Is Ibiza the new Benidorm?

  A quick sketch by my good friend Tom Knopek who worked on the White Isle in the 80’s and has been coming back several times a year ever since.

TOM: It’s 5am on a Friday morning and EasyJet, the kings of the unfriendly flight times, have a 05.35 from Gatwick to IBZ – its hardly worth going to bed but hey ho a weekend in the world’s top Island awaits

Why does it not feel like 5am? Gatwick is rammed – chaos – people “on it” and spirits are high.  I count 7 (yes SEVEN) stag/hen parties – the “victim” (groom or bride) it seems must be dressed as someone they are not – a sheik/ballet dancer/jockey (he is small)/nurse and various others. Good luck to them is my view – not my thing but live and let live – they are happy!

But I’m glad I’m going to Ibiza – the sexiest island on earth – mention Ibiza in LA or Vegas at Tomorrowland or even Glastonbury, New York or London and all humans nod in appreciation of a Worldwide Icon – a distant place from the Stag/Hen groups going to whatever downmarket cheap and cheerful corner of the Med that they are off to

Well f**k me – not 1 but all 7 stag/hen parties are on the same flight as me – to Ibiza and I’m sitting next to the jockey who is being force fed Vodka and red bull.

One guy really stands out as a bit of a weird dude – black jeans, T shirt, beats headphones, a tattoo, earring and short hair – I think he is a DJ – He must be thinking he’s on the wrong flight?????

For anyone who has a connection with Ibiza from the 80s of Wham to Calvin Harris today there is a sense of being part of something special – unique – precious.

So am I too protective of my memories, have I become an Ibiza snob? It’s mine and I want it to stay special!

Or – Is Ibiza wandering towards Benidorm??

p.s. the jockey is now asleep on my shoulder 😦

TK chilling at Vedra

West End: The Beginning – Guest Blog by Peter Hankinson

WEST END WEEK – DAY 2

West End legends aren’t made overnight but after 30 years on San Antonio’s most famous street there’s nobody better than Sr Peter Hankinson to give us a unique insight into it’s history. He arrived on the island in 1971 in an old minibus and quickly carved out a niche as one of the faces of the west end. Over the years he has worked at or ran Hanoi, Capones, Nito’s, Extasis, Es Paradis, Star Club, Trops, Tropicana’s, Sgt Peppers and Krystal’s to name but a few. 

Peter: Having read many people’s informed opinions of the West End in San Antonio, as an original founder member I would like to take the opportunity to speak a little of its history. I opened my first bar in the West End in 1971 and continued working at various establishments off and on until 2005 so I have a unique perspective of this area of business. 

In the early 70’s San Antonio was the centre of all tourism in Ibiza and was made up of various nationalities, ages and people of all backgrounds who had discovered the laid back charm of the island and came from all over the island to enjoy its unique atmosphere. 

In 1973 a group of 12 businesses decided to form a society to benefit the area. One of the reasons for this was that beach party sellers would bother and harass the clients at the bars and restaurants. At a meeting it was agreed to call the area the West End, after the West End in London due to its image (although some wanted to call it the East End!).

The businesses, among others, were Celler el Refugio (now Temptation) – regarded by many as the best restaurant on the island), Nitos (now VK Club), Chac Mool (now 80s/90s/00s), The Music Bar (now Joe Spoon’s), Kings Bar (now Stereo), Babalu, Hanoi Bar (now The Huddle), La Reja (now Kilties) and Cortijo Tristan (now Revolutions) among others, all of which have now changed their names and in some cases their usage. Each business had an illuminated sign and the society employed its own PRs to push the area and for a few weeks in the summer even ran its own beach parties, unlike today the bars generally worked together.

