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Caribbean Feeling for City Dwellers

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Beach bars – a pan-European outdoor phenomenon even for landlocked city dwellers offering that certain beach feeling just around the corner instead of in remote holiday destinations. The boom began in the early nineties with locations such as ‘Paris Plage’ on the banks of the River Seine or ‘Strandbar Mitte’ and ‘Bundes-presse–stand’ in Berlin. Originally, beach-bar flair implied a touch of improvisation. Today, however, these seasonal outdoor locations are increasingly styled down to the last detail. Also, they are not only to be found on the banks of a river or lake but also in highly urban settings such as car-park roofs. As ever, dependence on the goodwill of the weather gods remains an inconvenient risk factor

There is a new player in the Hamburg beach-bar scene: the Sky & Sand Beachclub celebrated its debut in May 2012. For five months, 50 tonnes of Fiji sand magically created an atmosphere of the South Seas on the top level of the car park at the newly opened ECE ‘Hamburger Meile’ shopping centre in the Barmbek district of the city. The airy location, 30 m up, cannot actually boast a bathing beach but does offer the feeling of a typical New York rooftop – complete with pool and panoramic view.
Creators Daniel van Cleef and designers Christian Beumer and Hendrik Lange have installed an impressive landscape of white marquees with bars and shaded areas, along with 100 sunloungers, sofas and four large sunbeds. Altogether, there is room for some 650 customers. The beverages on offer – soft drinks, beer, water, wine, champagne and cocktails – are accompanied by snacks such as sausages with curry sauce, French fries and flammekueches. In 2012, Caipirinha and Aperol Sprizz were far and away the most popular with customers; champagne and ice-cream creations from the Langnese Happiness Station were also much in demand.
With daily opening times of 12 noon to 11 pm (till midnight at weekends), the beach club above the city rooftops is also a magnet for mothers with children during the daytime. At lunchtime, people at work, too, like to come here to enjoy their break in the open air. In the evening, the atmosphere changes with the help of a myriad LED spotlights. The 2013 season in Hamburg‘s highest beach club has already started a whole month earlier, in April. Now it‘s fingers crossed for good weather through to the end of September. www.sky-and-sand-beachclub.de
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Since April, the beach-club scene in Berlin is richer by one more beach bar: right on the River Spree, by the Oberbaum bridge in the Osthafen district, Pirates Captains Beach was launched as part of the Pirates Berlin themed gastronomy experience. Its creator, restaurateur Alexander Freund, is a seasoned veteran in the city beach business and also runs Metaxa Bay, Berlin‘s largest beach bar, at the main railway station, which is now in its third season.
On an area of more than 12,000 sq m, there is a 100 x 60 m beach of quartz sand, which provides an inviting place to relax. Deckchairs, straw parasols, tropical palms and the rushing of the waters of the River Spree create a holiday atmosphere right in the middle of the capital. Every day from 2 pm to midnight (open-ended at weekends), fresh-air fans can relax and unwind here. Available at a variety of food and drinks stations, there are ‘beach burgers’, sausages with curry sauce, barbecued meats and salads, as well as cool drinks from the beach bars.
Evening beach life has not been forgotten either: from beach parties to club night, there is an attractive and varied programme of events that appeals to a wide target group. Sundays is Happy Family Day, Mondays Gay Beach, Tuesdays Cocktail Happy Hour. Sports fans can let off steam on two volleyball courts. Several hundred sun worshippers turned up here on the busiest days last summer. Most popular amongst their culinary favourites are cocktails (including Metaxa Sunshine at ¤6.50) and beach burgers (¤7).
