Posts Tagged ‘nightlife’

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.

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New Year’s Eve in Puerto de la Cruz is Groundhog Day.

Every year the drill is this – people dress up to the nines; go out to eat; head to the main plaza at around 11.30pm; salsa a bit (unless you’re me, then you shift from foot to foot with no rhythm whatsoever); move to the harbour; eat 12 grapes when it’s midnight; make a lot of oooh and aaah noises at the firework display; drink cava until your head’s as fizzy as the stuff in your plastic glass; then salsa some more (after the cava even I believe I have rhythm) until you die…or dawn arrives.

Simple really.

With Andy wearing a vintage Red or Dead number (Sex and the City is great for coming up with new ways of making old clothes fashionable again) and me in a smart but casual jacket and jeans affair we joined the revellers in town.

The Ape in the Garden
We kicked off the night with neighbour Nicole and her son Sebastian at a little place in the fishermen’s district. Not the best joint in town, but decent enough fare.
Nicole is very French in a 50s Bardot sort of way. Seba on the other hand is straight out of the French Foreign Legion…possibly literally. We always have interesting discussions about life and politics in France and also about his experiences as a young ‘outsider’ growing up here. Nicole likes to talk about herself and ‘amour’ and gets tired if the subject moves onto something less mundane such as politics.
During the course of the meal there was a rather disturbing revelation – that we have an ape buried somewhere in our garden. It happened before we moved into the house and the story of how it got there is quite incredible (involving guns, police and broken noses) but I’m saving that for another time.

The Annual Grape Eating Fiasco
At 11.30pm we left the restaurant for the plaza, watched a few people salsa sexily (it’s really just public foreplay) to the live band, then moved to the harbour to get in place for the firework display and the annual grape eating fiasco.
If you don’t know about grape eating in Spain at New Year, it’s a good luck thing. As soon as the first bells chime for midnight, you eat one with each chime and down the last as midnight strikes…otherwise you might as well hide away in a cave for a year until the bad luck dissipates.
The trouble with this tradition in a más o menos culture is that no-one is ever sure when the first bell should chime (in Puerto it’s a firework for each chime) and this year there was a mini panic as the plaza clock struck midnight and there was no firework. Then someone on a balcony above us popped their party poppers, setting off an epidemic of premature grape eating in the crowd – but still no firework. Andy and I wobbled as people all around us broke, but we held our nerve even though Seba insisted it was midnight…and then, finally, the 12 single fireworks started their countdown and Andy and I gobbled our grapes furiously hoping good luck was assured for the next 12 months.

A Moment of Insomniac Elation
Nicole and Seba went home about 1am leaving Andy and I on our lonesome. The band in the square was replaced by a guy on a keyboard and his two dancing little girls. It’s difficult to describe them without sounding cruel, but I’ll just say the girls looked exactly like Gabby’s daughters in Desperate Housewives. It was an appalling act, so we took off for the clubbing area beside the old custom house. By this time the area was full of young girls in short, shiny, strapless evening gowns and lads in suits. Whereas the girls looked stylish and sophisticated, the local lads  still insist on sporting Derek Zoolander haircuts – it was a piss take guys – which doesn’t do them any favours at all.
Almost as soon as we got there familiar sounds sent a surge of adrenalin through our veins as the DJ pumped up the volume with the Faithless classic Insomnia. It made our night and our arms punched the air…for all of thirty seconds before the DJ reverted to the obligatory Latino beat.

Looking at the plague of Zoolanders around me it suddenly struck me why it’s always Latino, Latino and more Latino even in the clubbing areas. Whenever the DJ strayed from Latino, they were lost. They attempted to do something resembling salsa to the thumping dance beat before giving up and wandering away from the dance area. The only time they got really excited was when the Latino came back on and they were back in familiar territory.

It’s quite sweet in a way and I respect how traditions are maintained but Andy and I like a bit of international music now and again. We lasted until 3.45 by which time we were Latino’d to the eyeballs and it was time for the long walk home.

I have to admit to changing my views about all inclusive hotels on Tenerife. Don’t get me wrong, apart from where families are involved, I don’t believe they’ve got much to do with travel and still represent the dumbing down of what should be an exciting adventure – i.e. travelling to another land.

However, recently I’ve come to the conclusion that they have been painted as a convenient villain by bar owners who have, to be brutally blunt, become lazy. The first clue to this was when we stayed at the Roca Nivaria in Playa Paraiso and the growing belief that this was the case was fuelled further at Playa de la Arena recently.

Bars are suffering where there are AI hotels…but not all bars. The question that needs asking is this. Are bars suffering because of the presence of AI generally, or because what they are offering is far inferior than what visitors can get in their AI cocoon? If it’s the latter then, as Andy says in her blog, bar owners should stop bitchin’ and start to work to ensure that they raise their game.

