CORONAVIRUS

Inside Madrid’s underground parties: ‘If the police arrive, you say you didn’t pay to come and that you brought your own drink’

Club owners are flouting coronavirus restrictions by setting up nighttime bars in tourist apartments where up to 100 youngsters gather without face masks

Madrid’s local police surprise revelers at an underground party over the long weekend.
Madrid’s local police surprise revelers at an underground party over the long weekend.

The DJ turns off the music and there’s the sound of dozens of people going “Shhhhhh.” Then silence. Those in charge open the windows and a cold breeze blows through the rooms. Cigarette smoke begins to dissipate. The chill hits the faces of the people inside. They use signs to communicate with one another while containing their laughter. It’s like a scene from a silent movie, one in which no one is wearing a face mask. After a short period of time, the windows are closed again and the DJ turns up the volume. The night is still young.

This underground party was held last week in an apartment in the center of Madrid in the middle of the state of alarm. Under the emergency measure – which is aimed at curbing coronavirus contagion – all bars and restaurants have to close by 11pm, and service at bar counters is prohibited. Social gatherings are also limited to six people, both in private and public spaces. This is on top of the ban on all nightclubs and nighttime venues, which has been in place since mid-August.

We’re not going to stop having a good time
Ángel, 29, at an underground party

But the coronavirus restrictions have not stopped underground parties from popping up. At this one, the organizers ventilate the premises every 30 minutes. It is something the party-goers have gotten used to. Before entering, everyone gets precise instructions: “If the police arrive, you say you didn’t pay to come and that you brought your own drink.” Lorenzo García, 27, was among the party-goers who received this information. Later, he paid €20 by credit card to enter an apartment that, before the coronavirus pandemic, was rented to tourists on Airbnb.

According to García, the entrance fee does not cover drinks, which cost €8 each. “I asked for a gin and tonic and started dancing as if it were a normal Saturday,” he says. But, of course, it was not. Just the day before, the government was seeking a formula to declare a state of alarm in response to the surge in Covid-19 cases in the Madrid region, where the spread of the virus has made international headlines.

At the same time, a group of youngsters was facing a problem of their own: finding a venue to celebrate a friend’s 20th birthday. It was just a day away and, at a loss, they called a club’s PR department just as they might have before the pandemic. Bingo! Their names were put on on a list and they received an invitation via WhatsApp. The only thing that departed from the usual protocol was that the invitation had no address on it. It just said, “Saturday, October 3, 00.30- 6.00 a.m. Last night.”

At around midnight, on Coloreros street, near Mayor street, a tall man dressed in black was waiting to lead the birthday boy and his troop through the front door of a residential building where the party organizers had rented three tourist apartments.

The kitchen doubled as a bar; the living room served as the dance floor complete with a DJ; and the bedroom was used as a chillout space, furnished with sofas. All the windows and doors were completely sealed to insulate the noise. “They had mattresses against the windows and it was very hot,” recalls García. When he arrived, it was still early and he was able to see the organizers moving the furniture around and opening suitcases filled with alcohol. It didn’t take long for the apartments to fill up with close to 100 revelers. “No masks, no social distancing and no t-shirts. The same kind of party as always,” says García.

At 3am, there was a loud knock on the door. It was the local police. These officers broke up more than 200 private parties and social gatherings of over six people over the October long weekend, according to data from the City Hall. Police cannot enter a private residence without judicial authorization because no serious crime is taking place. What they usually do is wait on the landing until people start to leave.

No masks, no social distancing and no t-shirts. The same kind of party as always
Lorenzo García, 27

“We panicked, but the organizers told us they couldn’t come in because it was a private home,” says Ángel, 29, who was also at the tourist apartment. However, the party never got going again and the revelers had to wait an hour before they could leave the apartment. While the officers asked for their identity, each of them repeated the same story – they did not pay to enter, no one sold them alcohol, they only drank what they had brought themselves. They all lied.

EL PAÍS has been able to confirm that the organizers of some of these parties are the owners of a club in Malasaña, which has been closed since the summer. They use the same advertising, which is distributed by their PR department. But one of the club’s partners has denied the allegation. “It’s not us,” she said by phone.

The evidence, however, is overwhelming. Ángel has been to several of these parties. He went along to one during the first week of September, for example, and says the rush of adrenaline as the police knocked on the door – “as if we were in Chicago in the 1920s” – combined with alcohol and a few drugs is, in his view, the recipe for a good night out. Two days later, four friends who were with Ángel at the party tested positive for coronavirus. They don’t seem too worried: “We’re not going to stop having a good time,” he says.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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