The atmosphere in the newly named West End was very cosmopolitan and most of the youngsters were Scandinavian, German, Dutch and British with a smattering of genuine A-list stars such as the Gibb brothers, Robert Plant and Lulu, wandering around amongst them. Most bars were busy, the average taking in my small Hanoi bar was about 30,000 pesetas (about 5000 euros in today’s money) on a good night. The main difference between then and now was the mentality of the clients with hard drugs (such as amphetamines and cocaine) being almost non-existent. The policing of the area was by the national police who came over from other areas of Spain for a couple of months, they were high profile but had a good attitude and were respected by the public and bar owners. If you called them, they came. 

Due to the success of the area all the different shops and houses in the area gradually became bars so the West End expanded outwards even though when I built the original Capone’s in 1974 it was regarded as being ‘too far out’, how things change!

During the 70s and 80s the West End continued to do good business but the clientele gradually changed from an international crowd to a mainly British market with tour operators becoming very popular and bar crawls gaining so much importance that having the best bar didn’t really matter but having a good relationship with the tour operators was imperative. As the West End grew it started to gain notoriety in the British press towards the end of the 80s when societies problems were reflected on the streets although this image wasn’t representative of the place that I knew. The 90s saw a massive rise in the drug culture and with it the atmosphere began to change in ‘Europe’s premier youth resort’.

Times change and the West End of today is a completely different place and it is facing big challenges over the next few years against increasing competition on the island but my memories are mostly fond as I loved my time there and still love San Antonio. I wish everyone all the best for the future as this area has been good to me and continues to be very important to our town.

Peter Hankinson

Peter (front right) giving some words of wisdom
 peterhankinsonibz@hotmail.com

Conta SHOCKER

 

The news that everybody dreaded but was probably inevitable came yesterday with confirmation that the UK’s 2nd richest businessmen David and Simon Reuben have purchased 3 miles of prime beachfront land in the Port des Torrent-Cala Bassa-Cala Conta area for around £25m (less than the price of a Mayfair townhouse!). 

Press reports state that they plan to develop the land even though the existing license has expired. This news has been met with universal horror on the island with many shocked at the prospect of this unspoiled land being converted into a concrete jungle full of even more so-called VIPs (if that’s possible).

Private equity vultures have been rumoured to be circling for a while in many parts of the island especially since Ibiza has succumbed to the VIP culture in recent years which has proven a massive market for Ushuaia, Hard Rock Hotel, Blue Marlin, Lio and Pacha to name but a few. New addition ‘Heart Ibiza’ has recently opened, this joint venture by world renowned chef Ferran Adria and Cirque du Soleil promises to crank up the top end even further. You just have to walk around the Ibiza Nueva marina next to Lio to see the money coming into the island. A Stella McCartney boutique nestles next to the Superyachts with elderly owners and leggy east European blondes which adorn all the moorings, forget San Tropez and Monte Carlo, there’s only 1 place the super rich want to be over the summer

Taking all this into account it’s should come as no surprise that there are people ready to cash in. The existing controversial property development promoted by Rafa Nadal near to Cala Conta is an example of the demand for luxury housing in gated communities. These easily fetched prices of 1 to 5 million euros which makes the reported £25M price paid by the Reuben Brothers look like a bargain

Those of us on the island and the millions of Ibiza lovers worldwide can only hope that Sant Josep council remain strong and only allow development in existing areas and steadfastly protect the green belt and coastal land that is cherished by so many but this council has had a chequered history in this respect and strange decisions can be made especially when huge sums of money are involved.

Go WEST! 

  WEST END WEEK – DAY 1

The municipality of Sant Antoni de Portmany is 129 km2, has a population in excess of 20,000 and stretches from the beaches of Cala Gracio and Cala Salada to the beautiful countryside of San Mateu and Santa Ines yet an area which takes up only 0.0001% and is 150 metres long and barely 3 streets across dominates everyone’s perception and opinion of the town. These 2 words and 7 letters is a topic that divides opinion, creates heated debate and represents where San Antonio came from and is indicative of where it’s going.