For some it’s going to be difficult, or even nigh on impossible because their way of thinking has become outdated. They’ve spent too long on Tenerife without keeping an eye on developments in the outside world and still think that today’s visitors want exactly the same as they did 20 years ago.

Here’s an example of what I mean. We frequent the Beehive in Puerto de la Cruz. It’s aimed at a British clientele, but also attracts Scandinavians and the occasional Canario. We go there for two reasons. The first is to watch Manchester United; the second is that we like the staff a lot. However, the décor and the music they play haven’t changed in twenty years and so for us it is only a football watching bar. It has none of the ingredients that we’d look for in a bar when we go out in the evening.

When we went there last week we walked through a town that was buzzing with visitors and yet the bar was nowhere near full. A couple of times we’ve tried to broach the subject of why customer numbers are dropping, but it is always a non-starter. Once we suggested that they should take a look at places like St Eugene’s and Shenanigans in the south of Tenerife to see the sort of thing that visitors lapped up, but it fell on deaf ears.

This time we made a comment about the number of new bars opening in Puerto de la Cruz. In the past week we counted four new, trendy bars. All aimed at the resident Canario population. They were all modern, sexy and will no doubt be sensually lit and play good music. In short they were like the sort of bars we used to go to in Manchester seven years ago.

But when we mentioned these factors, this was the response.

“What we really need in Puerto is a little English café selling teas and Victoria sponges.”

VICTORIA SPONGES! I hadn’t even heard the term in a quarter of a century.

Listen, I can see fifty looming on the horizon and what I want are the Kings of Leon, Oasis and The Black Eyed Peas and from what I saw in the busiest bars in Costa Adeje and Playa de las Américas recently, so do an awful lot of people my age.
What I really don’t want in Puerto is a little old fashioned English café selling Victoria sponges, or a bar whose music is stuck in Nat King Cole’s era…even my mother doesn’t want that.

But there’s the rub – that’s what some bar owners really believe my age group wants. No doubt they’ll still be thinking that as they paste up the SE VENDE sign on their windows.

Could it actually be that in a perverse sort of way, AI might ultimately do Tenerife a favour?

It's Not Really as Fast as it looks

A conversation I had with someone last week demonstrated once again how different a place can be, or appear, depending on where you choose to spend your time.

We were sitting in the Beehive Bar watching Wolfsburg V Man United. The bar was relatively busy, but not full and one of the regular winter visitors to Puerto de la Cruz commented on how quiet the town seemed and that there had only been a handful of people in the bar the previous night. It made us smile because we’d just queued for ages to get into the town’s big free car park which was completely stowed out and then had fought our way through crowds of people to try to make it to the bar in time for kick-off.

The reason for this was that the traditional Christmas funfair had set up in the lower car park and the night was filled with bright neon lights, loud screams and the smell of deep fried churros and boiled onions being slapped on humungous hot dogs. The place was buzzing with hordes of smiley happy people and for a split second it was nearly a case of ‘Man Who’ as I was almost seduced into swapping the thrill of the footie for the thrill of the fair. The huge over-the-top ‘big wheel’ dominating the old town area and only added to the childhood type excitement I felt at being in the middle of a whirlwind of sights and sounds.

The day before we’d battled the crowds in Al Campo to try to get our Christmas shopping completed. It felt as though the whole of the La Orotava Valley had decamped to the La Villa shopping centre and by the time we left, the place was just getting busier and busier and the roads entering and leaving the centre at a standstill.

The day after the match I sat outside the Post Office letting the sun warm my face, resigned to the fact that with 60 people in the queue ahead of me, I was going to be waiting quite a long time. At that point I remembered what the person in the bar had said to us about it being quiet.

It might have been quiet wherever he had been spending his time, but that’s because every other bugger in town happened to be anywhere that I happened to be.

Actually the week before the week before Christmas is normally a quiet time in the centre of the town during weekdays as everyone sorts out their final preparations so that they can have fun and enjoy the festive season to the full when it begins in earnest.

You’d think that being surrounded by banana plantations the nearest bar to us would be a quaint little rustic place where the plantation workers swapped their machetes for a glass of vino tinto but no, this is Tenerife where expectations are often confounded.

A short -ish stroll to the end of the banana road and up the hill opposite takes us to Puerto’s, and possibly even Tenerife’s poshest bar, Abaco, a grand 18th century mansion which is a cocktail bar and live music venue at night and a museum and folklore centre during the day. Of course to get there we have to pass a restaurant which must be in the running for one of the nicest restaurants in Puerto de la Cruz, Ganania, but that’s used more for weddings and celebrations.

