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Photo by Tracy Gilbert
Taking care of his customers’ night-time libation needs is Catalan Lluis Farga, 26, one of the bartenders at El Gato Negro in the Eixample. He’s been working in bars until the small hours of the morning for the past seven years having started in an Argentinian bar doing public relations. In winter months, he works two nights a week but in the summer it goes up to six.
“Some people think that working during the day is ‘normal’,” Farga explained, but much of the satisfaction he gets from his job can only come from a night shift. “It’s pretty cool because I learned a lot of spectacular shots, with fire. I love to work there because you can see the faces of the people that see that kind of shot for the first time. I love it, especially serving up interactive shots like the ‘Rambo’ and the ‘Monica Lewinsky’.”
Farga is also studying at university and believes that working in a bar is an optimal employment option. “I wanted to work in a bar because it’s the best way to earn easy money being a student,” he explained. A day job can get in the way of classes and homework, and there’s the added bonus that, “Working at night is a way to save money. You aren’t going to the clubs to spend your own money. You are saving money and also at the bar you can drink for free.”
Walking home after his shift, Farga gets to see a side of the city that few witness. With most people long in bed or dancing the night away in a club, he walks down empty, calm streets with the occasional empty taxi whizzing by or a police officer doing a breathalyser test. ‘Somehow I enjoy it—walking in Barcelona without any noise and people. It’s a different city.”
As a part-time football coach for a youth team, there is however a definite downside to his timetable. “Sometimes I go to sleep at 4.30am and have to wake up really early because I have to go to games. That’s the worst thing about it, but I choose to do it. Some Saturdays I have to get up at 8am after going to sleep at 4am.”
Farga’s weekend work also throws off his weekdays. “I have some problems falling asleep during the week. Probably the worst days are Mondays and Tuesdays,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a bit hard to pay attention to the teachers at university.” To combat the weekday insomnia, he uses the joint weapons of a strict timetable and coffee.
11am is as busy as 11pm for Agustión Castro, 48, who has been working at Kiosko Martos on La Rambla since he was a teenager. Taking phone calls, helping customers, stooping over to pick up souvenirs that tourists unknowingly knock over, his shifts leave him little downtime, but come 3am and the Rambla is dead. “I like the peace that comes at that time of night,” he said. But by 5am the new batch of newspapers is already getting dropped off and he’s back to work again.
Castro has worked an alternating schedule (seven days in a row followed by seven nights in a row and so on) for his entire adult life. Nevertheless, he still hasn’t gotten used to it. “The human body wants to sleep at night; it’s not natural to work then. I get home and I lie down and go to sleep right away.”
During his 32 years on Barcelona’s busiest street, Castro has seen it undergo huge change. “La Rambla has changed a lot. Twenty years ago there was a much more pleasant atmosphere. Local residents would take a stroll down and buy a book.” These days more tourists pass through than locals and with the shift in clientele has come a change in products. Castro explained that although he still offers books and magazines, what really sell are city guidebooks, batteries and, especially, postcards.
“It’s not a nice atmosphere at night. The only people that roam around are prostitutes and drug dealers.” However, he said that the street has really shaped up in the last two or three years, thanks to a heightened police presence. “Now the police walk by every five minutes or so, say hello, ask us how our night is going and tell us to call if we need anything.”
Luz Delgado is 29, originally from Colombia and has worked as a night-time taxi driver for the past four months. Her timetable is not easy—starting at 6pm and finishing at 6am five days a week. And the crisis has made it a hard job to make money from. Yet she clearly loves the work.
“When I was a little girl, taxis always caught my eye, and when I arrived here, 10 years ago now, I thought it was great to see women driving taxis.” She was working in the hotel trade and finally it was friends who, having heard her wax lyrical many times about female taxi drivers, motivated her to sit the test to become one herself. “When I called my mother in Colombia to tell her, first she said ‘Oh, madre mia!’ And then ‘At last!’ When I asked what she meant, she said ‘as you always used to tell me “look mami, at the women in the taxis”, I knew one day you would call to tell me you’re a taxi-driver.’”
Delgado started working the night shift because that was what she was first offered having got her licence. She points out that other women, if they have a family and children, can’t really work at night, but she’s single and is happy to work those hours. Her typical day sees her arrive home around 7am and go to bed about 7.30. She sleeps until early afternoon and then does various tasks and errands until it’s time to start work again. And she says it doesn’t interfere with her social life: “No, on my day off [at the weekend], if I can, I meet up with friends to go to the cinema or for dinner or a walk.” When asked about how others respond to female taxi-drivers, Delgado admits that male taxi drivers sometimes makes comments. “Not the young men, but the older ones. They try to make me scared.” In contrast, male clients sometimes comment on how brave she is while others say it’s good to see a woman driving a taxi. She shrugs such things off, although says that they do motivate her.
Delgado has many stories about clients, even though she’s been doing the job for such a short time, and she explains most of them with a cheery laugh. The ones who fall asleep and have to be woken when they arrive at their destination. The woman who forgot where she lived and gave a non-existent address. The man who asked her to wait while he went to get his ‘tool’ at 5am in the morning and turned out to be a maintenance man at El Corte Inglés.
When asked if she’s ever felt uncomfortable, Delgado’s eyes widen as she remembers a recent incident when a couple started getting a bit too comfortable in the back seat. “They were two young people, Germans or British, maybe. Foreigners. They asked to go to Paseo de Colom but didn’t give any address—they said they’d tell me when we’d arrived.” After hearing a strange noise, Luz looked round to see the woman sitting on the man’s lap. “I told them ‘not here please’”, and the woman moved back to her seat. But a few minutes later, it happened again—Delgado could see the woman had her skirt hitched up—and she told them to get out of the taxi. They did so with no problem and paid their fare to that point, going on their way apparently unperturbed. But, Delgado admitted, “It was horrible for me.”
Other than that, her experiences of taxi-driving at night are positive. There are some areas where she switches off her green light and locks the doors because she knows they’re dodgy and isn’t interested in getting fares there. And she has a fail-safe way to deal with those clients who ask her out for a drink (“My boss is working near here, I can’t leave the car.”). But, she has no plans to change to a day shift. For one thing, there’s a lot more traffic and noise. “Oh, and the mopeds and bikes!”
Twenty-four hour Barcelona
Bar Paris - Aribau 184; open at the weekends from 6am for those not quite ready to go home after a night out.
Churrería Trébol - Còrsega, 341; open Fridays and Saturdays until 6am serving fried doughnut sticks covered in sugar that are perfect for late-night/early-morning snacking.
Línia Rosa - 24-hour taxi service exclusively for women. Telephone reservation necessary. Tel. 93 330 0700.
Metro - open all night on Saturdays and for certain special events, e.g. Sant Joan and La Mercè. Otherwise, there’s always the Nit Bus.
OpenCor - various locations; convenience store owned by El Corte Inglés that opens until 1 or 2am, depending on the venue.
The Bakery - Bolivía, 340; ideal for early-morning croissants.
Velódromo - Muntaner 213; bar that opens at 6am with a fine choice of dishes featuring fried egg and chips (huevos estrellados).
Wok to Walk - Sant Pau 27 and Jaume I, 7; restaurant and take-away of freshly cooked wok dishes that is open until 3.30am.
Workcentre - Avinguda Diagonal 437; 24-hour copy centre offering various services such as binding, business supplies and printing.