Berlin is one of the trendsetters in the German urban beach-bar scene. When it opened in 2003, the Bundespressestrand was the first artificial beach bar in Germany. Since then, several beach bars have appeared in the German capital on the Spree; with its many waterways it is an ideal place for them. But the scene is constantly changing. Because of the Berlin construction boom, time and again, concepts have to either move or give ground.www.piratesberlin.com, www.metaxa-beach.de
At London’s SouthBank arts complex, a riverside beach area has over the past three years helped build extra traffic for over a dozen branded restaurant, bar and cafe concessions which replaced in-house catering in the mid-2000s. The seaside vibe has also encouraged novel street food ‘pop-ups’ suited to the SouthBank C-entre’s increasingly multi-national, multi-cultural ethos. In 2011, colourful beach huts were commissioned from 14 artists and a Chowpatty Beach pop-up inspired by Bombay beach culture was created from reclaimed materials by Dishoom, a ‘new wave’ Indian restaurant in the Covent Garden area. In 2012, Polish sculptor Adam Kalinowski was commissioned to create a multi-coloured urban beach where visitors could mix different colours and textures in a living artwork known as Rainbow Park, enhanced by un-usual seating and sensory experiences from all over the world. This proved a colourful environment for two of London’s most innovative fast-casual dining chains when they created novel temporary spaces. The Southbank Experiment 130-cover restaurant and bar was installed at a cost of GBP1 m by fast-growing Mexican street food chain Wahaca as a high profile development kitchen for chef-founder Thomasina Miers. An equally colourful addition to the SouthBank scene has been Yalla Yalla, which last summer opened a ‘Summer Shack’ pop-up version of its hip Lebanese restaurant on the SouthBank. It offers hot mezze to share, dips, sides, salads and pastries, either eat-in on-site or take away. www.wahaca.co.uk, www.yalla-yalla.co.uk
Camden, north-west of central London, bustles with people throughout the year thanks to its huge street market. But the Olympic Games at new venues around the city created different activity patterns last summer, with a big demand for opportunities where people could enjoy the outdoors but also watch games action communally on large TV screens. The Roundhouse, an arts and entertainment landmark in a one-time Victorian railway building, took the radical step of adding 150 tonnes of sand to the 900 sq m rooftop bar terrace which faces the Roundhouse’s iconic conical roof. To complete the traditional British seaside atmosphere, potted palm trees, windbreaks, parasols, deckchairs, ping pong tables, boules and badminton were installed, plus TV screens to relay Olympic events as they happened. Open on free admission from 11 am to 11 pm daily during July and August, the -resultant ‘Camden Beach’ was promoted as “a trip to the seaside without leaving the city”. It attracted families in large numbers on good weather days, plus a cooler clientele in the evenings when the menu extended to boozy versions of Hey -Lolly premium ice lollies. Food sales mostly involved bar snacks but the bar activities normally operated on the terrace were themed as Jimmy’s Margarita Shack and the Beach Bar & Grill Tiki Hut, with enclosed garden and offered barbecued steaks, burgers, fresh fish and spicy specials as well as top-your-own frozen yoghurt with a choice fresh fruits, nuts and sweets. www.roundhouse.org.uk
In the French capital, the 12th Paris Plage will be set up in two different districts from the end of July until the end of August: on the right bank of the Seine, from the Pont Neuf to the square of the Hôtel de Ville, close to the Marais and the famous monuments in the heart of the city, and also, by the water-sports and boating centre, the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement, not far from the Paris ring road. At this location, on the Ourcq Canal, the beach really comes into its own, thanks to the water sports organised free of charge on this lake, which is cordoned off for safety. Besides the refreshment bars that feature more or less all the way along the quayside, the catering at the beach in this working-class district to the north of Paris, has presented a front of solidarity in recent years. Created in May 2011, the ‘Tous à Table’ Association set up a restaurant on the Quai de la Loire called La Guinguette Solidaire Ephémère (literally the ‘ephemeral solidarity café’). Of every 80 customers, 60 pay the full price for their meal (around ¤20) and 20, who are referred by the social services and partner associations, get a bill of around 10% of the price. Paris Plages kindly allows the Associaton the use of a double cabin which has a fitted counter, a terrace of around 150 sq m, 20 -tables and 80 chairs and a sink, plus water and electricity connections. There are tastings of fair-trade products as well as demonstrations by chefs of simple recipes. “We want to bring on board professionals from the world of quality catering to re-create a proper social mix in the restaurant,” says Flavio Nervegna, President of Tous à Table. In 2012, The Guinguette Solidaire Ephémère served more than 300 disadvantaged individuals. www.paris.fr/parisplages