Despite living so close to this wonderful sounding place, we’d never actually been to the bar at night even though it sounded incredible – don’t ask me why.

Abaco - A Classy Bar in an Old Mansion

Abaco - A Classy Bar in an Old Mansion

On Friday night we decided to rectify this, mainly because I’d read a tweet on twitter from jazz singer, Anna Rodriguez that she was performing there. A quick check of Abaco’s website showed that it was free concert (always a bonus) so at around 22.00 we set off along the banana road to the bar where we’d heard fruit and vegetables littered the floor.

The first sight of Abaco is impressive. The mansion could rival any of the Casas de Balcones in La Orotava, but I’m willing to bet that there are any number of visitors to Puerto de la Cruz who don’t know it exists. The front door opens directly onto the main road (it’s quiet so no real danger of doing a Sam Tyler as you step outside) and sure enough the vestibule was decorated in rich hues and with tastefully arranged piles of fruit everywhere. Like many of these mansions, stepping inside was like entering the Tardis; the vestibule led to a sprawling courtyard and gardens with tables tucked away in secret romantic corners. It was stunning; the only problem is that apart from another couple at a table it was empty and we felt a bit like intruders as we explored.

Inside Abacos Courtyard - This is the toilets!!

Inside Abaco's Courtyard - This is the toilets!!

The concert was being held in the cocktail bar where at least there were a few other people, but it hadn’t started yet, so we grabbed a table outside to admire the beautiful old building and grounds from the inside. Within seconds a waitress turned up and handed us a drinks menu – it became apparent why such an incredible bar wasn’t packed to the gunwales. The average price of cocktails was €8; the cheapest bottle of wine €20 and if you wanted to go for it, a bottle of gin or vodka would set you back €65.

When the waitress returned I meekly asked for two glasses of vino tinto and then Andy and I discussed how much we thought it would cost, settling on €5 per glass based on the prices in the menu. To be fair, although the price of a bottle sounded high, when you work out how many drinks you would get out of it, it isn’t that excessive.

At around 22.30 Anna Rodriguez started her set and we moved inside. Anna’s got an excellent voice and she sang some numbers which varied from Bebel Gilberto songs to jazz classics to a slowed down to a crawl version of The Police’s ‘Message in a Bottle’. It was laid back stuff, a bit too laid back for us, but the bar cat liked it and settled down for a snooze in one of the more comfortable bar chairs.

I can’t say that we’ll become regulars at Abaco – it is immaculately decorated and quite unique and definitely worth a visit, but it’s a bit too quiet and tasteful for us (not that the staff were fussy or pretentious – the service was excellent and very friendly). That’s probably because we’re not refined and are used to the almost manic chatter in the Canarian bars in town. Personally I think it’s better suited to a more mature clientele (hark at Peter Pan here) who enjoy a bit of style in sumptuously serene surroundings, but I could be being unfair here. We left at about midnight and the younger Canarians don’t get going till then, so it might have livened up a bit later.

Price wise, although €8 might seem a lot for a cocktail, they turned out to be more works of art than drinks and were served in huge goblets and looked two to three times the size of your average cocktail. And as for our wine, it was €3 a glass which, considering the uniqueness of the venue, live music and a complimentary goblet of mixed nuts which was refilled as soon as it was emptied, wasn’t bad value at all.

Aha, so this is where they get the fruit for the cocktails.

Aha, so this is where they get the fruit for the cocktails.

“What do you think of this generation?” Jesús asked Andy.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Andy replied, looking perplexed.
“All this smoking pot, drinking…partying.”
I could see from Andy’s expression that she was contemplating giving Jesús a clip around the ear.
“Don’t talk to me as though I’m your grandmother,” Andy snapped and turned away mumbling something about ‘every generation thinking they invented the wheel.’

Ritmos del Mundo

Ritmos del Mundo

I meanwhile was trying to focus my camera on the DJ and the bikini and swimwear clad dancers in Lago Martiánez who were gyrating to Michael Jackson and REM remixes. I say trying…a cloud from the spliff the guy next to me was smoking was adding unwanted affects to the scene and probably adding mellow effects to the atmosphere…on the other side a couple of diminutive elderly Canarians definitely had a stoned look.

There’s a rather disturbing trend going around the young lads of Puerto de la Cruz. Their hair is quaffed up a bit like a duck’s arse on the top of their head. It’s not exactly a gay look, more camp model…think Derek Zoolander. Add tight Speedos to the equation and it’s almost laugh out loud funny.

“Haven’t they seen the movie Zoolander?” I commented. Maybe they didn’t realise it was a comedy.

