Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Right Feeling (re-found in Barcelona)

Over the past few years, my re-acquaintance with a long-time friend has led to an increased return to the social dance floor at venues across the country. I'm struck by the heterogeneity in customer experience - in the music played, sound quality, lighting ambience, hospitality, venue setup, dance surface...

At the risk of wearing out my rose-tinted glasses, I recalled promoters putting more effort into their offerings. I put it down to a time when the salsa scene was niche, and, with the actual dance population being small, salsa nights had to have the capacity to 'fascinate' the larger non-salsa audience and draw them in, since they had barely a sense of what salsa was. Now that the salsa-experienced population has grown to a significant enough size, it seems that that attention to fascinate and welcome has drained away.

On more than one recent occasion, I found myself paying to dance in a box.

I've wondered, "has the salsa experience become commoditised?" "Would we, as first-movers in a fledgling salsa scene, have been able to grow it to what it is now by offering today's kind of experience?"

I was saddened. But at the same time, I realised that there was something in it. You see, two friends had been bouncing around the idea of starting up a salsa event with me; and I was only going to commit if the night came from the right place: from the heart. It had the right feeling.

And it just so happens that I'm in Barcelona with them.

They'd never been to the great Catalan city before, and had always wanted to see it. So I let myself be cajoled into being their guide, and I was keen to give them a touch of the Barcelona lifestyle they would treasure.

And it was in 'El Xampanyet' that they experienced the right feeling. 'The Champagne' is one of the city's finest bars, run by the Esteve Family for three generations.

Traditional, yet trendy
El Xampanyet's appeal lies in its dichotomous encapsulation of Iberian values (above). It's both old and new, trendy and traditional, a place to stay or to pass through.

Everyone creates the spectacle
The tapas bar, well-oiled with the elbows of locals, serves a mouth-watering array of fresh local produce and canned seafood in the Catalan tradition. The important thing is, that both the patrons and the staff, together, are involved with creating the spectacle (above). El Xampanyet's staff know this; that people inherently know how to enjoy themselves, and that all they have to do is to help.

A sense of place
Blue Iberian glazed tiles jostle for space on the bottle-lined walls with an eclectic mix of antiques. You know you're in El Xampanyet (above). There's a feeling of place. There's also a sense of timelessness; it doesn't occur to you to think about how long you've stayed.

A feeling of generosity
The offerings are always good. Everyone will prefer some things over others, but it's always good. And most of all, there's a heartfelt feeling of generosity (above).

People come back for friends
It might be the reputation, the drinks, and the pintxos (tapas) that draws you first time through its doors, but in the end, everyone comes to El Xampanyet to be with each other, be they friends or friends not yet made.

So there you have it. What a fledgling salsa scene once had, and lost. And perhaps what it might have once again.

Loo Yen Yeo