So Christmas this year was a very different experience to usual… for some reason, after a dinner and few drinks ( a lot of drinks) some of our friends and us decided it would be a great idea to open a bar for the Christmas festival in the village. Always wise to discuss these things after wine isn’t it!
The festival happens every year and is a celebration for the young people who are 20 years old during that year to party and build the biggest bonfire you have ever seen! During this time there are many stands and stalls and unoccupied buildings are opened up with local crafter’s selling their wares and small bars and food establishments.
Anyway, as the registration opened, we put in the application and we expressed our utmost interest in a certain property. And we got it.
Our friends already knew what the place was like inside but I didn’t even know about it and had never been inside myself…it’s not really a building you’d even look at twice.
We had some big plans of what we could do and activities we could have so we started making progress. We got the keys and had the dates given to us by the local council of the days and times we had to be open.
Our idea was create a Christmas hub with gift stalls, a bar, food with themed nights like Chinese food, Portuguese food and Indian food as well as our daily menu. We wanted a place where children could play while their parents could browse the gift shop, eat and a place they could visit Santa.
The building had been empty for quite some time but I saw it for the first time I was amazed at the space.
We got to work and set up each room. The place had no appliances to store the drinks, no sink, no cooking facilities so we had to rally in anyone we knew who could help. So many people leant us things and together we managed to build a fully functioning kitchen and bar and restaurant area. We were loaned fridges, sink units, cooking appliances, pots pans… you name it we had to get it from somewhere. We all raided out own kitchen for utensils and chairs and tables and anything we needed to make the place work. Even down to decorations and Christmas trees and a beautiful handmade wooden thrown for Santa to sit on.
We had a room dedicated for Santas grotto which was cosy and beautiful with a huge tree and a fake fireplace, we decorated it with large candy canes made from cardboard tubes and found fabric to make faux flames on the top. Everybody got creative to make it a very special vibe. We had a room set up as a play room with table football, toys and books for children and had Christmas craft activities where children made things like cards for their family.
Through the whole of December it was pretty crazy, we only had a few days to create our wonderland before we had to open for the first day. It was tiring but we made it work and everybody worked so hard to get everything done.
We had several people put up artwork for sale and display handmade gifts for people to buy.
The first day of opening it was great to see so many people, but this wasn’t going to be the main event, the next day when the young people ride through the village on tractors piled high with wood was going to be a much busier one.
We ended up finishing at around 3.30am and the next day were due to open again. This was the first insight to what our month was going to look like.
I have never in my life poured a drink for a paying customer so this was the first time working in a bar. I learnt very quickly not to accept a drink off of everybody that offers… very easy to get incredibly drunk on shift!
Over the days we were open we had our themed food nights, every day there was a different street band that would come and play us traditional music on accordions or brass bands, people playing drums, we even had a band that came in and played smoke on the water which was excellent.
One of the weekends we had a local band come in and play for the evening and we finished it off with a ska and reggae night. This was an epic night and the place was filled with people dancing, laughing and having a great time.
Another night we had some local Portuguese guys take over the music and DJ’s us up until 5.30 in the morning when we were told to turn the music off and time for everybody to go by the local authorities.
Every night was a blast and on 23rd December which is the night they light the bonfire and our 5.30 close, after everybody was out and we all sat down and drank a coffee and tidied up a little we figured there was no point in going home, so we all camped out on the cold floor of the bar and were putting blankets over us at 7am in the morning when my alarm to wake up was going off!
Between us we managed to get a few hours off each and on Christmas eve we managed to get some quality family time together and get ourselves in the Christmas mood. It had been a busy and tiring time and family time was much needed.
On Christmas day we had to open but not until the afternoon so we all planned to cook something then bring it all to the bar and sit together and enjoy our Christmas dinner before we opened for customers.
It was nice because we had the morning to enjoy Christmas as a family and open gifts, I peeled potatoes and carrots to take up for dinner and Elvis had the afternoon playing with his friends. Christmas day was different but a really lovely one with some really good friends.
It was a sad knowing that we would be closing the doors on the 25th never to open again but it was a great time, we had a good laugh and created some more friendships in the local community.
The amount of effort everybody put in to making the place as great as it was was amazing and everybody gave us such lovely feedback.
Would we do it again?… even though it was a mental time I think we would all do it again in a heart beat. We learnt a lot and we know for next (if there is a next time) what we would do differently.
Thank you to everybody who made this work, came and supported us and helped us promote the place. We all had a blast!