In 2009, the central England city of Nottingham took the bold decision of filling its pedestrianised Old Market Square (largest in the UK) with beach-style activities. Not- tingham Council wanted to enhance tourism, nightlife activity and retailing. Import– ation of 300 tonnes of sand created a continental style beach along with a giant pad- dling pool and raised decked area surrounded by thatched retail and catering units.  Each year since then, the beach has been enlarged and various promotions have  been added to the mix, such as a Tapas Tuesday promotion by the Spanish Tourist  Office and the Region of Valencia with a giant paella cooked on the spot for over 1,000 people. Beach and pool are free to the public and, since it started, the Riviera has not needed taxpayer funding, with all costs underwritten by sponsorships. To maintain interest in the Riviera during the evenings, an entertainment programme was introduced and this has provided feeder events for surrounding restaurants, pubs and clubs. Around 250,000 people visit the beach annually. Retailers estimate a 25% uplift in footfall during the beach’s six weeks duration, according to Nick Vass, a dir-ector of the Mellors Group, a locally-based venue developer which installs and manages the beach. The sub-contracted food and drink sales are mainly based on counter-style bars and stalls selling basic street fare – fries, knockwurst, hamburgers, beef burgers and beverages – but more exotic theming was tried in 2012 with the Kahuna Beach bar and Rum shack serving unusual cocktails.www.mellorsgroup.com
From 20 July to 18 August, Metz Plage (Moselle) will move in around the ‘plan d’eau’ – a lake in the very center of the city. A 22,000 sq m holiday village, 1,500 tonnes of sand and a 250 sq m swimming area will be made available to visitors, as well as a wide range of different activities. The catering provided will be recreational, varied and exotic. “Our main concern is that the food on offer remains affordable, because we have a very mixed clientele and Metz Plage has been created with the aim of giving people who can’t go on holiday a feeling of getting away from it all,” says Caroline Boucharel, who is responsible for coordinating the sporting events programme for the City of Metz. This year, there will be a refreshment bar and an ice-cream counter on site. The refreshment bar, run by the Association des Commerçants de la Place de Chambre (an association of Metz traders) will be selling mainly hot and cold drinks, as well as sandwiches and ice-creams. The specialist Italian ice-cream maker offers his services every year for this event and is there for the entire summer season. “To complement these, we are hoping to install by way of a new development, a catering area at the heart of the site, where chips and crêpes will be sold throughout the event,” continues Caroline Boucharel. Gourmet weekends are planned, to promote local associations or businesses that come and present their specialities: Asian, vegetarian and Far Eastern cuisine… For the opening ceremony in 2012, the Association of Laotians in the Moselle made artisan spring rolls and the Utopies Association provided a vegetarian barbecue. Travel springs eternal… www.metz-plage.fr
As the years have passed, Toulouse Plages has gained ground. In 2012, four sites in the ‘Pink City’ played host to the summer activities from the middle of July until the end of August: the Prairie des Filtres, the Quai de la Daurade, the Quai de l’Exil Républicain Espagnol and the Espace EDF Bazacle. For the moment, the word from the city authorities is that it is still too early to talk about the 2013 edition. But the programme should be rich in water sports, beach games, dances and concerts. Not to mention lazing about in the sunshine on a deckchair, shaded by a parasol, or on the grass. Nor, indeed, welcoming once again an impressive number of visitors (270,000 of them in 2012) – Toulouse inhabitants and tourists alike, all delighted to come and cool off on the banks of the River Garonne. Most of the activities are free of charge. Operating all year round in the Prairie des Filtres, the Gargote benefits from an influx of customers in the summer because of the Plage. It is the only establishment with a concession from the city to operate on this site. A welcome stop for refreshments, its terrace offers shade and a menu consisting of ice-creams, fruit juices, soft drinks and coffees. The owner, Isabelle Lanciaux, also prepares ‘home-made’ dishes for lunch, to supplement the hot dogs and sandwiches (approx. ¤3). At 9.30 pm the Prairie des Filtres closes its doors to visitors, who can continue to -enjoy their evening on the 35-m-high Ferris wheel, which was erected last year on the Quai de l’Exil Républicain Espagnol. www.toulouse.fr
Austria’s first beach bar was launched in 2005 – the Strandbar Herrmann. Operators Rudi Konar and Alexander Kaiser brought the idea back from Berlin. 600 tonnes of extremely fine quartz sand, 800 deck chairs, a large pavilion with a 200 sq m terrace and a bar transformed the area by the Danube Canal into a trendy summer location. When the weather is fine, it attracts up to 2,000 visitors a day; even more, when there are public screenings on the 18 sq m LED screen. Meanwhile the beach bar, open from 10 am to 2 am – this year in operation again since the Easter weekend – has been making a name for itself as an event venue. Its rich and varied programme of entertainment, with Cocktail Happy Hour, Yoga or Brunch, appeals to a broad target group. Out of the kitchen in the pavilion come pasta dishes, burgers and items from the grill; when it comes to drinks, bestsellers are cocktails (¤8.20), beer (¤3.70 a bottle) and the Prosecco summer cocktail ‘Hugo’.
