to turn it into a cultural centre, with talks on gastronomy and tradition, lectures and screenings. Unfortunately, though, the first talk only attracted 10 visitors.