Colin Butts first came to Ibiza as a holiday rep in the 80s and used that experience to pen the best selling novel ‘Is Harry on the Boat’ which was later turned into a feature film and TV series. An island resident for many years, he’s a familiar face on the San Antonio circuit dividing his time between writing, finalizing his new feature film and Plastik Bar which he co-owns. Here, exclusively for my blog, he writes on the future direction of the West End.
Colin: Everything comes to an end: Manchester United’s dominance; Breaking Bad; John Bishop being funny (actually, no, the latter never even started).
In the last few years, many have been saying the end is nigh for the West End of San Antonio. Is there any truth in this? Is the grim reaper of tourism lurking in the shadows or is it merely Peter Hankinson stumbling home after a few beers and a bit of gardening with a scythe in his hand?
Hankinson wonderfully described the evolution of the West End in his guest blog, the days when a local could convert his garage into a bar, simply open the doors and watch in slack-jawed euphoria as tour-guided Northern Europeans handed over the money they’d been saving all year so said local would never have to look at an almond tree again.
Ibiza has become so VIP orientated in recent years (are there now more concierge operators here than tourists?), that it is perceived as being too expensive for the traditional, young, San An visitor. They’ve de-camped to places like Sunny Beach and Kavos, both of which had recent TV series showing how cheap it was to get pissed and how easy it was to get laid: Teenagers deserted Ibiza and booked flights before you could say, “two pints of very cheap lager and a packet of condoms.”
The primary problem for the businesses in the West End and many other parts of San Antonio is that whilst the traditional tourist has gone, they are not being replaced by anyone else, due to the notorious reputation it has acquired over the years.
San Antonio used to be cool. Hankinson described how A list celebs were regular visitors in the 70s. When I worked here in 87 & 88, Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway et al didn’t head straight for Amnesia to kick-start the rave revolution. They began their journey in Nito’s/Nightlife (now VK bar), drank and “dropped” in the Charleston (now Trop’s store room) and the Madhouse (now The Boozer). They even opened their own bar, the basement Project Bar, which is now Nirvana Tattoo shop (which should have a dance music equivalent of a blue plaque – worth popping downstairs for a look).
Club 18-30 culture was at its peak in the 80s BUT (and here’s the key) IT WAS CONTROLLED by the reps as opposed to the feral anarchy of recent years, plus it was more than offset by the pony-tailed, dungaree-wearing, super-cool ravers swarming to San Antonio.
This in many ways points to the reason why the superclub and beach club owners who are currently gloating over their full VIP areas and not caring about the possible demise of San Antonio do so at their short-sighted peril. Many of the 30-60 year-olds now paying thousands for a table or bed are the same San An “oiks” who were here in the 80s, 90s and noughties.
Cut off the funnel of youth that feeds the island and see what happens. The globalization of Ibiza is contributing massively to its success for the time being but for how long? If your first experience of Ibiza is to have your trousers taken down and be royally shafted without any charm or appreciation, would you be rushing back? Would you be recommending Ibiza to your friends? Would the island enter your psyche in the way it would if you came on a journey of self-discovery as a youngster?
So what’s the answer? Accommodation certainly needs to improve and a lot of businesses need to up their game. Surely though, the answer lies in its history. San Antonio has always been a resort for young people – it just needs to go back to being a resort for COOL young people. They are here – look at Ocean Beach.
Andy McKay, owner of Ibiza Rocks recently said, “Why do the same kids staying in our hotel go to Pacha and behave in one way but then come to the West End next night and behave disgracefully?”
It’s all about creating the right environment. More effective policing or perhaps even private security manning the main entry points to the West End would help, so people know that certain behaviour won’t be tolerated. Bar owners need to play their part by selling alcohol to lubricate a night rather than drown it.
So, is it the end of the West End? At the moment, those original local owners are moving into their 70s and passing their bars to the next generation who don’t want out-of-date bars so there are three choices: Rent it to a gullible guirri who will last a couple of years before blowing their savings on their dream; upgrade it, a risky investment in the current climate; or change use. Over the next few years I have a feeling we are going to be seeing ever more venues doing the latter.
San Antonio can become cool again and the key to that is youth. Young, cool people don’t want to party in the dance music equivalent of Disneyland with 45 year-old, daddy dancing bankers. It would be a fatal mistake for San Antonio to try and emulate Bossa, not just for San Antonio but for the whole island.
Change HAS TO come from young people. Would an old local have come up with such a successful and original idea as Skinny Kitchen? Of course not. Young people bring the ideas then older, wealthier businessmen copy them, adapt them and turn them into trends.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your POV) the old West End model won’t work because those holidaymakers are only ever going to diminish in number. It’s a fact and one that those who enjoyed the halcyon days find extremely hard to accept. Some serious PR needs to be done to change the perception of San An and the West End and that PR has to also happen in countries other than the UK. Perception is everything for San Antonio. It can still be fun. It can still be cheap. It can still be youth orientated. It just needs to be cool.
Manchester United haven’t come to an end, they’re simply re-organising. Breaking Bad may come back but has shifted emphasis for the time being and returned with Better Call Saul. San An needs to do the same, change emphasis, re-organise.
One thing is certain though. John Bishop will NEVER be funny.