Barcelona’s post-Covid club scene: Empty dance floors and face masks

Nightlife is returning to the Catalan city but with strict safety measures in place to minimize the risk of coronavirus contagion

The dance floor at Pachá nightclub in Barcelona on Saturday.
The dance floor at Pachá nightclub in Barcelona on Saturday.JUAN BARBOSA (EL PAÍS)
Jessica Mouzo

It’s Saturday night at Pachá nightclub in Barcelona, and the loudspeakers are playing Rosalía’s Con altura. People are (only just) observing social distancing. This is the first Saturday of Spain’s “new normality,” which began on June 21, and young people want to party.

But the Catalan government has introduced significant restrictions on nightlife entertainment venues, and club owners are going out of their way to ensure that these are observed: records are kept of who goes in, there are strict sanitation measures in place, and dance floors have been cordoned off or converted into seating areas.

In Barcelona, this is in fact the second weekend after the end of confinement, since Catalonia lifted the state of alarm two days before the rest of Spain. But it only took regional authorities three days to react to the crowded dance-floor scenes of the first weekend and to introduce stricter measures. From now on, no more dancing with strangers.

In the Catalan capital’s Front Maritim, once filled with tourists, the nightlife venues are now catering to a local crowd. The price of booking a table has gone down to attract the few remaining customers, but even then, the cheapest table at Pachá is €120.

Taking down customers' contact information at Opium club on Saturday.
Taking down customers' contact information at Opium club on Saturday.JUAN BARBOSA

At the door, clients have to provide contact information for use in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak, apply hand sanitizer, and bring face masks – or buy one for €10, for those who forgot it at home.

Capacity is limited to 75% in the outdoor area and 50% indoors, and even then it is hard to fill that space. “We have the capacity for 1,300 people. Yesterday [Friday] we had 160. It’s all so surrealistic. It’s just not profitable,” explains Santi Ciprés, a manager at Pachá.

It is a similar story at the nearby Opium and Shoko. Considered the “holy trinity” of Barcelona’s beachfront dance clubs, all three are sorely feeling the drop in attendance.

Inside, the dance floors have been converted into seating areas where velvet ropes divide each private space to be used by a single group of customers. Nobody can move away from their group without a face mask, or socialize with people in other areas, or dance their way across the rooms. The idea is to keep a two-meter distance between groups to prevent transmission, but the task becomes harder as the night progresses.

“The worst part for me is holding still all the time. But I’d still rather be here than at home,” says Eric Sáez, 24, smoking a water pipe on Opium’s outdoor terrace. “It’s nicer when there’s more people,” adds his friend Cristian Basterra, 27. Over at the next table, a young man gets up and walks over to two young women sitting across from him. He leans on the velvet rope and chats with Alejandra, 28, and Valeria, 20, until a security guard asks him to sit down.

Alejandra and Valeria say they support the restrictive measures. In fact, they say they are surprised to find clubs open in Barcelona, when Madrid’s will remain closed until July 5 at least. “And nobody wears masks on the street here. In Madrid, everybody does,” notes Valeria, who works in nursing and has already been through Covid-19.

The ambiance at Opium in Barcelona on Saturday night.
The ambiance at Opium in Barcelona on Saturday night.JUAN BARBOSA

The night wears on and the drinks pile up. At around 1am, a group of friends jump over the ropes and start dancing around a private room. “It’s not the same, but you have more fun with your friends,” says one of them before a security guard makes them all sit back down at their table.

“People are more aware now, but at first it was really hard,” says Juan Poveda, the VIP manager at Opium. “It’s very hard to get them to maintain their distance and not interact,” adds Jordi Capdevila, the manager at Shoko. “You need to insist to make them stay at their table.”

It’s before dawn in Pachá, and there are people dancing in little groups near their own seats. “It is very hard to tell people to remain seated. After they’ve had two drinks, they forget,” notes Ciprés.

The music is still playing at Pachá, but this is not the Pachá that people used to know and love, says 20-year-old Alma Pardo, who only came because it’s her sister’s birthday. “I’m not seeing the same ambiance. I’m really upset about this. If I’m seeing everyone sitting down, I’m not going to get up and dance by myself, it’s too embarrassing,” she notes.

A few meters away, at another table, three friends are talking. “We’ve been through what we’ve been through and I understand, but this isn’t going to last forever, is it?” says one. “The point of a nightclub is to socialize.”

The industry association Fecasarm is hoping that the days of dance floors-turned-into-living rooms are numbered. Its secretary general, Joaquim Boada, says that the industry has made a new proposal to the Catalan government: 75% occupancy on the dance floor and mandatory face masks.

“One more weekend like this one is going to be a problem,” he says. “There needs to be awareness and a sense of individual responsibility. We are not people’s parents.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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