Step forward San Antonio’s famous “WEST END”

Love it or loathe it the West End is here to stay so why does this tiny area cloud so many peoples judgement of the whole town? Mention San Antonio to many and their eyes will roll and their heads will shake (especially those that haven’t actually been there) and right in the middle of their pre conceived ideas is the West End – a polarizing force in a town that everybody loves to hate.

The West End of 2015 is its own eco system and micro economy and is representative of whether the town is ‘doing well’. There used to be fine restaurants but now it’s mainly bars and fast food outlets, a sugar rush for adrenaline/red bull junkies who like to party the night away for relatively little money – if you’re on a tight budget then this is the place for you hence why San Antonio is many young people’s first holiday abroad. ‘Free entry’ say the signs to the bars and pubs who also advertise cheap drink offers such as ‘3 beers and 3 shots for €10’. The problem is that if you set your stall out to capture this end of the market then its tough to reinvent yourself at a later date. This price-driven environment means that in tough times some bars just reduce the price or even give it away for free – some call it a loss leader others might call it commercial suicide.

Throw in a cocktail of looky looky men, women of ill-repute, the odd petty thief and 24 hour ‘bodegas’ selling even cheaper booze and it all adds up to an interesting mix with never a dull moment. It’s usually quite safe and an excellent place to people watch. Keep your wits about you and enjoy but if you are too worse for wear and wander off the beaten track then it can also be a dangerous place but you could say that about anywhere in the western world if you are too drunk to talk and can’t even remember your own name. 

I spent lots of nights down the West End in my younger years so it played a very important part in my Ibiza upbringing hence why I always defend it and bristle when summer journalists use it for ink-bait but we also have to recognize that most places in Ibiza have moved onwards and upwards yet the West seems to mainly stand still with more bars opening every year offering cheaper drinks to less people because of increased competition from Ushuaia, Ocean Beach, Hard Rock, Sankeys and Space to name but a few. 

To those who criticize a simple ‘well don’t go there’ retort usually shuts them up however it is an integral part of San Antonio tourism but how much longer can it survive in its present format? Pep Cires, the new Mayor, has promised to change San Antonio’s ‘tourism model’ and no prizes for guessing where he was looking towards when he made that statement. Reinvention is an overused word yet seems valid in this case. How is it that the very same people who drink champagne at Ocean Beach and proudly post pics on Facebook then stroll down the West End looking for the cheapest offers? Once again it comes back to the environment created.

Some owners/managers are trying to change things but others appear stuck in a time-warp with little investment and craving to fill their bars just to upset their competitors no matter what the cost. The West End is no different to any other market and natural selection ensures that the best bars will always be busy and those who don’t offer anything different just shrivel up and die until it re-opens with another eager tenant paying an expensive rent. 

Most towns have their own version (Newcastle’s Bigg Market or Dublin’s Temple Bar) however these places are positively policed with customer enjoyment paramount. Wouldn’t it be great if we could create this type of environment for San Antonio but very little police presence has ensured an other-worldly feel to the place, 2015 has seen a private security firm being contracted to raise visibility, this can only be a positive but appears an expensive short term solution to a long term problem. 

Whether we like it or not the West End is San Antonio and San Antonio is the West End so we all need to take an interest for the good of our town. IMO the key ingredient is quality over quantity and a range of diverse products to entice a broader cross section of people. Any product has to evolve, learn from its mistakes and get better at what it does. San Antonio has the best range of nocturnal activities on the island but it also needs to love itself a little more and take pride in its offerings. As we have seen with the rise of the beach clubs and VIP culture, money isn’t the driving factor anymore, on the white isle its all about what’s on offer. 

Of course this is very easy for me to say and this blog raises more questions that answers but if we never start then we will never finish. A quick paint job isn’t good enough anymore and as other venues & resorts have proved, invest in it, build it and they will come. 

And the NEW IBIZA is……..

