BARCELONA -- Getting drunk for cheap and smoking undisturbed in bars and restaurants has always been a way of life in Barcelona.
The city is a destination spot for stag parties, hen nights, and fun-packed weekends for visitors from across Europe. Drinking and smoking may soon cease to be a part of Barcelona's intense nightlife.
National and local authorities are trying to reduce alcohol and cigarettes consumption in public places with a set of new laws and regulations that opponents fear could harm small businesses such as restaurants and cafes, as well as the big clubs that draw tourists from all over.
In November, a law approved by a local parliament in Barcelona prohibited alcohol promotions such as open bars and happy hours - largely used by clubs to attract customers on weekdays or early in the evening, as well as students or young clients on a limited budget.
A month later, new smoking regulations were announced by the central government, which said in 2010 cigarettes will be banned from every indoor public place, including small restaurants where they are still allowed. This may be a common practice in the States, but in Spain it is virtual heresy to some. To others it's a relief.
“I don't drink and I hate smoke in bars, so these bans don't really upset me,” said Pascual Murno, managing director of a lounge bar in the city center.
Smoking is now allowed in the downstairs section of Murno's bar. When the new bans begin next year, the entire premise will become a non-smoking venue. “We may as well save some money, as air filters maintainance is really expensive,” said Murno, who will soon open another non-smoking bar in one of the city's poshest hotels, which opened this year on the waterfront.
Murno, though, admits small bars may suffer some initial losses as they apply the new bans. “Some may even tolerate cigarettes in the beginning," he said. "It's the Spanish culture.”
The current legislation –- in place for almost three years – gives bars and restaurants with a public surface of up to 100 square meters the option to allow smoking on their premises, indoor and out. Although the government claims more than 70 percent of Spanish citizens are in favor of the new bans, smoking plays such a central role in social activities that bar and restaurant owners fear losses of up to 11,000 million Euros next year, given the already painful economic crisis. Some unions are already asking for government aid.
For sure, air will be cleaner in restaurants and cafes, where even smokers find it difficult to breathe. “It will help me reduce the amount of nicotine I inhale,” said Cristobal Bernal, a Barcelona-based architect from Mexico. “Although, if the government is concerned about people's health, they should target other problems first, such as bars being overcrowded and the absence of proper ventilation systems.”
Marta Padro', 28, is also a smoker. She doesn't agree with the new bans although she thinks they may make her smoke less. “I think people should be let free to decide whether to smoke or not," she said. "I may be forced not to smoke in bars, but sometimes I really enjoy it and I would like to be able to do it if I want to."
While they get ready to ban smoking from their premises, bars and clubs in Barcelona already had to disappoint their customers in search of special deals on drinks. Annamaria, a party promoter for many of Barcelona's most popular clubs, said students and young people were the most attracted by promotions such as open bars who offered sparkling wine and beer for free for an hour or so every evening.
Fines of up to 6,000 euros ($8,600 US) will be faced by those who break the law; clubs who repeatedly ignore the prohibition of alcohol promotions may even be closed down. But Adamo said party organizers are already finding ways to replace happy hours and open bars with some new legal deals.
“Instead of giving free alcohol, they can pay for a certain amount of drinks and offer them to guests on their lists,” she said. “You have to be careful, though, because you cannot advertise it on Facebook and other social networks. If you do it can be trouble.”
According to Adamo, banning cheap alcohol deals may help improve the party ambiance in many clubs, where young costumers tend to get drunk too easily.
“Everybody drinks too much here, especially foreign students who come on exchange programs," she said. "When people pay full price for their own drinks, the ambiance is different."
Plus, as Murno put it, “The happy hour didn't really bring us any additional money."