• Morgan Fagg

It's 4pm somewhere

The nightlife in Spain, during the middle of the day.

(Appeared in the Irish Times & Athlone Advertiser

Discussed on 2FM, Midland Radio 3 & Shannonside Northernsound)

After over a year of coronavirus cases in Spain, the bar has been lowered beyond all belief with nightclubs opening as early as 4pm in order to profit from the current situation where a strict curfew in the capital starts at Midnight.

Closing time is at 11pm but that hasn't stopped some nightclubs in the city centre from opening, and by 7pm these small clubs seem to be filling fast.

I was curious about the situation in Spain after seeing a woman in transparent trousers passing me on the street as I returned from school.

The woman then walked into a nightclub and I wanted to see for myself if nightclubs were still open and more importantly if they were very busy. I had written an entertainment column for a local newspaper in the past and was very familiar with visiting local bars and clubs, back home in Athlone.

I returned a few hours later to check out the club but I couldn’t get in because it was full and they suggested I returned the following day at 4pm.

Ernest Hemingway is credited with saying, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” but across from the Spanish square where Don Hemingway used to drink in Cerveceria Alemana, these two clubs were filling fast and when I tried the next day, I was told the same thing, until someone offered to bring me to another club.

I was brought to a bar that was opposite another one of Hemingway’s favourite haunts, La Venencia, a beautiful bar that only serves sherry and doesn’t allow you to take photos or to give tips.

A tradition, I believe that dates back decades, possibly to the Spanish Civil War and I think the reason that photos weren’t allowed was because they didn’t want customers being photographed during the Civil War and dictatorship.

With my camera-phone in my shirt pocket, I was shown a bar with big black windows that I had always just presumed was a strip club, inside this really nice bar waitresses were showing a little more skin than I would have liked and were baring more than I could bear, one waitress had her mask down around her chin and the other waitress wasn’t wearing one at all.

It was quiet at first and I was able to enjoy a drink in the corner as two girls beside me danced and shared a Shisha water pipe as couples arrived and ordered cocktails.

I had seen enough for one afternoon and left as the place started to fill up, it would be a great place to spend some time if there wasn’t a pandemic and a 11pm closing time.

I guess necessity knows no law, and these clubs have to make money while the sun shines, and Madrid now turns into a ghost town after Midnight.

It was over a year ago when the first coronavirus cases reached Spanish shores with the first case recorded on the quiet island of La Gomera.

An Irish friend living on the island had to cancel a play he was staging there at the time because of the restrictions but he has used the time wisely and has finished his third book about the Irish midlands, Someone’s Always Watching You.

Author Séamus Mac Aogáin from Abbeyshule is right that someone is always watching you as Madrid has had to invest millions in high tech drones.

The city has apparently invested €2.7 million in a "Drone Force" of 15 drones to monitor the movement of people outside of their homes but it all seems utterly pointless as businesses lower the bar and open clubs at 3pm Irish time.

As a child with only two channels, I watched Zig and Zag at 3pm or Live at 3 but now I’m afraid that I’m looking at Death in the Afternoon as people pack pubs and clubs during a pandemic.

I recently enjoyed a celebratory meal in the world's oldest restaurant where kings and queens have dined for centuries and I saw the signature of Felipe II on the wall who I believe was the last king of Ireland, and founder of the city of Madrid.

A friend’s father who worked as the Maître d there for fifty years, met the crew of Apollo 11 and countless celebrities including Charlton Heston and Sylvester Stallone when they visited Casa Botin, which was founded almost 300 years ago in 1725.

Famous for their suckling pig, Hemingway frequented and wrote about the restaurant in his books, and the world famous restaurant’s staff has sadly been reduced from about 80 to 18, and Coronavirus has clearly hit many businesses very hard but seeing nightclubs opening after lunchtime is a worrying sign of people's priorities during a pandemic.

Back home in Athlone, Sean’s Bar is the oldest known pub in Ireland but was one of the first bars in Ireland to close their doors, and serving their customers responsibly, Timmy Donovan has promised to send me a taste of home and send me some Sean's bar whiskey to enjoy here in Spain.

I used to write an entertainment column called From Dusk till Dawn but there is nothing entertaining about seeing clubs opening from 4pm to 11pm when people should be enjoying their drinks from the safety of their homes.

These are testing times, and I was surprised when a friend contacted me to see if they could copy my PCR test to get back to Ireland from Spain, and I realised just how much trouble we are in when strict requirements are dismissed like maths homework, and I really don't think our responses add up when the Spanish government is spending millions on drones but people are packing into nightclubs in the evening, where waitresses aren't necessarily even wearing masks.

People need to relax and enjoy themselves in these difficult difficult times but 4pm in a pandemic isn't the right time and I'd prefer a taste of home where the world's oldest pub is closed but still ready to serve customers online.

It’s 5pm somewhere but stay safe when Coronavirus is in the air, and on the menu.

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