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.