Jazz and Blues Bars: Exploring the Real Madrid

Blues, the final frontier. To boldly go where few tourists have gone before, to search out and explore blues culture throughout the galaxy. Today the spirit of discovery brings me to seek the blues in Spain, at La Puerta del Sol (the Sun Gate), a bustling plaza in the heart of Madrid, the capital. Home to 6 million “Madrillenos,” it is a handsome city, the third largest in Europe (behind London and Berlin), with broad boulevards, impressive palaces and monuments, elegant 19th century “regency” architecture, great art, good food, and friendly folks

It’s Saturday night in “la ciudad grande,” and expatriate Vancouverite Smilin’ Jack Smith (originally a New Yorker from Staten Island) has agreed to show me around town. Since emigrating a decade ago, he has become a stalwart member of the local music scene. Tonight he has the night off, and we’re driving into town to check things out. “They’ve made me apply for my Spanish drivers’ licence,” Jack says. “I used to renew my old one back home every five years, but los autoridades eventually caught up with me, and they’re making me start at the beginning.” The “L” in the rear window of his two-door Seat (pronounced see yat), essentially a Spanish-made Fiat, insures that our highway top-speed remains low, adding an extra few minutes on to the commute from his picturesque village some 50 kms north-west. And, of course, no cocktails this evening for my not-so-young driver in training.

Parking underground in the heart of the city, we take the stairs to street level, and venture forth on foot to find the blues in Spain’s capital. Madrid’s historic downtown core is an intriguing paella of neighbourhoods, linked by congested thoroughfares, winding lanes, and bustling pedestrian malls offering every urban distraction imaginable: theatre, cinema, stylish boutique hotels, restaurants, galleries, tapas bars, pubs, nightclubs, and shops and services of all kinds. We haven’t eaten yet, so first it’s La Moderne in Plaza del Angel (Metro: Sol, or Antn Martn), a favourite of both the pre- and apres- theatre crowd, and reputedly the best tapas joint in town.

Fueled up on inexpensive snacks and several “tubos” of Mahou beer (pronounced “Mao”) for the lucky passenger (me), we’re finally ready to roll. A short walk across the historic Plaza Major, directly past the renowned Thyssen-Bornemicza Gallery (Titian, Goya, Degas, Renoir, Rothko, et al) leads to the Cafe Central, Madrid’s premier venue for contemporary jazz. A high-ceilinged room, distinctly old-fashioned, yet still friendly and informal, it features mainly local artists, occasionally augmented by touring international talent. But it’s too crowded tonight, and the jazz is waaay too cool, so we only hang around for one drink, escaping just before the cover charge kicks in.

Next stop is Cafe Populart in Calle Huertas (Metro: Antn Martn). Offering live music every night of the week, it too features a similar blend of local and international jazz, but leans toward more traditional “dixieland” and “swing.” Free entry, but pricey drinks, so we instead wander a few blocks over to La Coquette in Calle Hileras (Metro: Sol, or Opera), a tightly packed subterranean blues bar, accessible only by a narrow, wrought-iron spiral staircase. Tonight the grotto-like room features a local SRV1 clone, gamely pumping an appreciative younger crowd. Owner Pepe is particularly pleased to see Jack, graciously refusing payment for our (my) libations. But we can’t stay long (a few tunes only) as Jack has business elsewhere and, frankly, El Stevie* on stage is starting to get on my nerves. *Globally ubiquitous Texas blues guitarist and singer Stevie Ray Vaughn (1954-1990).

Our next (and final) stop for the evening involves a lengthy drive. On the way back to the carpark we pass the busy Chocolateria San Gines (Pzo. San Gins 5. Metro: Opera), one of several such establishments in the area. The Spanish love their hot chocolate, and no romantic evening on the town is deemed complete without a visit. But funky old Smith is hardly my idea of a hot date, and we’ve got time to make, so we quickly move on.

