Posts Tagged ‘bars’

Apart from watching football in one here on Tenerife I tend to avoid British bars and restaurants outside of Britain.

That might come across sounding like a bit of travel snob; the sort of person who only frequents watering holes and eateries owned by the indigenous people of the country I’m visiting. But nope I don’t subscribe to that either. In Britain I ate at restaurants serving food from all over the globe and I had no idea usually who owned the bars so why restrict myself when I travel? I normally choose to eat mainly at restaurants serving local cuisine, but variety is the spice of life and every so often it’s nice to have a change – even over a two week holiday period – especially if the local cuisine isn’t great (just because it’s abroad doesn’t always make it good).

There’s one reason and one reason mainly that I avoid Brit bars and restaurants and that’s because so far, most of the ones I’ve experienced abroad are not the sort of places I would frequent in Britain, so they’re certainly not going to do it for me in another country.

Last week we were on Lanzarote in Costa Teguise. I like Costa Teguise. It has a nice mix of different nationalities which is reflected in the resort’s bars and restaurants. In some ways it reminds me a bit of El Médano on Tenerife.

However, because of flight times, on our last day there we found ourselves needing to grab something to eat at around 6pm. The hotel’s snack bar was closed so the only option was a British bar opposite.

There was nothing particularly offensive with the place, the people were friendly enough, except that it fit a model that seems to be a blueprint for nearly every Brit bar in Spain.

First of all there was the ubiquitous ex-pat client bitching about everybody and everything (do you get one of these with the deeds I wonder?). The décor was mock Tudor and there were blackboards all over the place advertising football, Corrie and the oh so passé pub grub on offer. Then there was the music. It was circa 1980…it’s always circa 1980 (with a heavy dash of 1960s thrown in). As well as the bitchin’ ex-pat, Brit bars abroad seem to be only able to pick up music from decades long gone.

The menu was from the same era – fish and chips (of course), steak and kidney pie (frozen), burger and chips (frozen), chilli con carne and, best (or worst) of all, saveloys – does anyone apart from Brit bars abroad really use that term these days?

And there’s my problem with Brit bars abroad. Before I left Britain nearly eight years ago the bars I went to were modern and stylish, played the same contemporary music I listened to driving to work and at home and had imaginative menus where not everything was fried or microwaved.

That’s not the case with Brit bars abroad. Most times when I go to a Brit bar abroad I feel as though I’m an extra in an episode of Ashes to Ashes. They seem to have been stuck in a groove for quarter of a century and for the life of me I can’t get my head around why they are all following almost exactly the same outdated format.

Do people still actually believe that a frozen burger in a bready bap and Billy Ocean belting out When the Going Gets Tough on the radio is really good enough in this day and age?

But hey, maybe it’s me that’s out of step… but if that’s the case who were all those people that packed out the bars I used to go to?
By the way if anyone does actually know of a quality British bar that strays from the norm, then I’d love to know about it.

P.S. If it includes even one of the qualities (an ironic use of the word) I’ve mentioned then don’t bother.

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‘A lot of the older people just don’t come to these bars,’ I commented to my friend as we eased ourselves off the precariously high stools and left the stylish vibes of the Belgian beer palace aka La Maison Belge.

“We are the older people,” she laughed, stating the painfully obvious.

“Ah, but we’re younger, older people. We’re baby boomers,” I replied uncertainly. It’s a form of denial that works…for me anyway.

Martin and Anne are two of our best friends and were staying on Tenerife on a sort of two-centre holiday. The first few day they’d spent in Playa de la Arena before heading to the Hotel Monopol in Puerto de la Cruz to round off their trip. They are both massive fans of Mil Sabores so a visit to this shrine dedicated to ‘food to die for’ is always an essential ingredient of their visit…followed by a bit of liquid fuelled research into what interesting bars happen to have sprung up recently.

La Maison Belge has been around for quite some time now, but we’d never been despite commenting every time we passed the place how inviting the bar stools and table at either side of the door looked. Its interior lived up to the exterior’s promise. More chic stools were dotted around an area that was part bar, part delicatessen and part off licence – albeit one that sells only artistically designed bottles of Belgian beer. Each table had a teasing cheese menu and we would have ordered some to compliment the Duvel and cherry flavoured beers we ordered, but this was only an aperitif stop before filling our bellies with Mil Sabores’ finest offerings. A return visit has been pencilled in pronto.