For its 7th season, SandintheCity, Vienna’s summer beach location transfers to the City’s District 3. In winter, the area is used as a skating rink, and in summer Peter and Andrea Jöbstl set up their beach-in-the-city on the 6,000 sq m, with places for around 900 people. Alongside ‘Gastro Beach’ (12 beach bars with a variety of concepts from Mexican and Greek to a wine-stall and four cocktail bars, some of which they run themselves and some of which are rented out), there are the ‘Little Pirate Beach’ for children and the ‘Sport Beach’ for sporting fanatics, with two beach-volleyball courts. In 2012, the extremely popular open-air venue in the centre of the city received around 450,000 visitors. www.strandbar-herrmann.at, www.sandinthecity.at
Not just in the summer, no, 365 days a year – ‘party, party, party’ is the motto of the exclusive Sotavento restaurant/lounge/club at Paseo Marítimo in Barcelona, which was founded in 2010. However, there is even more fun to be had in the summer when the terrace at the back of the avant-garde location offers not only a stylish, relaxed atmosphere, Italian cuisine (average price ¤25) and highly popular cocktails (¤6-9) but also sea breezes and views of the sunset. The menus for the restaurant and terraces are identical: tapas plus a limited number of salads/soups, rice/noodle variations and fish and meat dishes. The best sellers are rice and risotto dishes, as well as fish specialities, whereby food accounts for around 65% of turnover. The guests? Young, beautiful, fashionable.
Altogether, the ensemble, which also houses a private room and dance floor with bar in addition to the restaurant, can accommodate up to 500 guests. The turn-over is estimated to be ¤400,000. Under the umbrella of their Grupo Costa Este, the operators, Ramón and Jordi Bordas, run not only Sotavento but also other popular concepts, such as Nuba and Opium Bar. www.grupocostaeste.com; www.sotaventobcn.com ••
Located in the ‘Parque Metropolitano de Zaragoza’, on the grounds of EXPO 2008, the ‘Parque del Agua‘ – the city’s biggest water park – opens its gates to paying visitors every year from April to October. There, sun seekers and swim-ming fans can relax under the palm trees of the Playa de Zaragoza – a sandy beach with a swimming pool carved out of a loop in the river. On the banks, deck chairs and hammocks provide an ideal setting for chilling out while a beach–volleyball court gives the more athletically minded a chance to let off steam. All of this is flanked by a building with changing facilities, toilets and the Las Playas terrace & lounge club with its 1,000 sq m terrace, the heart of the ensemble. From lunchtime until the evening, this outdoor concept offers sandwiches, tacos, pizzas and tapas costing less than ¤10 – with self-service at lunchtime. In the evening, there are antipasti platters for sharing, salads and ‘design sandwiches’ via -table service. Highly popular are the nightly events. The design is ‘relaxed urban’: scattered over the wooden terrace are modern outdoor stools, sofas and stylish lamps – thanks to white baldachins, some seating groups are shaded from the sun. Las Playas is operated by Grupo La Tierra, which also runs four night clubs in the city. www.lasplayaszaragoza.com