Pulling out of the downtown core, we cruise along Paseo del Prado, past the famed Prado Museum (Metro: Atocha), and the Reina Sofia Gallery (Santa Isabel, 52. Metro: Atocha) where Picasso’s Guernica is housed. Turning right on Calle Alcala, a major thoroughfare dissecting Madrid diagonally east- west, we head for the Beethoven Blues Bar, located in Ciudad Lineal, a late 19th century urban development. (Carolina Coronado 27. Metro: Quintana) The atmosphere there is relaxed, like a neighbourhood pub. Smith is well known to the crowd, having entertained them many times, and the DJ acknowledges our visit by playing a few tracks off his latest CD. Jack chats privately with the manager about future engagements, while I wander about nursing a beer and meeting people. A big stage dominates, with a pool table set up on the dancefloor (no live entertainment tonite). Vintage 8×10 promo “glossies” cover the walls: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Albert King prominent among many. And posters, like Albert Collins live at Antones in Austin TX, the 1962 American Folk-Blues Festival in Hamburg, and announcements of upcoming performances by local luminaries. The clientele is friendly – laid back blues loving Spanish folks, and quite a few speak decent English. Indeed, it feels like home. One is very much reminded of Rohans Rockpile, a 1970s era Vancouver nightclub on W. 4th Ave.

The blues are found alive and well in Madrid, but it’s now well past 2:00am, time to negotiate the drive back to Smith’s quaint village in the hills about 45 minutes northwest of town. Heading towards the freeway, or “autovia,” we speed by the Palacio Real, the Universidad Central (founded in the 13th century by Sancho IV of Castilla), and Las Ventas – the Roman Coliseum styled national bullring.

Quote: “The Romans had the blues. So did the Greeks, the ancient Egyptians, and the Mesopotamians too. Hell! Even the God damned caveman had the blues!” Willie Dixon, 1971

5 Factors to Consider When Choosing A Condo Unit

Due to the rapid urbanization, a lot of countries and states have developed and maximized the use of their lands to accommodate not only the need for infrastructure development to support its economy but also to supply its’ population with decent and quality housing. Since there are small countries which cannot afford to give their people with their own individual lands to build their houses, high-rise developments such as condominiums, hotels, apartments and real estate became the answer. There can be several factors to take into consideration when choosing a condominium.

Location

Choosing a condo is akin to starting a business. Location is very important whether you are single or you have a family. The place should be, as much as possible, strategically located. The proximity of the place from where you work should be given consideration. Remember that one of the reasons why you are buying your own place. And that is all because you want convenience. Should it be accessible through major roads and thoroughfares? Is it near schools, hospitals and other major business establishments? Its nearness to major public amenities does not only satisfy your physical needs but also determines the true value of the assets you are acquiring. When you are buying a condominium you are not just buying a place to live in, you are buying an investment!

Type of Unit

You are buying a real estate property that should conform to your personal need, capacity and character. There are several real estate companies that offer a variety of units in a single development. You can get a unit in a condominium that has 1, 2, 3 or even 4 rooms depending on your need. If you thrive in class and luxury, you can get a penthouse which is located in the highest part of the condo building. The important thing is that you get a unit that will make you feel happy and satisfied.

Amenities

City living is all about convenience. You want to buy a place that will give you not only what you want but will also make your life easier. We are not talking here of standard facilities like elevators, laundry rooms and the likes. We mean the extras like recreational and sporting facilities. Sometimes when you get home after a hard day’s work and you feel like doing something else outside your unit, it would be nice if you can do it without leaving the building. If you are a fitness buff, then a condominium with a gym will be a suitable choice. If you are tired and you don’t want to cook, then a place that has restaurants or cafes would be perfect. Condo buildings that offer little extras like these make them great choices.

Developer

Getting to know the developer is very vital in choosing a condominium property. Generally, units in a condominium building are pre-sold, that is, they sell the units while the construction is in progress. If you are buying a unit that is not yet finished, make a study on the track record and reputation of the developer. It is always best to consider companies that have excellent previous records in condominium development. You wouldn’t want to be left out in the cold trying to get your money back in case the building construction comes into a halt. There are associations of real estate companies which can help you check the track record of a developer of a condominium.

Cost

Cost covers everything that has to do with the money that you will spend in your condominium. The buying price of the unit should be reasonable enough and within your capacity. Check out for other charges not stated in the price showed to you by the developer. Be sure that the company is straight with you about the price of the unit you intend to buy. Get to know other expenses that may come up when you decide to start living in your condo. Inquire about association dues and other pertinent information regarding the maintenance costs.

Overview of Hawaii Real Estate

Hawaiian Hospitality

The record air passenger arrivals and the increasing popularity of timeshare and resort residential developments have boosted recent interest in building new resorts in Hawaii. New, exciting concepts from family-oriented to ultra-luxury resorts are entering this market with plans on widening the breadth of service offerings for the island’s visitors.