The food at Mil Sabores was as inspired as always. Last time we visited we couldn’t get a table but this time we were the only diners in the restaurant’s upper floor. We’re in that post Easter lull period that Puerto experiences between the end of the Northern European winter season and the start of the vibrant Spanish one towards the end of June.

Both Andy and I have written more reviews of Mil Sabores than there are items on the menu, so I won’t rehash and repeat. But the quality of the food was as reliable as a faithful sheepdog and the mixed starter for two should have been renamed ‘a starter for 10’ (that dated reference proves I really am ‘older people’).

Post dinner we changed scene, swapping tastefully rustic for 21st C chic and the ultra suave, ultra violet lighting of the suitably named COOL Bar where we ensconced ourselves around a Martini-glass shaped table. One of the attractive qualities of Puerto de la Cruz and the traditional Tenerife towns is that nobody gives a damn what age anyone is, so even the though the majority of the clientèle in some of the trendiest bars can be way, way younger, nobody ever bats an eyelid.

A couple of drinks in COOL and a change of scene was required. The bar at the top of the small paseo where Mil Sabores seems to change name every time I pass it, so now I’m not exactly sure what it’s called. But it was bustling with people and the mix of Cuban and Latino music salsa-ing through the night air grabbed us by the ears and plonked us down at a table inside. Unfortunately it changed to Rod Stewart almost the second our beers arrived and after that veered between Buena Vista Social Club and old British rockers social club. An unusual Heineken-bottled bar compensated for the dodgy sounds.

Somehow by this point it was just after 2am and we decided to have a final nightcap at another venue. I favoured Cuban hot spot, Azucar but was outvoted on the grounds that at 2am the old gentlemen’s club was at its manic zenith. So, as a more conversation friendly option, we grabbed a table outside studenty Magnum where, on a late April night, the temperature was ambient enough for wearing short sleeves

Time in Puerto has a magical way of slipping by as smoothly as a canoe crossing a glassy lake. In barely the sip of a frosty beer it was 3am and time for us ancient boomers to throw in the bar towel as the people populating the tables around us headed off to dance till dawn at one of the clubs that many visitors don’t even know exist.

Puerto has a reputation for being a staid old girl, perfectly suited to ‘more mature’ visitors who aren’t seeking a lively nocturnal scene…and whilst that isn’t exactly inaccurate, neither is it the whole picture.
It’s only staid if you happen to frequent the staid places. For those of us who want to grow old disgracefully, there are lots of places where we can let our hair down (what hair we have left that is) and party (but in Spanish style only) until dawn…or the early hours at least.

I had a little moment last night when I fell in love with Puerto de la Cruz all over again; a woman with a face as wrinkled as a bowl of papas arrugadas who had a submarine-sized cigar protruding from her mouth stared down at me from a poster on the wall; in front of me a girl who clearly modelled herself from head to toe on Shakira swivelled furiously, desperate to show anyone who was watching that her hips didn’t lie; it was 2.30am and the atmosphere was hot, sweaty and electric. My favourite bar in the world had re-opened and we were once again able to take a trip down the rabbit hole to downtown Havana without stepping foot outside of our adopted town.

Despite suffering from a debilitating disease picked up in Lanzarote (i.e. a bit of a sniffy nose but hey, I’m a man so obviously my symptoms are a lot more serious than anyone else’s), I dragged myself from my sick bed (in front of the TV screen – more poetic license) for a night on the tiles.

Friend Roberto (Bob when he’s at home in England) is a swallow; someone who spends part of the winter on Tenerife. He’s been coming to Puerto for 25 years and we got to know him whilst watching Man Utd games at the Beehive. Like many regular visitors to Tenerife, he goes to the same bars and restaurants every trip, so when we heard there was a Michael Jackson tribute band at one of our favourite night spots, Blanco Bar, we decide it was time that Roberto was plucked from his cosily familiar environment and thrust into the nocturnal world that we inhabit.

The Fragata Bar is ideal for making the transition from bars frequented mainly by visitors to bars that are frequented by Canarios, Spanish and South Americans. At 10pm the bar is full of ex-pats and Northern European holidaymakers. At 11.30 there’s a change of shift and the Canarios arrive, boosting the atmosphere with their noisy, bubbly chatter. A couple of cervezas and 20 minutes of being book-ended by two tables of young Canarios and Bob was sufficiently acclimatised.

