Calle Varillas de Salamanca, one of those epicenters of the party in Spain. On the sides of the narrow street there are bars and pubs. This area is ‘The Mecca’ of the party if you are a university student. The clock in the town hall is past midnight and on any given Thursday in May in the charra capital it is time to party.
Along this street, in front of each other, there are two mythical places, ‘La imprenta’ and ‘Bndr’, where generations of students have had a drink of beer, kalimotxo or one of those local specialties such as ‘ the Vampire’. At the doors of both premises, also inside, a small number of young people smoke, talk and laugh.
To those who come from abroad, this number of people may seem significant, but nothing is further from the truth. The university party has deflated in Salamanca, as the businessmen of the night make it clear. The partners of one of those mythical places, the ‘Bndr’, recognize that on average all the bars are billing perhaps “20% or 25% less” than a few years ago.
Álvaro Cantó and Héctor Hernández have been working at night for nearly 15 years and admit that they are delighted with their work. Along with this venue on Calle Varillas, they have others not far away, such as ‘El Charro’ or ‘Barvel’. Both coincide in pointing to the pandemic as the reason that has precipitated this change in nightlife habits.
“The pandemic was a stick,” Cantó admits, “but it came in handy, in a certain way, to wake up in many aspects.” He also explains that when nightlife recovered, people flooded the streets, but over time things stagnated and have been declining. “In Salamanca, people used to go out all week because they are students and, of course, they could do a little whatever they wanted,” says this owner.
Among the regulars at the ‘Bndr’ are Irene, Susana and Alejandra. Both have known each other for a long time, study the same degree and come from the same city, Burgos. They go out, yes, but they recognize that less and less. “Last year we went out from Wednesday to Saturday. Right now we go out three days a week”, points out the first of the students.
“I spend more money on alcohol than on food”
For Irene, the ‘crush’ with Salamanca was not only because of its educational offer. She came to send fifteen applications, but she had to decide on Madrid or the charra capital. The economic reason was the main reason for choosing Salamanca, although she makes it clear —between laughs— that the university environment is essential. Of course, Irene is clear about her priorities: “I spend more money on alcohol than on food.”
Among the reasons for going out less, both the students and the businessmen explain, is that the domestic economy has adjusted. “We go to cheap places and only from time to time to discos”, the university students point out. “On any given Thursday we are going to buy two briks of wine each, some ice, some Cokes and we meet at my house at nine. We drink and then we go to a bar at one in the morning or so until it closes”, Alejandra recounts.
Doing the math, the three students report that on a normal night they spend “between 5 and 10 euros.” Of course, as Irene adds, the number of ‘shots’ is what influences the final calculation to tend upwards.
The box of the bars suffer from this financial control. As the owners of the ‘Bndr’ explain, the increase in the costs of all merchandise is added to the drop in turnover. Hernández assures that the price of beer has risen by 20%.
“We are working with Thursday —half—, Friday and Saturday,” Cantó complains. This is also noticeable in hiring. “We have lowered the squad a lot; before we had public relations and now we don’t. The truth is that we do it with fewer people and we are getting the same work”, she acknowledges.
“People are very unhappy because they are selling less,” says Cantó about what his guildmates say. The ‘scissors’ have also reached the owners: Cantó and Hernández have lowered their salaries to cut expenses. Also, they conclude, many acquaintances are leaving the service sector and have begun to study vocational training to find work in other labor markets.
The president of the Salamanca hoteliers, Jorge Moro, supports this same story. The businessman assures that Salamanca nightlife “is being maintained by university students” and calculates that having a cocktail bar in Salamanca is “25 or 30% less profitable” now than ten years ago.
“We miss that students go out on weekdays”
Moro misses the public between the ages of 25 and 45 who prefer to go out for a drink in the afternoon, what is now known as ‘afternoon’. Before there were “a lot” more people who went out during the week. “We miss that students go out on weekdays,” says Moro.
Pablo Cirisuelo also usually goes to the ‘Bndr’ “to have something to drink” on Thursdays and Fridays. The 24-year-old Asturian has been working for a year in a bar in Salamanca. “It doesn’t matter what day you go out because you’re going to find an atmosphere,” he explains before specifying that the venues put up offers so that “there is an atmosphere” such as “free table football” or “specific parties” such as “techno day” or “the reggaeton day.
Another veteran, with more nights than the moon, is ‘Oso’, as he is presented and known in Salamanca. He works as a ‘gate’ in the ‘Bndr’. This man assures that about nine years ago “going out in Salamanca on a Tuesday was like going out on a Saturday” and he agrees with his bosses that “partying has dropped during the week and is increasingly being reduced on weekends.” For him, “university students no longer party so much on Thursdays.”
The security worker explains that this change is partly because the Bologna Plan, which came into effect in the 2010-11 academic year, requires students to be present in person. “They have to go to class, do work and have continuous evaluation,” he enumerates.
This reduction of ‘having to leave everything to the last minute’, as many mothers and fathers of university students would say, is also noticeable in the schedules. When the influx falls, the working hours of personnel such as ‘Oso’ have been reduced.
Salamanca, a party for all environments
Something that university students value a lot is the variety of environments. In a nightlife that tends to the radio formula and listen to what is ‘stuck’ —as they say to what is heard the most—, the charra city continues to maintain, although less that variety of themes.
But this is not like before either. ‘Oso’ recounts how in Varillas before there were seven places to listen to rock and now there are only three left. “Almost all the bars are reggaeton and trap”, he points out.
This road resists like the Gallic village; here is the most alternative atmosphere in the city. This is endorsed by the three Fine Arts students: “Sometimes we go to Potemkim, Piper, or Bisú. It depends on the music you want to listen to. But in this variety of environments there are also undesirable situations. “In some bars they don’t let us in because they’re fagots. You can only pay in cash. Friends of mine were forced to remove earrings or they don’t let you in a tracksuit. The other day we went there because you feel obliged since your friends are going”, they recall.
From Varillas to Gran Via
Very close to there is the Gran Vía Salamanca. There is the ‘Pakipalla’, a place that has been transformed into an ‘afternoon’ bar. Its owner, Pablo Santo, calculates that its turnover has grown more than the average for Castilla y León.
As he explains, after the pandemic there was a ‘boom’. “When they let out, it was absolutely packed,” she says. In his case, the university party has given way to the afternoon and the public has also changed. Proof, the place has brought its opening hours forward to seven in the evening: university students no longer go out as much at night. “Students don’t go out as much every day,” he says.
Students like Irene, Susana and Alejandra or young workers like Pablo will continue to go out, perhaps, as the trend suggests, but they will change the night for the afternoon; although after spending some time with them, the two time slots still come together. The truth is that the Salamanca formula shows signs of exhaustion, and perhaps, just perhaps, it is a phase. The only certainty is that the party on this shore of the Tormes will continue ‘perreando’ to the ground, as it has done for years.