Topping this list is the recent announcement of Disney Resorts selecting Ko Olina on the island of Oahu for its first stand-alone hotel development not associated with a theme park. Its plans are to build an 800-unit hotel that encompasses the Disney Vacation Club timeshare concept that has more than 350,000 members. Disney paid $144 million to acquire the property, which is situated on 21 acres of oceanfront land. This is a unique concept for Disney and a great opportunity for Hawaii to benefit from Disney’s marketing and brand name.

On the other side of the hotel development spectrum are the plans by Starwood Capital Group to build an upscale Baccarat Resort. Capitalizing on the Baccarat crystal and jewelry luxury brand, the planned resort will demolish the former Wailea Rennaissance Hotel on Maui and replace it with 193 one- to four-bedroom residences. All units will have ocean views and include access to personalized concierge services. Architectural design and interiors are being directed by HKS Hill Glazier Studio and by world-renown interior designer Yabu Pushelburg. The planned opening of the Wailea Baccarat is 2010.
Similarly, an affiliate of Montage Hotels and Resorts purchased 122 acres on the North Shore of the island of Kauai. Overlooking picturesque Hanalei Bay, Montage has no immediate plans, but intends on eventually building an ultra-luxury resort.

Timeshare Development

Most hotel and resort developments are focused on the luxury marketplace as rising construction costs and land prices dictate the need for higher hotel room rates. In fact, most resort developments have had to incorporate a timeshare/fractional ownership component as well as a resort residential component to subsidize the development of a hotel.

Timeshare sales continue to be healthy with projects in Waikiki, Ko Olina, Wailea, Kaanapali, Kapalua, Waikoloa and Poipu on the drawing boards. Developers are capitalizing on the Hawaii brand and its unique appeal. In fact, many timeshare operators realize the importance of a Hawaii location as a way to bolster their appeal to timeshare investors, many of whom are willing to pay a premium for a vacation resort in Hawaii.

Hotel Transactions Record Volume

Hotel revenue and operating success bred increased interest from institutional investors seeking prized resort properties for investment. Sales transaction volume for commercial real estate increased fivefold from $850 million to a 2005 record of $4.3 billion. For 2007, hotel properties constituted the majority of the total transaction volume by contributing nearly $1.4 billion in activity. Topping the list were two major properties – the Hyatt Regency Waikiki sold for $475 million and the Makena Resort on Maui sold for $575 million. On the market and projected to close in the near term are two Resort Quest Hotels and the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Hawaii Hotel Market Analytics

For year-to-date October 2007, the Hospitality Advisors LLC industry report noted that Hawaii’s hospitality industry continued to post solid RevPAR and ADR gains. Average hotel room rates rose from $186.17 to $198.82 as RevPAR grew from a statewide average of $150.24 to $151.33 in the past year. Overall, Hawaii’s hotels ranked second in RevPar growth only to New York City. Percentage increases in the past year in average daily room rates for mid-priced hotels surpassed luxury and upscale hotel brands by posting an 11 percent increase, compared to 5.5 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.
Despite these financial gains, hotel occupancy rates fell from the prior year. As of October 2007, the year-to-date occupancy rate for Hawaii’s hotels decline from 80.7 percent to 76.1 percent. This decline coincides with increased economic concerns over the drop in residential home appreciation rates, rising fuel costs and decreased personal income being encountered in the United States.
After growing to 7.5 million air passenger arrivals for 2005, capacity constraints limited our growth in 2006 and 2007. Both Hawaii’s hotel inventory and airline seats reached a level near capacity. After 4 solid years of robust growth in air passenger arrival counts and visitor spending, Hawaii’s hospitality industry posted only marginal growth in the past year.

Forecast 2008

Investors continue to remain enamored with Hawaii’s hotels and resorts. Shortage of prime vacation resort properties worldwide attracted institutional investors throughout the world to Hawaii’s shores. Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Australian as well as North, Central and South American firms are scouring the islands for attractive resort investment opportunities. The recent purchases of resort land bode well for increasing Hawaii’s hotel inventory and allow for continued growth in air passenger arrivals and visitor spending.

Despite Hawaii’s isolated location, it is not immune to the subprime woes and credit crunch that stirred concerns of a possible U.S. recession. Many transactions are likely to be re-traded or be faced with increased scrutiny of financial statements and projections by lenders. Investment sales transaction volume will slow through 2008 as investors reappraise their asset allocations into real estate. Those institutional investors willing to capitalize on this lull in activity by conducting thorough due diligence will find that Hawaii hotels and resorts remain a lucrative investment opportunity.