Blanco Bar is the coolest bar in town, but you can’t tell it from the outside. Walk through the soundproofed glass doors and you enter a world of crisp lilac lighting and sleek and sexy furnishings complimented by the equally sleek and sexy people lounging on them. It’s the sort of place where you might feel that unless you look like Brangelina you’re spoiling the picture. But this is Puerto where nobody gives a damn about age, size or looks; it’s one of the things that we love about the joint.

I’d had the heads up via Twitter that Michael Jackson had been cancelled and replaced with One Love – a tribute to Bob Marley. Even better as far as I was concerned especially as the band, helped by a guitarist who injected a heavy dose of R&B into familiar reggae riffs, were pretty damn good. It sounded like Marley, but with a whole new dimension added and Blanco rocked as just about everyone joined in ‘One Love’ et al with mucho gusto.

For a brief chill-out we swapped venues and made the short trip to Limbo. The band there had finished playing but we were met with a bit of Free which was nice. Limbo’s most popular area is its outside terrace and whilst it was busy-ish, the cool 14C temps meant that it wasn’t its usual sardine can packed. As we downed another cerveza and Bob surveyed the old red tiled rooftops opposite, the Havana Rum billboard looming above us and the huge palm tree silhouetted against a clear sky and a sea of stars, he said something strange.

‘Wow, I really feel I’m in Spain,” he shouted above the music.

Twenty five years of visiting and those two bars inspired him to say that. It spoke volumes about the Puerto that some British visitors see and the ‘real’ Puerto that we know and love.

If he thought the first two bars were foreign, Azucar was about to blow him away. The atmospheric Cuban bar in a former gentlemen’s smoking club has been occupying its lower floors for over a year, but at last its upper floors have re-opened and we entered to the usual maelstrom of whirling, twirling and suggestive thrusting that can make you feel slightly voyeuristic. Of all the gin joints in all the towns I’ve toasted salud, slangever’d and bottoms up’d in, Azucar is my favourite. Azucar’s get down and dirty personality and thumping Cuban vibes make me want to clamp a cigar between my teeth and down a mojito in one thirsty gulp…without removing the cigar of course.

Andy and I threw in the towel at around 3am, leaving Bob, who had been completely seduced by the bar (and relaxed by cervezas), watching chicas and chicos make love fully clothed on the dance floor i.e. any free floor space in the bar.

We left Azucar happy in the knowledge that as well as enjoying a top night we’d given another friend the keys to a magical kingdom. The bars he’d frequented before will just never seem the same again. Bienvenido to the real Puerto de la Cruz, Roberto.

We’d always been intrigued by the bar at El Guincho near Garachico in Isla Baja with semi-colon as a name, not the words just the symbol – ;

I mean what do people say – ‘I’m just off to punto y coma for a pint’ or do they mime it?

Anyway, after what seemed like a completely pointless and very expensive tunnel had been built which diverted the road away from the bar I’d completely forgotten about it…until Andy, our friend Bob and I emerged after a walk through the banana plantations at the top of a steep set of steps almost right outside Bar ;

It was perfectly positioned for a post walk beer.

Have you ever seen any of Robert Rodriguez Mariachi series of movies? If so, you’ll get the picture when I say walking into Bar ; was like walking into one of the Mexican bars featured in them. It didn’t exactly go quiet, but there was a noticeable pause…or was it a semi colon?

The barman was Tenerife’s answer to Cheech Marin. He had a miserable boat race; the only bright thing about it was the glistening stud in his ear. When we asked if he served bocadillos he grunted and pointed to a selection of mass produced, filled pastries.
“Too late for bocadillos,” he growled pointing to a sign which announced that the bar was shutting at 5pm. At that point it was 1.30pm.
We ordered beers and moved to sit at one of the tables…eliciting another grunt and a single word.

“NO!”

Okay to be fair to the guy, it was Christmas Eve and he probably didn’t want three extranjeros holding him back from getting into the Xmas spirit and the place looked as though it was setting up for a private party.  We squeezed in at the bar, one of the punters shifted along to accommodate us so it wasn’t exactly all unfriendly, and I had a look around the joint.

