I don’t drink much. Actually, leave it up to me, and I won’t drink at all. Ask my friends from college, and they’ll confirm that while they would drink beer after beer at the frat parties Freshman year, I would slyly nurse one for the entire evening. It’s not that I’m morally opposed to alcohol. It’s just that my body rejects it as if it were a poison. And try as I might (and my friends certainly did), raising my tolerance level is simply a no-go.
Therefore, some might see it as ironic that I’m now here in Spain running a bar, but I see things quite differently, for I see AlteArte as being much more than just a bar. From the time when the original owner founded it and created the name and the concept, it has been more than a bar. The sign out front reads “art and internet lounge”. The original owner had three computers upstairs. We took out two of them but implemented free WiFi. The previous owner, Pepe, and the original owner, Benjamin, featured art from the local students. We are continuing that tradition and currently have a series of photographs up from one of the students studying at the local art university as well as a painting from an award-winning artist who is also attending the art school.
We are also trying to attract more of a coffee-drinking crowd and therefore open at 4:00 pm as opposed to Pepe who opened it later, sometimes as late as 10 pm. And to encourage people to come earlier, we have added special activities like movie nights on Mondays. With our large screen TV, Bose speakers, and fresh made popcorn, we turn AlteArte into a mini movie theater. We also have English conversation on Tuesdays and Spanish conversation on Fridays, and we have plans for more.
Sure, we sell alcohol, but we also sell more than that. I searched high and low to find syrups for espresso drinks and nice teas but couldn’t find any place in Spain that sold either. When I expanded my search to the U.S., I found plenty but then ran into a roadblock when many wouldn’t ship to Europe or they would but with formidable shipping costs. And, then, just when I was beginning to think that the search was futile, David came to the rescue and found a company just outside of Barcelona that sold both.
And, surprisingly, the teas have become great sellers. Everyone told us that the Spaniards aren’t big tea drinkers but we have had groups come in just for tea and each time someone orders one, it serves as confirmation that we were right in scouring Spain for something different.
And we have soy milk which is easily found in markets but unheard of in cafes. The fact that we had soy milk was enough to impress Paul – an American who has been living in Berlin for the last two years – so much that he returned twice in the remaining days he had left in Altea. Although Paul was just visiting Altea for a short time, he, like Ernest, left a lasting impression on me. We talked about life’s crossroads and our interesting, albeit brief, interaction made me feel grateful that I am where I am to be able to meet people like Paul.
And even though we don’t have a kitchen, David has turned his tiny counter into a tapas factory. He produces everything from that small section of space: montaditos (mini sandwiches) of all kinds, quesadillas, and even hot dogs (with a hot dog machine purchased from Germany). And as time passes, more and more people are ordering food – the owner of a nearby restaurant included who sends one of his waiters to place the order which David then hand delivers when it’s ready.
And people are starting to come with their laptops to use the WiFi, with their books to study and with their friends to talk. And when Kim, a Norwegian who has been living in Altea for more than 20 years, tells me on his own that we’ve created a special ambiance that brings together an eclectic clientele of people who can speak philosophically, I couldn’t be happier, for that’s exactly the type of atmosphere that I want to create.
With some shaping and molding, AlteArte is proving to be more than just a bar… just as we knew that it was and that it could be.