Part One: Life ain’t never this cheap
Spain is home to the world’s best restaurant – El Cellar de can Roca, and I may just be going there a little over a months’ time. It is also home to the fourth best – Mugaritz, and the eighth best, Arzak.
However, Spain is also home to Cheers, a dawn-to-dusk bar, essentially a massive gazebo stuck on to the front of a pretty grim apartment block on the beach front of Torreblanca, near Fuengirola, in Andalusia. To you, me and Essex, this is deepest, darkest Costa del Sol, and the pints are a quid fifty each.
Cheers became our local – we rented an apartment up the road – and punctuated a week of extreme tanning, poor swimming and copious amounts of drinking as the ills of London were swiftly forgotten in 35 degree heat. A typical day would run as follows;
Firstly, wake up at 9am either hungover, sore with sunburn, overheating due to lack of air-con or thick with flu, as was the case with me (my late-September cold is more reliable than a calendar). Next, enjoy a pre-breakfast of pastries, cakes, cheese and cheap Serrano ham, rejoicing in how buying all this junk can come to less than ten Euros in the same continent where Pop Tarts in Selfridges cost a fiver.
Afterwards, squeeze in a few minutes of Jeremy Kyle. Will that woman let her ex-husband see her kid, even if he’s an alcoholic and her drug-user boyfriend might actually be the biological father all along? Next, realise that this could waste a whole morning so head to the pool and the sun-loungers. Enjoy a slightly less literal Great British Bake-off.
At one-ish, it’s time for lunch. With few exceptions, this is was often taken in Cheers, where two pints and a mother-lover of a breakfast called The Buster would come to less than ten Euros. After lunch, time to re-hit the pool and head back inside when the sun dipped behind the apartment block at 5.27pm. Finally, get ready to hit the town. More of that later.
One afternoon in Cheers, where two pints miraculously became seven, we got chatting to a man called Deano, who claimed to own the place but I am not sure about that. He said that Cheers had been open for thirty years and doing a little digging around online, turns out it has.
Cheers’ longevity certainly seems to be the exception to bars and cafés around these parts. The walk from our apartment to Fuengirola took us past Cheers, and countless other similar places, many of which were boarded up, broken into or simply and eerily abandoned. It was all a little too similar of that episode of Top gear where Clarkson et al liken Spain to a ghost town.
The recession is all around these parts – everything looks tired, and lifeless. I know that a lot of it can be attributed to us visiting slightly off-season, but Deano recounted that rents can be extortionate (Cheers is apparently three thousand Euros per month, and an Indian restaurant down the road is around nineteen-hundred) and that many of ‘his’ regulars are living on only sixty to seventy Euros per week. The shoreside businesses that are still open fiercely compete for business, engaging in price wars and offers that put Brick Lane to shame, alas many are empty all night long; near the apartment, there was a massive Italian restaurant called Luigi’s. The whole week, I must have seen about four people in there.
All this money-saving is heaven for tourists, and I was certainly loving the fact that I literally couldn’t find a pint more expensive than the equivalent of three pounds, a meal would rarely top twenty Euros each and a relatively ill-thought-out trip to the grocers could be paid for in small change. When this was remarked to Deano he simply and rightly said that if one lives here, in a country with close to twenty-five percent unemployment, things are different.
Nevertheless, Cheers appears successful, and it seemed that busiest places around here are those which have a regular client base and adhere to that wonderful adage of “Simple things done well”.
Cheers’ menu is, um, not simple. It seemed to offer every type of food under the sun. I dreaded to think about the state of their kitchen. But then again, the expats wold crave familiarity (at the very least they have access to Jeremy Kyle) and there was something inherently comforting about watching a Liverpool game in the bar, eating a mixed grill with a free bottle of red wine. Three mixed grills, wine and a few beers. That bill came to twenty-five Euros.