by John Gil
As its population becomes increasingly younger and younger, so the lifestyle of Ronda changes, most notably its nightlife. The first-time visitor will be surprised, considering Spain's reputation as a nation of late-night carousers, to find Ronda's streets nearly deserted by 11pm, and retire to their accommodation slightly baffled.
In fact, Ronda is continuing to entertain itself, but in little-known back street bars and restaurants, gearing up for a night that will take the townsfolk into the madrugada, wee hours. Sometimes, given the weather, and particularly during the September feria, it is common for people, children included, to stay up all night, the adults going on straight to work.
Most bars don't charge entry fees or have covers. Women alone or in groups should be safe. The Spanish themselves are fairly abstemious, leaving it to foreigners to drink the place dry.
We might identify the triangular 'plaza' Carmen Abela, off the pedestrian calle Espinel ('La Bola' to locals) just by the taxi rank, and certain nearby streets, as ground zero for night-time Ronda. The traditional bar La Farola (closed Sun), named after the huge street lamppost in the centre of the square, keeps fairly conventional hours, but you can usually get a drink until eleven. Its immediate neighbour, the gleaming hi-tech Limbo (closed Mon) usually takes the late-night overspill, and depending on their mood the owners will stay open, within reason, as long as there are customers to serve, which can on occasion be until near sunrise.
Less than a minute's walk away and visible from Abela, on calle Santa Cecilia, O'Flaugherty's Irish Bar stays open into the small hours and beyond, and is popular with young tourists who find its anglophone atmosphere comforting. Curiously, the large number of students from Belfast University who have an exchange deal with the languages school in the beautiful Palacio Mondragon also congregate here. However, the salad of students swigging Guinness while playing electronic darts to the accompaniment of MTV might send you screaming directly across the street to the atmospheric Faustino and its menagerie of gregarious barflies.
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In the opposite direction, nearby calle Rios Rosas (between Carmen Abela and Remedios) conceals two of Ronda's best night-spots. Dulcinea was opened in 1973 as a semi-hippy café-bar - quite a brave thing to do under Franco - and is a pleasant place for a late-night drink. A younger clientele is pumping up the volume on the music, but it's still possible to have a conversation in this convivial setting without having to shout.
That's out of the question at nearby Kopas, which to any city-dweller will conjure memories of 1980s discos: zippy décor, underfloor lighting, trendy furniture, glitterball lighting and some fairly obvious cocaine use. This is where Ronda comes to dance into the madrugada and beyond.
The only other dance venue of note is the subterranean nightclub Avalon, on calle Padre Mariano Soubiron (opposite the first gates into the Alameda del Tajo park). Depending on who is DJing - and Ronda does have its fair share of gun-slinging young DJs, not least Kiko Aguilera, editor of local arts/politics freebie magazine, Wha? - the music policy is a particularly sharp mix of old and new. Be warned, though, that Avalon can turn into something of a meat market around 4am. Kiko programmes seasons of weekly concerts now and then in the sterile municipal Teatro Espinel in the Alameda, usually offbeat Spanish electro and trip-hop, but also visiting musicians from north Africa. The local newspaper, Ronda Seminal, is particularly useless at publicising such events, but keep an eye out for the plentiful flyposters throughout the centre of town.
Otherwise, Ronda is poorly served for live music, save the fraudulent tablaos, folkloric tableaux, staged by a philistine 'cultura', or Culture Department, slavishly pursuing the tourist dollar or yen. One noticeable exception, however, is the resurrection of the cool jazz bar-club Siete de Copas, tucked into a corner of the Paseo Ernest Hemingway, best approached by turning left at the end of the bullring carpark. It only hosts live jazz, usually combos of musicians from the local jazz federation, on the first Friday of every month, but for the rest of the month is a secret hideaway for Ronda's surprisingly plentiful population of bohemians.
It doesn't stay open particularly late, but one special mention should be made for a sole stray from this flock: El Choque Ideal, two doors up from the massive Espiritu Santo church on the edge of the old town, heading down towards the barrio San Francisco. Taking its name - the ideal blow, or hit - from a tune by, if memory serves, the group Deüs, who used to use its downstairs recording studios, it's a bar, restaurant, record shop, art gallery, clothes shop, hangout place, and much much more. In summer, its lower terrace boasts two plunge pools, which like the high-windowed main room, have fantastic views of the Sierra de las Nieves to the south.
A block down from Avalon on Mariano Soubiron is one of the more recent arrivals in Ronda, Sabor Latin, a Cuban-owned bar-club which plays music from a variety of central American countries, chiefly salsa oriented, and also offers evenings of salsa dance classes, too.
Finally, for sports fans, on calle Mollino (equidistant between Avalon and Sabor, Plaza de Socorro), Ronda has its own full-on themed sports bar, Husskies, but this is no mere bar with a plasma screen and satellite dish. Its US owner has festooned it with memorabilia from a variety of north American sports, plays the sort of rawk'n'roll you might associate with stadium sports, and attracts a young crowd who stay until late - meaning, really, until early.