First observation was that there was quite a lot of Barcelona memorabilia on the walls, nothing unusual about that – in Tenerife it’s usually them or Real Madrid. The second thing I noticed was an interesting collection of specialist (for Tenerife at least) beer bottles lining the room, one of which was Old Speckled Hen.
The third thing that stood out was the incredible selection of sweet products in the bar. I mean this was in most senses a typical out of the way Canario bar, yet apart from all the pastries it had a better sweet selection than most big supermarkets. They had rows of Crunchies, Twix’s and all sorts of choccie delights. It also had the most extensive range of travel-sized Pringles that I’ve ever seen. It was obvious what Bar ; really was. It was munchie heaven.

“This is definitely a ‘smokers’ bar,” I whispered to Andy.

Almost on cue a man with a handlebar moustache wearing a cowboy hat, leather waistcoat and mirror sunglasses entered the bar, nodded ‘buenas tardes’ in our direction and plonked himself down at the bar. If the Robert Rodriguez Mexican bar reference needed reinforcing, he’d just provided the icing on the Navidad cake.

To be completely honest Bar ; wasn’t unfriendly, it just wasn’t particularly friendly…except maybe if you were a local, but Cheech behind the bar didn’t exactly exude love and kinship towards his regulars either.

We downed our beers and left with a ‘felices fiestas’ which everyone responded to cheerily – even Cheech…well his mouth sort of turned up at the corner as  he grunted.

Andy and I were pleased to have finally had a drink in a bar which had intrigued us for years. But in all honesty we were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t exactly the sort of place where you’d want to linger too long. In fact it probably really only warranted being called Bar ‘,’ and not ‘;‘

How anyone can ever be bored in Tenerife I’ll never know. Even the humdrum of everyday life normally keeps you on your toes, but the weekend before Christmas was a perfect example of how one minute you can be living the highlife here and the next completely brought down to earth and then some.

Friday had started off in a rather sad and bizarre fashion (part of one of the more fascinating Tenerife experiences that either Andy or I will write about one day). We weren’t directly involved, but it took some of the shine off collecting my mum, sister and her boyfriend from the bus station.

Despite there being a weather alert for high winds to such an extent that the cabins had been taken down from the harbour funfair’s big wheel it was actually a hot, sunny day and we spent a lovely day reintroducing my family to Puerto de la Cruz’s charms.

On Friday night we went to the Bitter & Twisted show at the Majestic where it was a great Christmas present to watch my mum in stitches at John Sharples and Barry Pugh’s clever and very funny show.

On Saturday we drove them back to Playa de la Arena where they were staying for some sun therapy prior to a snowy Christmas in the UK. The sun was shining again on that coast after a couple of days of cloud and rain and we deposited them at the beach as we drove on to Puerto Santiago and booked into the Barcélo Santiago Hotel.

Highlight of the Weekend
We’ve stayed in some fab hotel rooms and suites around the world; in Sheratons, Shangri-La’s and Dusit’s and so on, but the room we had at the Barcélo Santiago was one of the sexiest. I was completely seduced by its sophisticated, modern design and frosted glass interior walls. The views from the generous balcony of the Los Gigantes Acantilados and La Gomera simply made staying there one hell of an attractive package. I would have quite happily spent the whole visit in that room.
I could rattle on more about it, but Andy has already described our stay in her Real Tenerife blog in more beautifully described detail.

After spending the day and a good part of the night in the hotel we decided to have a change of scenery to end the night. We strolled, after a long and most enjoyable dinner at the hotel’s a la carte Sabor Español restaurant across the road to one of the top entertainment venues in south west Tenerife, Route 66.

Resident band Old Dogs New Tricks weren’t playing that night, but Los Tres Hombres did a great job of keeping the bar rocking to some classic sounds. It was a lively end to the day and all was well with the world until I had to pay a visit to the men’s room.

Lowlight of the Weekend
When I was ready to leave I turned to unlock the door and the bolt didn’t move. I tried again and again, but the little mock gold locking mechanism wouldn’t budge.

At first I wasn’t a bit concerned – in fact I figured the bottle of wine over dinner and couple of beers in Route 66 had impaired my toilet door opening skills somewhat. But as I dropped to my knees to inspect the stubborn lock it became clear that it wasn’t me at all. At some point in the recent past a new lock had been attached…and it had been a botched job.

At that point I have to admit to starting to get quite worried. No amount of rattling, cursing and pulling would make the damn lock budge. I looked around for an alternative way out, but the door went all the way to the ceiling. There was only one potential escape route; a little gap between the gents and the ladies’ toilets. If it came to the worst I figured I could squeeze through, but that option seemed a bit drastic.