 As it comes to silly season for the UK press some mid 30s journalists sitting at their Apple Mac computers in their Primrose Hill townhouses have made an amazing discovery: Apparently there is a new destination that is going to give the white isle a serious run for its money this summer. This place is a small island in the med boasting glorious sunshine for most of the year and will amaze all who arrive there especially those with a sense of adventure. It’s not Mykonos or Croatia or Santorini or even Las Vegas but a gem that is definitely worth your consideration.Stay away from the usual tourist traps and the people are friendly with an easygoing and tolerant attitude and there’s lots of different things to do when you get there. There’s also a strong rumour that Jade Jagger and her west London friends holiday there and we all know how important that is to the hacks who don’t leave their living room whilst pontificating about holiday destinations they know very little or absolutely nothing about.

Initially it might appear expensive but scratch the surface and there is a whole different world that costs very little if you are willing to look a little harder and not follow the crowd. The nature is simply spectacular with beautiful countryside and crystal clear blue waters but before I tell you I want you to close your eyes and imagine a paradise where you can be yourself, relax, let off steam in amazing surroundings, eat delicious local food and wines and mix with respectful locals who won’t judge you (no, I said its not Mykonos!) 

Get ready because the new Ibiza is……Ibiza. Beware of expensive imitations because there’s only one – it’s a unique island with something for everyone so don’t believe everything you read in the press.

Surprised? Well maybe you just didn’t look hard enough.

‘Ibiza Winter Residents’: You couldn’t make it up!

  When Facebook was just a glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye could he have ever imagined the unstoppable train that he would unleash on the world for those wanting to share, to get things off their chest, those with a particular axe to grind and those with nothing better to do than surf social media all day whilst basking in the sun (that would be me then). Of all the social media groups and forums that I have joined and participated in, one is simply head and shoulders above the rest.

On a small island in a smallish sea there is a Facebook group called ‘Ibiza Winter Residents’ and I ask you, neigh beg you, to join it with the utmost urgency and become immersed in the weird and wonderful world of the Ibiza native: Those who love to share strange experiences, those who care more for animals than humans, no post is too sensitive for offensive remarks and those who can turn any gentle conversation into a slanging match. This group ensures that the term ‘pointless Ibiza question’ is now extinct. 

IWR has replaced the supermarket cafe with regards to recommendations, hearsay, conjecture, rumours and downright lies. Don’t take it too seriously and you will be amazed at the hourly posts and comments and I challenge you not to be doubled up with laughter on a daily basis. A word of caution though: Take this group too seriously and throw in a few bad comments about animals (especially cats) and you will have sworn enemies for life and an Ibiza Fatwa put on your head. 

Group admin Brian Beezwax told me “My friends were always asking for advice on how to do this or where to find that so a few years ago I decided to start writing it down in Ibiza Winter Residents whenever I had a little bit of success with Ibiza red tape, to give me something to refer to if I had to do the same thing again or if someone else asked. Thankfully it eventually started to catch on and other people started to share their experiences and advice too. Now in the space of a year the group has swelled from less than 3000 people to over 18,000 and we appear to have created a monster!”

Brian continues “There are lots of very different tribes on this island and Ibiza Winter Residents is one of the very few public spaces that they have to share. The odd verbal scrap is inevitable but most people seem to be able to look after themselves – at the end of the day it’s just words on a screen! Some people seem to think that the group should be heavily moderated like most forums on the internet but I’m adamant that it should remain lawless as it is – I think it’s important that there is a place where people are free to say whatever they like…….”

IWR reaches its target audience immediately (you’re probably reading this link now through it) and can be a fantastic source of information and a fact sharing site which can be very important on a small island but also no subject is too trivial and no comment is too gentle for it not to be misinterpreted by a diverse Ibiza population of different nationalities, backgrounds, languages and from contrasting social spheres. The group could almost have the sub heading ‘Lost in Translation’. 

