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Marbella in the 80s

BRIGHT.

It wasn’t all big hair, bigger shoulder pads and terrible music. Granted it took up perhaps 50% of that, but for those of us lucky enough to live in Marbella in the 80s, it was a magical place.

Giles Brown pops a tape in his Walkman and takes you back in time…

It might be stating the obvious, but Marbella really was a totally different town in the 80s. To begin with, you took your life in your hands driving from the (much smaller) airport in Málaga. Before the toll road was constructed the only way was via the old N-340 that snaked along the coast through Torremolinos, Benalmadena and Fuengirola. There was no central reservation and you were allowed to turn left by sitting in the fast lane with your indicator on and your arm out of the window, waving frantically. Little wonder, then, that the N-340 was renowned as the most dangerous road in Europe.

The town itself was much smaller too. Built-up Marbella ended at the Hotel Melia Don Pepe and then it was mainly open space – with the dignified exceptions of the Marbella Club Hotel and Puente Romano – until just before Puerto Banús.

Puerto Banus 1986: Margit Ohlson, George Hamilton. Elizabeth Taylor, Adnan Khashoggi and Don Jamie de Mora y Aragon
Puerto Banus 1986: Margit Ohlson, George Hamilton. Elizabeth Taylor, Adnan Khashoggi and Don Jamie de Mora y Aragon

Banús has perhaps undergone the greatest change. You used to be able to see the masts of the yachts moored as you drove past on the N-340 (though looking anywhere except dead ahead due to the reasons I outlined above was not advised). Where El Corte Ingles now stands was the old cinema, famed for its corrugated iron roof (noisy when it rained), comfortable rattan chairs and cheap bar. Films in English were screened on Friday night, which marked the start of the weekend. What is now the Plaza Antonio Banderas was a scruffy piece of waste ground for parking that you used if you couldn’t find a space in the marina itself. (This was long before they put in barriers and introduced Port Passes).

Hard to comprehend now, but the eastern end of Puerto Banús and its infamous 2nd line was one of the quietest areas. The real action took place in Salduba, Sinatra and the plethora of piano bars – a big thing the 80s. Playbach, The Navy, Joy’s and Duke’s all attracted a loyal following among the golfing and G&T set while Webster’s lock-ins were legendary. Mel’s was another popular live music venue, and you were never sure who you might bump into – from Rod Stewart to Joe Cocker – usually hanging out with Mel himself.

La Comedia performers Adam Baker and Tiffany bring eccentric 80s style to their beach gigs
La Comedia performers Adam Baker and Tiffany bring eccentric 80s style to their beach gigs

But for those looking for something a little funkier, Banús had plenty to offer. La Comedia opened in the mid-80s as a theatre/restaurant and was soon packed to the rafters with Banus’ bright young things roaring their approval to the often chaotic sketch shows and live music. By the end of the 80s Comedia had morphed into a very cool disco, and “Comedia Square” – which also housed Daytona, DJ, Pedros and the afformentioned Websters – was a ‘must do’ on any night out.

Joe’s Bar summed up the fun that was Puerto Banús in the 80s
Joe’s Bar summed up the fun that was Puerto Banús in the 80s

And then there was Joe’s Bar. If there was ever a place that summed up the creative, hedonistic, unpretentious “come as you are” fun that was Banús in the 80s, then Joe’s was it. Fronted by the uber-charismatic Joe himself, the tiny bar and even smaller dancefloor was like being at the best house party you had ever been too, with an eclectic, eccentric and sometimes excessive crowd!

Joe’s Bar summed up the fun that was Puerto Banús in the 80s

If all this hadn’t worn you out, then the party kept going at either the refined Regine’s in Puente Romano – run by a certain Olivia Valere – the old school Pepe Moreno’s or the hugely popular Ipanema Palace on the Golden Mile. It was safe to say that Marbella had never seen a nightclub like Ipanema Palace. It was bold, brash and frequently totally bonkers with a superb light and sound system and a Miami vibe. Owner Bobby organised a series of outrageous theme parties – Pirate, Roman, Hollywood – that had funky posters and live acts. A naked Cleopatra rolling out of a rug on stage was one of the many highlights.

Ipanema menu, 80’s style
Ipanema menu, 80’s style

Bobby had made his mark in 85 when he opened Ipanema Beach, which was the perfect place to work off your hangover. Victor’s Beach was always busy and famed for its spare ribs, and for old style Spanish style you could swim in the pool at La Siesta. Twenty years later the sleepy pool bar would transform into a celebrity hangout and champagne spray party venue, Ocean Club…

Baron & Bobby, Ipanema Beach
Baron & Bobby, Ipanema Beach
Ipanema Poster for Friday Beach Parties
Ipanema Poster for Friday Beach Parties

The best beach bar experience, though, was Mel’s Beach. Every Sunday the musicians from the piano bars would turn up to the – admittedly scruffy – beach club between Puerto Banus and San Pedro and play a set. Any visiting musicians had to put their names on a list compiled by Mel’s wife Sally. The beauty of Mel’s, apart from each table trying to build the highest pyramid of beer cans (did I mention it was informal?) was that you never knew what to expect. If a big name was in town for a concert, Mel’s tended to be a stop off. Stevie Wonder’s backing band – the man himself was resting in the Marbella Club – once turned up, delivered a stunning 30 minute set and then got back in their limos and drove off.

Mel Williams with top 80s model and great friend Sam Fox, who flew down to promote his single
Mel Williams with top 80s model and great friend Sam Fox, who flew down to promote his single "Senorita"

And then there was the unforgettable Sunday when soul legend Edwin Starr took to the stage and, while the audience were still recovering from his blast of brilliance, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott got up with his band and blew the roof off the place!

But that was what Marbella was all about in the 80s. Informal, surprising and always great fun. And so much more than just the shoulder pads!

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