The Bar That Never Was

During the past few months, as I walked by The Hotel San Andreas in Xlendi Harbor on my daily rounds I would glance through the window and refresh myself with a view of a proper hotel bar – polished wooden bar top and rail, an array of sparkling bottles on the shelf – and look forward to winter when I would stop in for a single malt or a cognac, or a coupe de Champagne, the wind howling outside, raindrops pattering on the window.

I can not bear to enter a bar on a warm summer evening when anyone with a jot of common sense, taste and sensibility does their drinking under an umbrella by the sea, or at least out of doors if they can’t arrange to be near the sea. During the past summer as I sat under my umbrella and sipped chilled wine supplied by the splendid wait staff at Moby’s friends stopped by my table and told stories about the dread Mediterranean winter to come. The seas would be tumultuous, the rain torrential, the wind would howl, the stone walls of our apartment would be damp and moldy. All would be misery.

I consoled myself against this looming eventually with thoughts of the San Andreas bar. Few things are a better remedy for wretched wet cold weather than a warm well lighted bar, one with a dining room adjoining it, tables draped in white and set with sparking crystal and polished silver. Enjoy a before dinner drink at the well appointed bar, under the care of a professional bartender, then, nicely warmed inside proceed to the dining room for roast duck and a good red wine. What could be better?

A week or so ago a celebratory occasion arose and we went down to the village for dinner. With the wholesale exodus of the tourists, many local watering holes and restaurants were closed. It was time for the San Andreas, which had to be open since it is a hotel and had guests. With great anticipation I led our party inside, through the dinning room and to the bar I had been surreptitiously admiring from afar.

Upon close approach I was shattered to discover that the bar I had been eying and anticipating was nothing more than a handsome service bar. There was no place to stand, or sit, for a pre-dinner drink, no professional bartender, no bar stools, only the well designed bar itself with wait staff circling.

This was a tragedy that could only be compared only with the Fall of Rome. Who was responsible for this oversight? I’ve lived in hotels for months at a time. I know hotels. From Beijing to Zagreb one of the requirements of a good hotel is a clean well lighted bar with a skillful barkeep and a convivial crowd.

The Long Bar at Raffles in Singapore isn’t what it once was – now it attracts well-heeled tourists instead of Old China Hands. Idiots posing at developers tore down the Repulse Bay Hotel in Hong Kong, former hang out of gun runners, jewel smugglers and other interesting folks, of course the bar went with it. The Gun Bar in Hong Kong has been relocated and is now totally plastic. These days who except the filthy rich can afford to drink at The Ritz in Paris? There are still a few good joints in…never mind. No point in belaboring the point. There was no bar and that was an end to it.

A dark cloud descended over our party as we trudged outside to our table overlooking the sea, a wonderful and much coveted location during summer. Now it was merely a place to sit. Disappointment was profound. We skipped before dinner drinks and ordered a bottle of the local red, La Valleta, which as it turned out was not only drinkable but enjoyable.

The wine improved our mood. By the time the duck arrived we were ready for another bottle, which further soothed our disappointment and warmed us against the slight chill rising from the sea. The duck was not fantastic, but it was good, and almost any duck is better than no duck. The evening improved as dinner progressed.

Waves broke over the seawall and onto the promenade. Salt airs swept in from the harbor. Friends stopped at our table. I ordered a cognac and we talked until the waiters put chairs up on the tables. A pleasant evening. But I still miss the bar that never was. Perhaps a word with the management is in order.




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