Certain issues are no-go areas (cats again!) unless you are a true masochist and God forbid you suggest that the bus timetable in Santa Gertrudis isn’t good enough as this will unleash a tirade of ‘get back to your own country’ and ‘this isn’t London! ‘ type comments. I have even started using “IWR’s” as a collective term to describe a specific Ibiza demographic. 

Only Ibiza could give birth to this group and although some posts are cringeworthy and slightly mad it’s a fantastic medium for sharing first-person opinions and recommendations. I applaud it as a celebration of the islands dysfunctionality, and the strange thing is that I’m almost addicted to it so to all you IWR’s out there please keep on posting, ranting, swearing, informing, criticizing, praising, threatening, recommending, belittling, laughing and most of all championing our Island as I, for one, simply can’t get enough. MM

The BOSSA FACTOR

  When I first arrived in Ibiza in 1991 (as a clueless holiday rep) the island dynamic was very straight forward. Youngsters went to San Antonio, families went to Playa d’en Bossa/Es Cana, and couples/seniors went to Santa Eulalia. I’m generalizing but you get the idea.

Playa d’en Bossa (or just plain Bossa) was predominantly a family resort but did have THE club in Space which opened at 6am and went straight through until the evening. Space opened its doors in 1989 and quickly gained an ‘anything goes’ reputation with the open air terrace being the place to be on a Sunday for sun, drinks, drugs and the best music in the world.

The families directly across the road in the hotels Bahamas and Don Toni were all a bit bewildered but Ibiza is nothing if not tolerant. Bossa continued developing at a rapid rate until 2011 when the Fiesta group got into bed with the Ushuaia beach bar and turned one of their family friendly ‘Fiesta-land’ hotels into the Ushuaia Beach Hotel, something that is commonly known as a GAME-CHANGER. Ushuaia Tower quickly followed and then with the 2014 addition of the Hard Rock Hotel (the only HR hotel outside of North America) the transformation was complete: quiet family resort to full on party paradise in less than a generation. 

For me it’s been hard watching the rise and rise of Bossa whilst San Antonio has remained more or less the same but now with the added influx of seasonal ‘workers’ (but that’s another story which I will blog about later this week). 

To compare the 2 places is difficult: San Antonio is an urban nucleus with it’s magnificent bay and natural harbour but has fallen down the party pecking order through lack of investment and 2 ‘super’ clubs that appear to care about everything apart from client enjoyment. Bossa is a purpose made tourist resort that now has top notch bars and restaurants along its mile long beach and the world class venues previously mentioned.

Although it’s billed as a mini Las Vegas any night in Bossa will also confirm your worst fears. A claustrophobic environment with hawkers and pushy PRs on every street corner. Of course we have some of the same issues on the west coast yet Bossa NEVER gets the bad publicity that San Antonio does, it would appear that memories are short as long as you have a few world class venues on your doorstep. 

So as Ibiza enters a new political era with elected socialist leaders in San Jose (Bossa’s municipality), San Antonio and also the island government it will be interesting to see if there are any major plans for Ibiza’s two biggest party resorts especially as San Antonio’s new Mayor Pep Tur ‘Cires’ has ‘promised’ a change of direction for San An tourism, this will be very interesting to watch.

Also it’s worth mentioning that Vicent Torres the probable next Island President was a former tourist minister for the Balearics and was the man who signed the Ryanair winter flights agreement back in 2007. 

Fiesta group led by billionaire Abel Matutes continues to push for more changes in Bossa and has also unveiled plans to invest €40M in the hotel Tanit at Cala Gracio making it a ‘mini Ushuaia’ which will include a beach club, will this be the touch paper that San Antonio needs to reclaim its historical place as the entry level Ibiza resort for all 18-25 year olds? Like most tourist destinations Ibiza needs needs to continually evolve especially with regards to quality so we can compete with the emerging gateways and for this to happen we require our tourism leaders to be strong, innovative and creative not just stick their heads in the sand and expect Ibiza to continually ride on the crest of a wave. MM