We were listening to the Ritmos del Mundo, a 13 hour DJ fest. Ritmos del Mundo means ‘rhythms of the World. Any other place and you might think that you were in for a WOMAD type event. In Tenerife world music usually means that it’s simply not traditional Canarian. And so it proved to be the case. The music was good and certainly added a thumping buzz to Puerto’s Saturday night scene, but the main age range in the Lago looked to be around 15/16 so we decided to stick to the fringe before heading along the promenade past living statues, the hair braiders, caricature artists and a hilarious life sized Canarian version of a Punch and Judy show to one of the coolest bars in town, Soho, owned by a friend of Jesús.

Lago Martiánez, Ritmos del Mundo

Lago Martiánez, Ritmos del Mundo

It was quiet in the bar, at 11.00pm it was still too early for the local populace, so we sat at the bar with a Peroni whilst Jesús borrowed ‘Bobbybob’s” iphone to show us some photos of him swinging an imaginary golf club at the Abama Golf Course. It was the first time we’d seen an iphone in action. MY GOD when did the future arrive? We realised that our humble little mobile was not even an abacus in relation to that sexy piece of technology.

We’d only really popped into town to have a look at the ‘Ritmos’ fest, so headed back for home at a relatively early hour. Passing the top of our road we noticed that the restaurant which had formerly been The Swiss House, and La Chaveta before that, had re-opened. It’s a fantastic little traditional house with the most picturesque courtyard; the perfect setting for a restaurant.

This time it’s called Tres Casitas – ‘three little houses’ which is pretty much an accurate description. Personally I reckon the change of name from La Chaveta to the Swiss House had much to do with its previous decline, so Tres Casitas is definitely an improvement.

“Let’s pop in for a drink,” suggested Jesús. “After all, we’re almost neighbours.”

Jesús’ attitude typifies the difference between Spanish openness and British reserve.

“But it’s a restaurant not a bar and it’s late…and I’ve passed it anyway.”

I’d driven about 20 feet past the courtyard’s entrance. The road is single track and my reversing-along-narrow-lanes skills are woeful.

“Aww come on, man. It’s neighbourly.” Jesús insisted.
“Yeah, Jesús is right, let’s have a look,” Andy ganged up.

I reversed the 20 feet, a painful process to watch, and parked outside the bougainvillea covered entrance. There were only a couple of diners left and they were just about to leave. Jesús asked if the bar was open; an academic question as Canarian bars are open as long as there’s someone in the place.

The bar is in one of the casitas; sloping beamed roof, rough cerise walls, a huge black and white print of Ray Charles on the wall and music to match. The bar itself is gleaming polished wood which runs the length of the room. It was the sort of bar you could spend a lot of time in. We introduced ourselves and Andy and I listened as Jesús and the owner chatted about the menu and cooking, catching only about 70% of what was being said.

It’s quite a small menu, but it’s clearly quality and dishes like swordfish carpaccio; smoked cheese, jamon Serrano and strawberry salad and the house speciality – cochino asado (barbecued pig) suggest traditional Canarian cuisine updated for the modern palate. Some ingredients are grown in the casita’s ‘huerta’ (vegetable garden), whilst others are specially selected from elsewhere, like the pimientos brought in from La Palma because of their unique flavour.

We’ll definitely be going back at an hour which is more suitable for dining to try it out, but I’m willing to bet that it’s damned good which is great as it’s only a few minutes stroll away.

“Tenerife is an island that attracts over 6 million visitors a year, many of whom believe they know it like the back of their hands and few of whom know it at all.”

This might not be the Tenerife you think you know...

This might not be the Tenerife you think you know...

Tenerife’s newest and most honest guidebook might not be to everybody’s liking. A warts and all descriptive tour of Tenerife, including many gems overlooked by other guidebooks, it doesn’t pull any punches about mostly the good, but also the bad and the ugly of Tenerife and some people might not like some of the things it has to say.

Location reports include personal guides to towns, restaurants, attractions, beaches, nightlife, accommodation and fiestas whilst separate sections cover food and drink, culture, people and their quirks, plans for getting the best out of visits to Tenerife and the climate amongst others. Contributions from a few other Tenerife residents add a different perspective to the reality of life on Tenerife.

It’s a guide book with a difference.

It’s been available from major online bookstores since January and at long last ‘Going Native in Tenerife’ is now available to buy on Tenerife itself. There is only a limited supply available on the island so there are only two outlets selling it. These are:

The Bookswap on the 1st floor of the Marina at Puerto Colón

And

Barbara’s Bookshop, Calle Amalia Frías, 3; Los Cristianos

Send an email to editor@realtenerifeislanddrives.com telling me what the man is carrying in the photograph on page 89 of the book and I’ll email you a free copy of ‘A Captivating Coastline’, our short guide to the best coastal walks on Tenerife.