Ten minutes later and still imprisoned, it started to look like my only way to escape this hell. But before I resorted to scaring the be-Jesus out of some poor unsuspecting woman I tried one last pathetic approach. I banged loudly on the door and shouted “HELP” over and over.

Unfortunately being locked in the toilet of a bar playing loud rock music meant that my cries for help must have been completely drowned out and no rescue was forthcoming.

Finally after twenty minutes of imprisonment and trauma the door started to rattle and bang and then after a few moments it sprang open…I was free.

After a wonderful day and night I’d walked into that toilet with the swagger of James Bond (the Sean Connery and Daniel Craig versions not Old Codger Moore’s) and emerged gushing relieved gratitude like a Chilean miner.

Andy, meanwhile, was still singing along to the band oblivious to my ordeal.

As I said at the start how can anyone ever be bored on Tenerife?

As a footnote, I pointed out to the barman that the lock was faulty, but as far as I could see he didn’t actually do anything about it. So guys, if you’re visiting the loo at Route 66 don’t lock the door. And gals, if you’re in the loo keep one eye on that little gap between the male and female toilets, you just never know when you might have some unexpected company.

Aha, so this is how the Spanish intend to deal with the proposed smoking ban in January – the electronic cigarette.

According to the website it’s “tobacco-free, tar-free and smoke-free” and what’s more it “represents the future of smoking without compromising your health”.

Okay, I’ve heard that one before. I wonder if the new law will cover electronic cigars and cigarettes, or instead of smoke free bars we’ll be surrounded by people puffing on the Vaporillo come the New Year.

If you’re a puffer and are intrigued, there’s a display at La Villa shopping centre in La Orotava till the end of the month.

I love it; it is just so Madmen…so 1960s

Searching for WiFi in San Sebastian

Although there had been WiFi on the ferry, the signal was so weak that we hadn’t managed to complete all the things we needed to do before we headed into the wilds (a.k.a our friend’s house on the edge of the rainforest – a place where broadband is still a stranger). There was one email that we really needed to reply to, so after a round of hugs and kisses with Jo who was waiting with her trusty Berlingo to meet us we headed into San Sebastian to find a café with WiFi access.

Ha, ha, bloody ha.

Jo’s a bit of a Luddite and has pretty much ignored the internet revolution, so didn’t know where, or if there was WiFi in town. However, she thought the ‘studenty’ places were worth a try. First stop was the bar El Rincón de la Poeta which at least had a sign saying it had internet.

“Have you got WiFi?”
I asked the barman. He shook his head and smiled.

“Do you know anywhere that might have WiFi?”
Jo asked.

All the heads in the bar turned our way and the bar’s clientele stared for a second at what was clearly los ingeleses locos, before they all burst out laughing as though she’d just recounted a hilarious joke.

The barman spread his arms wide, smiled and gave a reply that said it all.

“In San Sebastian??????”

We told ourselves that he probably wouldn’t have known anyway and carried on with our mission. A few yards further on from the bar we reached the town’s tourist office. If anyone was going to know, surely they would. We popped inside and asked the girl the same question we’d asked the barman…and do you know what her reaction was? She laughed…a lot.
To be fair, when she stopped laughing she did come up with a few suggestions, none of which turned out to have access. We did find one place which had a WiFi sign, but it was shut…for good.

In the end we had to admit defeat. There are plenty of paces in San Sebastian which still advertised good, old fashioned paid internet access. It was clear that the idea of customers having free internet when they were still able to get people to pay for it was too radical a concept for the bar owners in San Sebastian.

We grabbed a seat at an internet café/bar in the main plaza and ordered some beer and bocadillos and spent 50 cents for fifteen minutes internet time to complete what we wanted to do. It was more annoying than anything else. Work completed, we bit into our bocadillos and made friends with a cool glass of dorado.

“I can’t believe that La Gomera’s capital town doesn’t have WiFi in this day and age?” I grumbled through a mouthful of Spanish tortilla in a baguette (a great carb hit).

“It’s what makes the place so charming,” Jo countered.

That’s one point of view I suppose. Another could be that it’s what makes it seem backward and why Tinerfeños make jokes about it.

I knew from the notebook that there were WiFi zones all around us; they just didn’t want to give it away free. One day the penny will drop.